America's two gadgets: Of bombs and polygraphs

Ken Alder*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


This essay pairs two prototypically American technological objects of the mid-twentieth century: the atomic bomb and the lie detector. Although the former has been touted as the supreme achievement of modern technoscience, and the latter dismissed as a placebo device, the two "gadgets" actually performed in analogous fashion. Indeed, the essay suggests that these technologies are best understood not in terms of narrow functionality but in terms of their performance - akin to that of Frankenstein's monster - in the domains of justice, popular culture, and geopolitics. Specifically, it argues that the mutually supportive roles played by the two objects underscore the ways in which the theater of deterrence sustained American sovereignty during the era of the Cold War.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-137
Number of pages14
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


Dive into the research topics of 'America's two gadgets: Of bombs and polygraphs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this