In 1974 India joined the elite roster of nuclear world powers when it exploded its first nuclear bomb. But the technological progress that facilitated that feat was set in motion many decades before, as India sought both independence from the British and respect from the larger world. Over the course of the twentieth century, India metamorphosed from a marginal place to a serious hub of technological and scientific innovation. It is this tale of transformation that Robert S. Anderson recounts in Nucleus and Nation.
Tracing the long institutional and individual preparations for India’s first nuclear test and its consequences, Anderson begins with the careers of India’s renowned scientists—Meghnad Saha, Shanti Bhatnagar, Homi Bhabha, and their patron Jawaharlal Nehru—in the first half of the twentieth century before focusing on the evolution of the large and complex scientific community—especially Vikram Sarabhi—in the later part of the era. By contextualizing Indian debates over nuclear power within the larger conversation about modernization and industrialization, Anderson hones in on the thorny issue of the integration of science into the framework and self-reliant ideals of Indian nationalism. In this way, Nucleus and Nation is more than a history of nuclear science and engineering and the Indian Atomic Energy Commission; it is a unique perspective on the history of Indian nationhood and the politics of its scientific community.