The Fire Next Time

The Dawn of a New Age

by Eugene Rabinowitch
To be published by the University of Chicago Press, in December, $6.95

The author of this collection of essays is known to his colleagues as an eminent biophysicist who has been concerned for at least the last twenty years with fundamental problems of photosynthesis. To a somewhat larger circle, he is known as the editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “the magazine of science and public affairs.” Rabinowitch has been the editor since the first issue, December of 1945. The Bulletin was born of the sense, developed during the wartime atomic energy project, of the importance of this development for the political organization of the world, the urgent sense of a turn for peace, of concern for the fostering and for the wise application of the growing and the great discoveries of science. These concerns, very wide-spread at the time, early expressed themselves in the Franck Report—to which Rabinowitch contributed—prepared under the leadership of James Franck at the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago and submitted to the Secretary of War before the use of the bomb, and eloquent in arguing against its use; again in the McMahon Act which governed and still largely governs our dealings with industrial and military aspects of atomic energy, and in the Acheson-Lilienthal proposals, which Baruch introduced as part of the United States position on the international control of atomic energy in the United Nations. Most, but not all, of the essays in this book have appeared in the Bulletin. This reviewer finds the few exceptions also of very great interest.

The essays are divided into three groups, which must obviously overlap: prediction, comment on recent events or accumulated developments, and exhortation. Among the predictions, the first and last are of special interest, and neither has, I believe, been published before, The first is dated from the early days of the Second World War, and predicts on a grand scale, but with remarkable faithfulness to what was to happen, the course and outcome of that war. There is only one exception, noted by the author, and that is the development of the atomic bomb, to which, ironically, he himself was to contribute. The basis for the predictions which were to prove so accurate is described by the author in strangely Newtonian terms: knowing the masses and the velocities, one could predict the outcome.

After the war, and increasingly over the years, Rabinowitch has adopted more varied and more subtle grounds for assessment and prediction, but still, in talking of the future now before us, the arguments seem rather mechanical. For the United States, for Western Europe, and for the U.S.S.R., he sees the future as one of adaptation rather than initiative, of accepting the uneasy peace, of doing little to exorcise the weapons, or the causes and political machinery which in the past have led to war. Of the underdeveloped world, and of China, he writes with far more caution. He does not rate high the role of the Yevtushenkos and the James Baldwins in societies of mature economy. At the outset, and a thin black…

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