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Nuclear Fictions

ENGL 393.401
instructor(s):
TR 3-4:30

The Newtonian conception of physics, for example, has been completely upset by Einstein, first, and then by the quantum theory. Nor will this be the end. Of one thing only can we be sure: What is today accepted as truth will tomorrow prove to be only amusing.

Many different kinds of stories concern the building and development of nuclear weapons in 1945. Some claim to be autobiographies or biographies, others claim to be histories, and still others call themselves fictions (some even seem to be poetry or plays). These stories and the ways in which they construct our understanding of "the" story are the subject of this course, which looks at how that part of the history of 20th Century physics summed up as "the Manhattan Project" has been presented by a variety of verbal and visual media. It is not necessary to be a physicist to take this course (the instructor teaches English, not physics

We will read a selection of materials like (but not necessarily)

Friedrich Durrenmatt, The Physicists
Richard P. Feynman, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" Adventures of a Curious Character
Todd Gitlin, The Murder of Albert Einstein
Peter Goodchild, J. Robert Oppenheimer: Shatterer of Worlds
John Hersey, Hiroshima
Masuji Ibuse, Black Rain
Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dream's
Russell McCormmach, Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist
Thomas McMahon, Principles of American Nuclear Chemistry (this is a novel, not a textbook) Nicholas Mosley, Hopeful Monsters Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Classroom discussion and "formal" presentations and a term paper will be required