Book Review: Now It Can Be Told – The Story of The Manhattan Project

nitbt22Book Review:

Now It Can Be Told – The Story of The Manhattan Project

By General Leslie Groves

©Da Capo Press, Inc. 1962

I can almost hear some of my friends quipping in unison, “This guy told us he is a man of peace. But, what has an advocate of live-and-let-live got to do with The Story of The Manhattan Project?”

Read on:

The duo of the late General Leslie Groves (1922-1970) and Robert J. Oppenheimer (1904 – 1967) were the midwives of the first atomic bomb and the birth of the nuclear age.

General Leslie Groves as one of the main actors of those times penned a book that is unbeatably interesting and highly educating. My interest in the book delves from the point of view of project management. To this end, I was not disappointed at all.  From the beginning to the end, there is no let-off. Readers will be riveted on right through to the last page.

The displayed leadership and management efforts needed to guide this monumental project from mere theoretical concepts to practical reality in a relatively short time frame was quite unparalleled in history. Students of management and project managers will find invaluable insights here. While I am not celebrating the waste and loss of invaluable lives resulting from World War II (or any war for that matter), it is a testament to American ingenuity that a bomb that was decisively important towards winning/ending the war was not yet completely assembled or tested just about three weeks before it was first deployed in the war-front. And yet, it worked on first try!

As stated by the author, the first gun-type atomic bomb was dropped in combat without a prior test to ascertain if it will work, “Nevertheless, the indications for success were strong enough so that no one urged us to change our plans of dropping the first gun-type bomb in combat without prior test.”

From the book, it is clearly evident that, it was World War II that made the development of atomic bomb and atomic energy possible. It would have been very difficult for any nation (America included) to contemplate and commit to such a costly project (running into several hundreds of billions of dollars in today’s money) in the time of peace. It would have been very difficult to pull-off that feat in peace time in a relatively short time.

I wholeheartedly concur with the author that the world is a better place today and is still what it is because America was the first nation to create the atomic bomb and also developed and master nuclear energy. One can only imagine what would have happened if such powers has fallen first, into the hands of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, or to Josef Stalin in the hey days of the Soviet Empire.

The bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001, the Paris massacres of November 2015, the bombings in Brussels of last March and many others are unimaginably evil. Heinous as they were, these atrocities would have paled to mere children-plays in comparison to what these terrorists and their sponsoring power hungry individuals and nations would have done if they ever get access to these weapons of calamitous destruction first before any other nation.

I am not a war monger. My interest in the Manhattan Project was kindled right from Ordinary Level Physics days over 30 years ago. And now as an engineer, I am always keenly interested in the history of science, engineering and technology. I read the book last December while travelling to Abuja to write my PMI® Project Management Professional certification examination.

Why do I think this book still matters today?  Towards the end of the book, the author listed 5 main factors why the Manhattan Project succeeded. The reasons adduced by the author are as practical now as when the book was first written over 60 years ago. These same reasons if followed through will greatly increase the odds for success for every person, individuals or organizations involved in projects.

According to the author, the 5 main factors why The Manhattan Project succeeded are as follows:

  1. A clearly defined, unmistakable specific objective. People in responsible positions were able to tailor their actions to its accomplishment.
  2. Each part of the project had a specific task carefully allocated and supervised. The result was an operation whose efficiency was without precedent.
  3. Positive, clear cut, unquestioned leadership and direction of the project at all levels.
  4. Maximum use of already existing agencies, facilities and services – governmental, industrial and academic. With a finite and well defined objective, organizational resources were not designed to operate in perpetuity.
  5. Full backing of the government combined with the nearly infinite potential of American science, engineering and industry coupled with the almost unlimited supply of people endowed with ingenuity and determination.


“[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]Only strength can counter an adversary determined to enforce his goals by physical force.[/clickandtweet]”

“[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]…nothing would be more fatal to success than to try to arrive at a perfect plan before taking any important step[/clickandtweet].”

“I wanted a man who was experienced in the oil industry, feeling that he would be used to making quick, conclusive decisions, based, if necessary, on very limited information. I did not want anyone who would always insist on 100 per cent proof before making a move…”

“He reminded me that no weapon developed during a war had ever been decisive in that war.”

“I suggested that the time was fast approaching when we should begin to make plans for the bombing operation itself, even though we still had no assurance that the bomb would be effective.”

“…a nuclear war could never be fought on this earth without bringing disaster to all mankind.”

“[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]… if we played it safe, we could never hope to win; chances had to be taken.[/clickandtweet]”

“While it is tragic that the forces for destruction that we unleashed are stronger than man’s present ability to control them, it is fortunate indeed for humanity that the initiative in this field was gained and kept by the United States.”

“[clickandtweet handle=”” hashtag=”” related=”” layout=”” position=””]We know now that when man is willing to make the effort, he is capable of accomplishing virtually anything[/clickandtweet].”

All opinions expressed here expressed by me are just that – personal opinions.

All brief quotations and excerpts are from the book:

Now It Can Be Told – The Story of The Manhattan Project
By General Leslie Groves
©Da Capo Press, Inc. 1962

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