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'100 Suns' refers to J. Robert Oppenheimer's response to the first Los Alamos test of the atomic bomb, at which he famously quoted a description from the Bhagavad Gita - 'a sun brighter than a thousand suns'. This extraordinary book photographically documents one hundred US nuclear detonations from the 215 declared atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by the US between July 1945 and November 1962. After that date the tests were carried out underground. Within that period a total of 1030 tests in total are known to have been executed. The atmospheric tests were conducted in the Nevada desert and on various islands in the Pacific. The book is divided between the desert and the ocean.
The photographs have been gathered by Michael Light, who previously collected the material from NASA for Full Moon, published by Jonathan Cape in the UK and worldwide for the millennium. He has drawn the material from the archives at Los Alamos and from the US National Archives in Maryland. This material was formerly classified but is now in the public domain. It includes photographs taken by the clandestine Lookout Mountain squad based in Hollywood, whose 250 producers, directors and cameramen together with thirty to forty still photographers were sworn to secrecy.
The photographs are presented with no embellishment. There is no introductory essay with the voice of a moral authority, but simply the presentation of the evidence. Each photograph is presented with the name of the test, its size in mega or kilotons, the date and the location. At the back of the book there are detailed captions, a chronology of the development of nuclear weapons, a list of the names of the declared 1030 tests, and an extensive bibliography.
One of the virtues of the book is its emphasis on data not on argument. Every reader will bring to the book their own imagination of the consequences and implications of such weaponry. The pictures are all taken at the moment of detonation, not during the aftermath. The pictures of explosions are accompanied by pictures of the witnesses - the onlookers from what has been described as the 'US imperial verandah'. Given the global political situation, the timing of the book's publication unfortunately could not be more apt.
Between July 1945 and November 1962 the United States is known to have conducted 216 atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests. After the Limited Test Ban Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1963, nuclear testing went underground. It became literally invisible--but more frequent: the United States conducted a further 723 underground tests, the last in 1992. 100 Suns documents the era of visible nuclear testing, the atmospheric era, with one hundred photographs drawn by Michael Light from the archives at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. National Archives in Maryland. It includes previously classified material from the clandestine Lookout Mountain Air Force Station based in Hollywood, whose film directors, cameramen and still photographers were sworn to secrecy.
The title, 100 Suns, refers to the response by J.Robert Oppenheimer to the world's first nuclear explosion in New Mexico when he quoted a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, the classic Vedic text: "If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst forth at once in the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One . . . I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." This was Oppenheimer's attempt to describe the otherwise indescribable. 100 Suns likewise confronts the indescribable by presenting without embellishment the stark evidence of the tests at the moment of detonation. Since the tests were conducted either in Nevada or the Pacific the book is simply divided between the desert and the ocean. Each photograph is presented with the name of the test, its explosive yield in kilotons or megatons, the date and the location. The enormity of the events recorded is contrasted with the understatedneutrality of bare data. Interspersed within the sequence of explosions are pictures of the awestruck witnesses.
The evidence of these photographs is terrifying in its implication while at same time profoundly disconcerting as a spectacle. The visual grandeur of such imagery is balanced by the chilling facts provided at the end of the book in the detailed captions, a chronology of the development of nuclear weaponry and an extensive bibliography. A dramatic sequel to Michael Light's Full Moon, 100 Suns forms an unprecedented historical document.
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