Grappling with the Bomb

Grappling with the Bomb

Britain’s Pacific H-bomb tests

Authored by: Nic Maclellan

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Grappling with the Bomb is a history of Britain’s 1950s program to test the hydrogen bomb, code name Operation Grapple. In 1957–58, nine atmospheric nuclear tests were held at Malden Island and Christmas Island—today, part of the Pacific nation of Kiribati. Nearly 14,000 troops travelled to the central Pacific for the UK nuclear testing program—many are still living with the health and environmental consequences.

Based on archival research and interviews with nuclear survivors, Grappling with the Bomb presents i-Kiribati woman Sui Kiritome, British pacifist Harold Steele, businessman James Burns, Fijian sailor Paul Ah Poy, English volunteers Mary and Billie Burgess and many other witnesses to Britain’s nuclear folly.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Sep 2017
ANU Press
Pacific Series
Social Sciences: Military & Defence Studies
Europe: United Kingdom; Pacific: Kiribati


The author has made excellent use of his journalistic background, and has added the skills of a historical writer and researcher to produce a work that is readable and effective, a valuable source of information, and a potent plea for justice.
—Elizabeth A. Willis, Medicine, Conflict and Survival Vol 34(2), 13 June 2018
The full review can been read on the Medicine, Conflict and Survival website

Grappling with the Bomb provides the missing detail and the human-level story of arguably the most shadowy of all the British major atomic weapons tests. Even if people know a bit about Maralinga, or about the American and French tests in the Pacific, they are unlikely to know that the British also used the Pacific for testing nuclear weapons. The voices of those affected have never been raised to sufficient volume for the public to hear. Maclellan’s book redresses that injustice and provides a vivid and well-researched account of a deeply troubling history and the people who suffered from what was done. It is an admirable addition to the growing accounts of the British nuclear tests.
— Elizabeth Tynan, State Crime Journal, Vol 7(1), Spring 2018
The full review can be read on the JSTOR website

As a journalist and researcher, Maclellan weaves an anachronic, polemic narrative through fact and interpretive journalistic storytelling.
—Jessie Boylan, The Journal of Pacific History, Vol 53(3) 2018
The full review can been read on the Taylor and Francis website

In this informative and accessible book, journalist Nic Maclellan investigates this brief but important period of Britain’s nuclear past. A study that emphasizes the human story while exploring the technical, scientific, economic, political, and military aspects of the tests, Maclellan’s history marshals multiple forms of evidence against a persistent “culture of secrecy” surrounding these events.
—Roxanne Panchasi, Canadian Journal of History, Vol 53(3), 2018
The full review can been read on the University of Toronto Press website

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