Nuclear Energy and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman

J. Samuel Walker, ed.


Harry S. Truman’s nuclear policies and programs are probably the most significant and controversial aspects of his presidency. (TLS, Vol. 12)

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Truman Legacy Series, Vol. 12

Harry S. Truman’s nuclear policies and programs are probably the most significant and controversial aspects of his presidency. The essays in this volume examine Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons against Japan in 1945, one of the most contentious issues in all of American history, and the use of atomic energy after the war, both as an important weapon in the arms race of the cold war era, and as a subject for research into its applications to medicine, industry, agriculture, and power production.

In this volume, seven prominent historians offer valuable perspective on these issues, using new information from Japanese sources and a wealth of primary source material to examine the decision to use the atomic bomb, as well as important questions relating to the nuclear arms race, the benefits and hazards of radioactive isotopes, and the development of nuclear power. Many of these issues that had their origins in the Truman era are still of great importance to the world today as well as to future generations.


General Editor’s Preface ... Michael J. Devine
Introduction... J. Samuel Walker
Ending the War with Japan: The Agony of 1945 ... Richard B. Frank
Truman, Hiroshima, and the Morality of the Atomic Bomb ... Wilson D. Miscamble
On President Truman’s Use of the Atomic Bomb: Momentum, Timing, and General Groves ... Robert S. Norris
Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the Nuclear Arms Race ... Martin V. Melosi
Radioisotopes as Political Instruments from Truman to Eisenhower ... Angela N. H. Creager
Triumph and Trouble in the First Temple of the Atom: The Atomic Energy Commission and the Raleigh
Research Reactor... Thomas R. Wellock
The Decision to Drop the Bomb and Truman’s Nuclear Legacy: Concluding Remarks ... William Lanouette
Nuclear Energy and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman: A Graphic Essay ... Randy Sowell


J. Samuel Walker is a prize-­winning historian and author of several books on the history of nuclear energy. They include Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan, rev. ed. (University of North Carolina Press, 2004) and Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective (University of California Press, 2004).

Angela N. H. Creager is the author of Life Atomic: A History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine (University of Chicago Press, 2013) and other books on the history of science. She is Thomas M. Seibel Professor in the History of Science at Princeton University.

Richard B. Frank is the author of Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (Random House, 1999) and other books on the history of World War II. He received the Harry S. Truman Book Award in 2000 for Downfall.

William Lanouette is the author of Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, The Man Behind the Bomb (Scribner’s, 1992; reprint, Skyhorse Publishing, 2013). He has written on nuclear weapons and nuclear power for a wide variety of popular and scholarly publications.

Martin V. Melosi is the author of Atomic Age America (Pearson, 2013). He has published a long list of books and received several prizes for his work on environmental, urban, technological, and diplomatic history. He is a professor of history at the University of Houston.

Wilson D. Miscamble is the author of The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and two other books on the Truman era that each received the Harry S. Truman Book Award. He is a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame.

Robert Standish Norris is the author of Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, The Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man (Steerforth Press, 2002), and other books on nuclear weapons. He has applied his expertise on nuclear weapons in positions with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Federation of American Scientists.

Randy Sowell is an archivist at the Harry S. Truman Library.  He is a graduate of Wichita State University (BA, 1980; MA, 1985) and the University of Kansas (PhD, 1992).

Thomas R. Wellock is the author of Critical Masses: Opposition to Nuclear Power in California, 1958–­1978 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1998) and important articles on the history of nuclear power safety. He is the historian of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


This edited volume explores the complex nuclear legacy of Missouri's presidential native son...The essays work together unusually well for an edited volume, with many complementing each other while still presenting a variety of different perspectives...Historians of World War II, the Cold War, nuclear technology, and modern American history in general will likely find much to like about this coherent and cohesive collection of excellent essays.

—Jeff Schramm, Missouri Historical Review, July 2016

"...Nuclear Energy and the Legacy of Harry S. Truman is a model of erudite and seminal scholarship with the contributor's articles being presented in a roughly chronological order of events from 1945 to 1950. An essential and core addition to academic library collections..."

—Able Greenspan, Midwest Book Review, April 2016

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