Cover image for Hitler's scientists : science, war, and the devil's pact
Hitler's scientists : science, war, and the devil's pact
Cornwell, John, 1940-
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Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Viking, [2003]

Physical Description:
xvi, 635 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
In Hitler's Scientists, British historian John Cornwell explores German scientific genius in the first half of the twentieth century and shows how Germany's early lead in the new physics led to the discovery of atomic fission, which in turn led the way to the atom bomb, and how the ideas of Darwinism were hijacked to create the lethal doctrine of racial cleansing.
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Q127.G3 C67 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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When Hitler came to power in the 1930s, Germany had led the world in science, mathematics, and technology for nearly four decades. But while the fact that Hitler swiftly pressed Germany's scientific prowess into the service of a brutal, racist, xenophobic ideology is well known, few realize that German scientists had knowingly broken international agreements and basic codes of morality to fashion deadly weapons even before World War I. In Hitler's Scientists, British historian John Cornwell explores German scientific genius in the first half of the twentieth century and shows how Germany's early lead in the new physics led to the discovery of atomic fission, which in turn led the way to the atom bomb, and how the ideas of Darwinism were hijacked to create the lethal doctrine of racial cleansing. By the war's end, almost every aspect of Germany's scientific culture had been tainted by the exploitation of slave labor, human experimentation, and mass killings. Ultimately, it was Hitler's profound scientific ignorance that caused the Fatherland to lose the race for atomic weapons, which Hitler would surely have used. Cornwell argues that German scientists should be held accountable for the uses to which their knowledge was put-an issue with wide-ranging implications for the continuing unregulated pursuit of scientific progress.

Author Notes

John Cornwell, the prizewinning author and journalist, is in the department of history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Cornwell's previous book, Hitler's Pope (1999), attracted significant controversy for making explicit Pope Pius XII's relationship with the Third Reich, an attack launched at a time when the embattled Catholic Church was already in the headlines for covering up the sexual abuse of priests. Timing is everything. His latest work, investigating pre- and mid-war German science, likely won't attract quite as much attention, but it should, for it raises questions about the relationship between scientific progress and warfare that suggest uncomfortable parallels between past and present. Poison gas and beautiful dyestuffs, forced sterilizations and advances in cancer research, Einstein and Mengele: Cornwell explores hard science (chemistry, physics, math) and pseudoscience (racial hygiene, eugenics) alike, and challenges readers by juxtaposing, and occasionally blurring, the lines between them. Rather than reading like a chamber of Germanic horrors (see Robert Jay Lifton's Nazi Doctors 1986), Cornwell's narrative aspires to a philosophical focus, emphasizing the tacit evil of complicity and the seductive lie of so-called pure research. No research develops in a vacuum, he argues, and scientists are more subservient than most to the authorities that feed them--especially in free-market economies. Following Europe's mathematical geniuses to the U.S., and to Los Alamos and beyond, the author argues that science is as easily led astray as ever, especially since September 11 and within a new doctrine of preemptive war. A polemic but a timely one appropriate for audiences beyond war and science buffs. --Brendan Driscoll Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Cornwell's devastating bestseller Hitler's Pope is a tough act to follow. Here, the author again claims the moral high ground to critique the ethical and political choices of scientists in Hitler's Germany and to caution that science under the Western democracies in the Cold War and the war on terrorism also wielded and continues to wield the "Janus-faced power for good and evil." Today's best writers on the Hitler era have outgrown the kind of marginalizing polemic Cornwell employs here. His analysis of Nazi science, while built on sound research and often thoughtful critique, sinks to the sensationalism of "Faustian bargains," "scientific prostitutions" and Arendt's "banality of evil." Unsavory concepts are qualified as "pseudo-science," "half-baked," or simply "science" in quotation marks so that the undiscerning reader won't mistake them for the real thing. All the hot-button issues are on display here: racial hygiene; eugenics; the Nazi purge of academia and Germany's forfeiture of its greatest physicists to the Allies because they were Jewish; and human experimentation on concentration camp inmates. The author also details the science of war in Germany, from rockets and secret codes to radar and the atomic bomb, and how the Allies plundered the country's military technology and expertise after the fall of the Third Reich. Cornwell is a gifted writer with a fascinating story to tell, which he ably and engagingly accomplishes despite the hyperbole. But in his pursuit of comfort in right over wrong, the author forfeits objectivity and perhaps a greater understanding of the sources and the whys of the Nazi phenomenon. Despite this,, the author's articulate though subtly lurid repackaging of Nazi-era crimes and curiosities should guarantee much attention and brisk sales with general readers. Illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Bob Lescher. (On sale Oct. 13) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A common question raised in the many histories of the Third Reich is, Why did the German people comply, despite the regime's obvious brutality? This question is perhaps even more baffling when applied to Germany's scientific community. Early in the 20th century, German science was as advanced as any in the world. Hitler co-opted Germany's genius, purging Jewish scientists and leaving them with no option but flight. The remaining scientists almost universally acquiesced to Hitler's agenda-often in word only, but some embraced the Nazi cause wholeheartedly. Cornwell, an historian and author of the controversial Hitler's Pope, focuses more on the effects than the causes of scientific racism. His book is a broad survey of Nazi science, in all fields, with details on some of its more heinous aspects. There are no bombshell revelations; for example, it comes as no surprise that Hitler twisted Darwinian theory to suit his purposes. Even if we acknowledge that the scientists were under enormous pressure, the vexing issue of why they behaved as they did remains unresolved. Therein, Cornell might argue, lies the problem, for science in the service of government contains an inherent conflict of interest. For academic and larger public library collections in the history and sociology of science. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/03.]-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY Albany (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xiii
Acknowledgementsp. xv
Introduction: Understanding the Germansp. 1
Part 1 Hitler's Scientific Inheritance
1. Hitler the Scientistp. 21
2. Germany the Science Meccap. 38
3. Fritz Haberp. 47
4. The Poison Gas Scientistsp. 61
5. The 'Science' of Racial Hygienep. 71
6. Eugenics and Psychiatryp. 85
Part 2 The New Physics 1918-1933
7. Physics after the First Warp. 93
8. German Science Survivesp. 111
Part 3 Nazi Enthusiasm, Compliance and Oppression 1933-1939
9. The Dismissalsp. 127
10. Engineers and Rocketeersp. 142
11. Medicine under Hitlerp. 152
12. The Cancer Campaignp. 167
13. Geopolitik and Lebensraump. 174
14. Nazi Physicsp. 178
15. Himmler's Pseudo-sciencep. 191
16. Deutsche Mathematikp. 198
Part 4 The Science of Destruction and Defence 1933-1943
17. Fission Maniap. 207
18. World War IIp. 229
19. Machines of Warp. 242
20. Radarp. 262
21. Codesp. 281
Part 5 The Nazi Atomic Bomb 1941-1945
22. Copenhagenp. 299
23. Speer and Heisenbergp. 310
24. Haigerloch and Los Alamosp. 328
Part 6 Science in Hell 1942-1945
25. Slave Labour at Dorap. 341
26. The 'Science' of Extermination and Human Experimentp. 348
27. The Devil's Chemistsp. 367
28. Wonder Weaponsp. 377
Part 7 In Hitler's Shadow
29. Farm Hallp. 391
30. Heroes, Villains and Fellow Travellersp. 405
31. Scientific Plunderp. 419
Part 8 Science from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
32. Nuclear Posturesp. 429
33. Uniquely Nazi?p. 445
34. Science at War Againp. 459
Notesp. 469
Select Bibliographyp. 501
Indexp. 513