Home | Books | Test of Greatness

Test of Greatness

By Brian Cathcart

In the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Clement Attlee realized at once that the nature of security and strength in the world had changed irrevocably. 

He ordered a superhuman effort to make Britain a nuclear power. But although Britain had been a junior partner in the Manhattan Project which had produced the American bombs, no British scientist had more than elementary knowledge of the complex physics involved.

At a time of daunting economic difficulty and amid the growing tension of the Cold War, the project hurriedly took shape behind a cloak of almost paranoid secrecy and in an atmosphere of constant stringency and shortage.

Brian Cathcart’s book ranges over politics, diplomacy, espionage and science, but above all it tells the story of the brilliant young scientist William Penney, his team and their struggle.

The men who worked behind the security fences at Aldermaston have finally been allowed to speak. 

Their tales include fearsome risks, vast resourcefulness, bureaucratic obstruction, naval intransigence and a measure of black humour. The veil is also lifted on the extraordinary contribution of Klaus Fuchs, the Soviet spy. Finally the high drama of the test itself, conducted off the coast of Australia after a naval operation which came close to total fiasco, is recounted in gripping detail.

Test of Greatness draws on what – at the time – were newly declassified documents. Cathcart also speaks uses primary sources, such as the words of the participants, illustrating and illuminating in vivid, human terms a secret but crucial chapter of post-war British history.

Brian Cathcart was Assistant Editor of the Independent on Sunday when he wrote Test of Greatness. Since then he has taken up a position at Kingston University London and founded Hacked Off in the aftermath of the tabloid phone-hacking scandal. He has just published his eighth book, The News from Waterloo. His previous works include accounts of the murders of Jill Dando and Stephen Lawrence.

Contact Lume Books | Lume Books

Say Hello

Learn more about how to contact us.

This site uses cookies.
ConfigureHide Options
Read our privacy policy

This site uses cookies for marketing, personalisation, and analysis purposes. You can opt out of this at any time or view our full privacy policy for more information.