“A fascinating, sharp-eyed study of Hiroshima’s cinematic aftershocks. Mitchell expertly chronicles the gradual transformation of a gigantic, and still-radiating, moral catastrophe." --Nicholson Baker, author of Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, and Double Fold, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
"The Beginning or the End is an engrossing, wry, and always lively look behind the scenes of a historic Hollywood flop. But it’s also much more than that: a deeply serious, meticulously researched account of how the movie industry—and the American public in general—embraced a comforting myth to justify one of the most controversial decisions in history. This is a first-rate piece of work by one of our most accomplished nonfiction storytellers.” --Gary Krist, best-selling author of Empire of Sin and The Mirage Factory
"A story of dishy Hollywood doings but with atomic bombs and a screenplay by Ayn Rand—what more could a reader ask for?" -- Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award
"A fascinating and brilliantly researched account of how Hollywood and Washington grappled with how to portray and profit from the new nuclear age. Another great read and exposé from Mitchell." --Alex Kershaw, best-selling author of The Liberator and Avenue of Spies
Soon after atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, MGM set out to make a movie studio chief Louis B. Mayer called “the most important story” he would ever film: a big budget dramatization of the Manhattan Project and the invention and use of the revolutionary new weapon.
Greg Mitchell’s The Beginning or the End chronicles the first efforts of American media and culture to process the Atomic Age. A movie that began as a cautionary tale inspired by atomic scientists aiming to warn the world against a nuclear arms race would be drained of all impact due to revisions and retakes ordered by President Truman and the military—for reasons of propaganda, politics, and petty human vanity (this was Hollywood). And all the while, the FBI was surveillng Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard and other scientists for "Communist" connections.
Mitchell has found his way into the lofty rooms, from Washington to California, where it happened, unearthing hundreds of letters and dozens of scripts that show how wise intentions were compromised in favor of defending the use of the bomb and the imperatives of postwar politics. As in his acclaimed Cold War true-life thriller The Tunnels, he exposes how our implacable American myth-making mechanisms distort our history.
"Greg Mitchell is the best kind of historian, a true storyteller."
—Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer