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Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power

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The American public's introduction to nuclear technology was manifested in destruction and death. With Hiroshima and the Cold War still ringing in our ears, our perception of all things nuclear is seen through the lens of weapons development. Nuclear power is full of mind-bending theories, deep secrets, and the misdirection of public consciousness, some deliberate, some ac The American public's introduction to nuclear technology was manifested in destruction and death. With Hiroshima and the Cold War still ringing in our ears, our perception of all things nuclear is seen through the lens of weapons development. Nuclear power is full of mind-bending theories, deep secrets, and the misdirection of public consciousness, some deliberate, some accidental. The result of this fixation on bombs and fallout is that the development of a non-polluting, renewable energy source stands frozen in time. It has been said that if gasoline were first used to make napalm bombs, we would all be driving electric cars. Our skewed perception of nuclear power is what makes James Mahaffey's new look at the extraordinary paradox of nuclear power so compelling. From medieval alchemy to Marie curie, Albert Einstein, and the Manhattan Project, atomic science is far from the spawn of a wicked weapons program. The discovery that the atom can be split brought forth the ultimate puzzle of the modern age: Now that the energy of the universe is available to us, how do we use it? For death and destruction? Or as a fuel for our society that has minimal impact on the environment and future generations? Outlining nuclear energy's discovery and applications throughout history, Mahaffey's brilliant and accessible book is essential to understanding the astounding phenomenon of nuclear power in an age where renewable energy and climate change have become the defining concerns of the twenty-first century.


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The American public's introduction to nuclear technology was manifested in destruction and death. With Hiroshima and the Cold War still ringing in our ears, our perception of all things nuclear is seen through the lens of weapons development. Nuclear power is full of mind-bending theories, deep secrets, and the misdirection of public consciousness, some deliberate, some ac The American public's introduction to nuclear technology was manifested in destruction and death. With Hiroshima and the Cold War still ringing in our ears, our perception of all things nuclear is seen through the lens of weapons development. Nuclear power is full of mind-bending theories, deep secrets, and the misdirection of public consciousness, some deliberate, some accidental. The result of this fixation on bombs and fallout is that the development of a non-polluting, renewable energy source stands frozen in time. It has been said that if gasoline were first used to make napalm bombs, we would all be driving electric cars. Our skewed perception of nuclear power is what makes James Mahaffey's new look at the extraordinary paradox of nuclear power so compelling. From medieval alchemy to Marie curie, Albert Einstein, and the Manhattan Project, atomic science is far from the spawn of a wicked weapons program. The discovery that the atom can be split brought forth the ultimate puzzle of the modern age: Now that the energy of the universe is available to us, how do we use it? For death and destruction? Or as a fuel for our society that has minimal impact on the environment and future generations? Outlining nuclear energy's discovery and applications throughout history, Mahaffey's brilliant and accessible book is essential to understanding the astounding phenomenon of nuclear power in an age where renewable energy and climate change have become the defining concerns of the twenty-first century.

30 review for Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power

  1. 4 out of 5

    Always Pouting

    The author starts the book off by assuring us that he is not trying to convince us that nuclear power is the best power source and then a few pages later goes on to say that he doesn't have to convince you of this because once you read the book you'll realize how inevitable our use of nuclear energy in the future is. That already put me off but I always finish books because I can't bear not to so I kept on reading and it really didn't get any better from that point on. First off I don't understa The author starts the book off by assuring us that he is not trying to convince us that nuclear power is the best power source and then a few pages later goes on to say that he doesn't have to convince you of this because once you read the book you'll realize how inevitable our use of nuclear energy in the future is. That already put me off but I always finish books because I can't bear not to so I kept on reading and it really didn't get any better from that point on. First off I don't understand why the author had to talk about himself because it added nothing to strengthen his argument. If anything it weakens it because why would I believe a nuclear engineer when he says nuclear power is inevitable, you clearly have a vested interest, not that the author tried to present an unbiased argument in favor of nuclear power. Second he sums up the history of physics, in specific our discovery of the atom and nuclear energy but then fails to talk about what in fact makes it inevitable. I think I would have been much more convinced if he had taken the time out to talk about nuclear energy in comparison to the alternatives rather. Instead I got a cliff note version of physics history plus his experiences and some details about the history of nuclear energy which also did not really talk about it's advantages more so things like the Manhattan project. Third of all the ending he talks about nuclear isotope ingesting bacteria which had nothing to do with anything? The whole book is like that, disjointed with no clear arguments made. Fourth he assumed that we all come in thinking natural gasses and gasoline are not good sources of fuel but how can you make a good argument for nuclear being the best option without showing the downsides of other options. Also if people reading this book don't know Marie Curie helped discover radiation how will you just assume they hate fossil fuels though... It's a good book for someone who doesn't know much about nuclear and it's history and it's written in a very clear and accessible fashion which is always a plus with science nonfiction books. I just personally wasn't impressed. Also this window closed when I was almost done typing up my review and I had to retype it so I'm sad and I'm going to go crawl into a garbage can now or something

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shoti

    The book’s title is quite misleading. The words ‘awakening’ and ‘future’ suggest that by reading the book one could learn a great deal about the present and future challenges and opportunities faced by the nuclear industry. Instead, the book rather focuses on the history of nuclear power with marginal outlook for the future. Mahaffey offers a brilliant summary of scientific developments starting as early as the 17th century until nuclear bombs could be built during WW2. He explains the contribut The book’s title is quite misleading. The words ‘awakening’ and ‘future’ suggest that by reading the book one could learn a great deal about the present and future challenges and opportunities faced by the nuclear industry. Instead, the book rather focuses on the history of nuclear power with marginal outlook for the future. Mahaffey offers a brilliant summary of scientific developments starting as early as the 17th century until nuclear bombs could be built during WW2. He explains the contribution of scientific breakthroughs which sometimes did not have much to do with nuclear power directly. Experimentalists and theorists, pushing forward each other along this road, gradually paved the way to an advanced understanding of the atom, its construct, fission and nuclear energy production. Mahaffey writes well and when the topics got more complicated and I started to lose his train of thought about how a neutron joins or leaves the nucleus by turning material XYZ into isotope ABC, he always had one or two refreshing anecdotes to share. His stories about post-WW2 experiments with nuclear energy when American and Soviet scientists blew up with nuclear bombs pretty much everything what they thought to be a good idea was also interesting. The author kicks off the introduction by stating that “the purpose of this book is not to sell nuclear power.” At the same time, as a nuclear scientist and enthusiast throughout his life, he often fails to remain objective. In Mahaffey’s ideal world the Earth should be like France where 87.5% of electricity is generated by the nuclear power industry. Humankind would enjoy unimaginably fresh air and global warming would only exist as a ridiculous idea of some third-tier science fiction writers. The author clearly feels pissed off with the US energy mix where electrical power delivered by nuclear reactions has been stagnating at 20% since the 1970’s. He calls nuclear power the walking dead of global energy production, neither progressing, nor falling away. He struggles to grasp why general public are so afraid of nuclear power when it can generate energy without the smoke from coal plants, without forest destroying acid rain, without causing cancer, and without global warming. When it comes to nuclear accidents he also has ready explanations. In October 1957, during the Windscale reactor incident, it was only sheer luck and a badly delayed design modification that had kept 20 tons of burned reactor fuel, heavy with fission product, from blanketing all Northern England. The author tells us, no worries, that was a poor reactor design back in 1957, by now the improved technology, the allowed radiation dose standards and the industrial safety regulation have made the nuclear technology so safe that it has been reduced to crashing boredom. According to Mahaffey, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 was again due to bad reactor design coupled with an incompetent and undertrained staff. He mentions that there were only 55 recorded deaths from direct radiation exposure in Chernobyl (my comment: by Soviet standards), while 171,000 people died in China in 1975 when the Banqiao Dam failed, and 18,000 people died in Bhopal, India, in 1984 during the infamous pesticides plant incident. The Fukushima accident of 2011 is out of scope for the book which was published in 2009. However, the Fukushima accident undercuts, to say the least, Mahaffey's arguments about the safety of nuclear energy production. My main concern is that Mahaffey misses to give sound explanation of some key points. People understand and reluctantly accept that accidents are part of life. Based on the law of high numbers they are inevitable due to engineering deficiencies, human negligence, force majeure, and that’s why airplanes crash, bridges collapse, factories blow up sometimes. We do our best to avoid them but in our hearts we know that is not possible. However, when a nuclear reactor melts down, the aftermath is not gone quickly, it does stay with us for thousands of years in the form of invisible radioactivity which is a fearful thought. As the author mentions, when there is an occasional forest fire near Chernobyl, then radioactive dust is stirred up and doses Europe again. I would have appreciated some more thoughts around why this long-term radioactive decay is not such a big concern. Especially after having read in the book about the jolliest time of all nuclear scientists, the 1950s, when they experimented with nuclear explosions so extensively that they managed to contaminate the Earth’s atmosphere to an extent when it was no longer possible to make steel, requiring a great deal of air to be blown through the process, which was not radioactive. Another pain point of nuclear energy is the question of processing and storing the used reactor fuel. The author talks down to anti-nuclear forces which, on the hand, do not understand how safe nuclear energy production is, and, on the other hand, are very clever at getting what they want and that’s why they target the question of long-term disposal of radioactive byproducts. He hints at that proper processing technologies already exist and we can safely put the used reactor fuel into salt mines and the like without significant risks. That may be very well true but for one I would have certainly appreciated more details and a more sophisticated and elaborate analysis of this controversial point. To sum it up, I like a lot Mahaffey’s vision about a world without global warming but I came away from his book with the feeling that some important points to substantiate his vision and claims were not sufficiently explained. P.S.: the author closes the book by writing about microbes that live a mile below the Earth’s surface eating radioactivity. They never see sunlight and their only sustenance is the radioactivity. He continues to envision, almost lyrically, that in billions of years when the Sun has burned out and the Earth is a cold rock floating around in the darkness these microbes will still be around, happily eating the radioactive isotopes in the darkness. As far as I know, there is an alternative as to how things may pan out. Before the Sun burns out, it will turn into a red giant, swell up and engulf the inner planets including perhaps our beloved Earth too. So, if the microbes thriving on radioactivity are still around in 5 billion years, they may be in for a nasty surprise. And yes, I know this has nothing to do with nuclear power, I just could not help myself…

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nick Black

    A decent introduction to the history of controlled fission, although not nearly as in-depth as The Making of the Atomic Bomb, from which it takes a lot of its material. Focuses much more on the "history" element than the "future", which disappointed me. Unlike the author's more recent (but equally alliterative) Atomic Accidents, anyone who's deeply interested in this subject will have already found most of the information. Nonetheless, it's well-written, competently edited, and short enough to a A decent introduction to the history of controlled fission, although not nearly as in-depth as The Making of the Atomic Bomb, from which it takes a lot of its material. Focuses much more on the "history" element than the "future", which disappointed me. Unlike the author's more recent (but equally alliterative) Atomic Accidents, anyone who's deeply interested in this subject will have already found most of the information. Nonetheless, it's well-written, competently edited, and short enough to appeal to those for whom Rhodes was rather much of a slog. full disclosure: Dr. Mahaffey and I both studied nuclear engineering at Georgia Tech, and worked at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, though not at the same time. I do not personally know Dr. Mahaffey.

  4. 4 out of 5

    G. Branden

    I simply loved it. James Mahaffey is an excellent writer with an acid wit, a salty attitude, a Ph.D., and a gig as a research scientist at Georgia Tech. As others have noted, the book is weighted heavily toward the "history" side of its title. Mahaffey does offer some thoughts on the future, but he's not here to hector people or sell anything. In fact, I find him all the more credible as an advocate of further development of nuclear power technologies because he has a face-the-fuckups, no-bullshit I simply loved it. James Mahaffey is an excellent writer with an acid wit, a salty attitude, a Ph.D., and a gig as a research scientist at Georgia Tech. As others have noted, the book is weighted heavily toward the "history" side of its title. Mahaffey does offer some thoughts on the future, but he's not here to hector people or sell anything. In fact, I find him all the more credible as an advocate of further development of nuclear power technologies because he has a face-the-fuckups, no-bullshit attitude. There's one anecdote in the book that I suspect would have certain types of people browning their pants. It's about the Ph.D. pastime known as "reactor racing" at a low-power educational fission reactor. Some people probably think of such recreations as deeply irresponsible. They probably think the same thing about pilots who take spin and unusual attitude recovery training. I know who I'd prefer flying the plane I'm in.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Noah Goats

    In Atomic Awakening, James Mahaffey gives us an interesting and sometimes even amusing history of nuclear power from Democritus through the 1960s (with a quick overview of more recent decades). Atomic energy was introduced to most of the world on August 9th, 1945 when a bomb of unprecedented power was dropped on Hiroshima, destroying it in one terrible flash. Although the bomb brought WWII to an abrupt halt, it was also a PR disaster for nuclear energy as people wondered if they really want to p In Atomic Awakening, James Mahaffey gives us an interesting and sometimes even amusing history of nuclear power from Democritus through the 1960s (with a quick overview of more recent decades). Atomic energy was introduced to most of the world on August 9th, 1945 when a bomb of unprecedented power was dropped on Hiroshima, destroying it in one terrible flash. Although the bomb brought WWII to an abrupt halt, it was also a PR disaster for nuclear energy as people wondered if they really want to power their cities with this energy source that could destroy them all instantly. After WWII nuclear energy entered a period of wild experimentation. Reactors were successfully added to submarines and began to power cities even as scientist cooked up seemingly insane plans for the new technology. These nutty plans included the idea of building nuclear powered bombers that would fly around in circles near Russia's borders until a war broke out, at which point they would be perfectly positioned to utterly destroy the Soviets (with nuclear energy these planes would never need to land, they could fly for months, just waiting for the chance to do their one terrible job). There was also a plan to build a spaceship that could achieve 1/10 lightspeed by popping nukes behind it one by one and riding the blasts. There were even plans to dig a new Panama Canal using atomic bombs to blow the dirt away. While all this was going on people became increasingly disenchanted with nuclear energy in the United States. Anti-war groups lumped energy in with bombs and turned against both, storing nuclear waste became a political problem, and the Three Mile Island accident was the final nail in the coffin. I think that Mahaffey is right that we can't successfully address the problems of climate change without employing nuclear energy. At the same time, Chernobyl and Fukushima show that although the technology has come a long way, it's still very dangerous and can wreak terrible havoc (Fukushima apparently happened after this book was published because Mahaffey doesn't mention it). This is a very readable account of the history of nuclear energy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mack Clair

    A wonderfully entertaining book, at times, but one that does little to examine the future of nuclear power, as its title avidly claims. I appreciated Mr. Mahaffey's writing style and wit throughout. I imagine being in one of his lectures would be an extremely entertaining experience. He rambles, goes off on tangents at the drop of a hat, breezes over years of history and human effort with a quick, sardonic remark, makes a few comments about "The Elders" one must contend with in pursuit of a Ph.D A wonderfully entertaining book, at times, but one that does little to examine the future of nuclear power, as its title avidly claims. I appreciated Mr. Mahaffey's writing style and wit throughout. I imagine being in one of his lectures would be an extremely entertaining experience. He rambles, goes off on tangents at the drop of a hat, breezes over years of history and human effort with a quick, sardonic remark, makes a few comments about "The Elders" one must contend with in pursuit of a Ph.D., and all throughout, knows more than he lets on. I thought the idea of examining all of scientific history through the lens of culminating with the first uninhibited chain reaction was very promising, in theory. In practice, however, it made for a very grueling introduction to the book. Especially for someone with some background in nuclear power or modern scientific history already, this is a tough lead-in to what I think is the meat of the book: his examination of the public perception of nuclear power in the Atomic Age. I enjoyed Mahaffey's promised "new look", but felt that it was somewhat diluted due to a lack of focus. I plan to read his other books, even just to get another taste of his writing style.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    James Mahaffey’s books are wonderfully written, entertaining and informative. He does a great job of explaining why nuclear power is a grand gift of nature. Nuclear power has suffered for decades of being sadly misunderstood, wildly underrated and unfortunately twinned with bomb development. Time, maturity and necessity have finally started to catch up with it. Audiobook.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Olivier Novel

    Nuclear energy is so important and such an incredible source of energy for the development of the world it seems a miracle, but the way it has been demonized by well-intentioned but ill-informed people is baffling. We are in the midst of letting this source of almost unending power slip away, the gods will, at last, take back the fire stolen by Prometheus for the sake of man. This short history of nuclear energy, written by someone who's been there and done that, lets us know it is dangerous, yes Nuclear energy is so important and such an incredible source of energy for the development of the world it seems a miracle, but the way it has been demonized by well-intentioned but ill-informed people is baffling. We are in the midst of letting this source of almost unending power slip away, the gods will, at last, take back the fire stolen by Prometheus for the sake of man. This short history of nuclear energy, written by someone who's been there and done that, lets us know it is dangerous, yes it is, but handled with care, as it is done today, it is very safe and the risks are minimal, a recommended reading for anyone who wants to make for themselves an educated decision on this subject.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Wallace

    More history than future, but full of interesting anecdotes and frustrating might-have-beens. What if we'd used safer thorium reactors instead? What if nuclear power had been developed before the nuclear bomb? Recommended for anyone interested in energy issues. More history than future, but full of interesting anecdotes and frustrating might-have-beens. What if we'd used safer thorium reactors instead? What if nuclear power had been developed before the nuclear bomb? Recommended for anyone interested in energy issues.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Weil

    Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power is two parts historical review, one part nuclear science lesson. The book explores nuclearity from its infacy when first discovered in the 1900s to its use in bombs to its eventual applications in the energy sector. The first half of the book is heavily focused on the science behind nuclear applications. Mahaffey traces the discovery of nuclear energy back to the initial detection of X-ray, caused by photons shot out of atoms Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power is two parts historical review, one part nuclear science lesson. The book explores nuclearity from its infacy when first discovered in the 1900s to its use in bombs to its eventual applications in the energy sector. The first half of the book is heavily focused on the science behind nuclear applications. Mahaffey traces the discovery of nuclear energy back to the initial detection of X-ray, caused by photons shot out of atoms undergoing changes in electric charge. The book then zooms in on the scientific study of the atom. I got a bit lost in the quantum physics explanations here but not muched seemed to happen until after Einstein's E=mc^2 revelation. This started a mad dash where people realized nuclear fission could unleash huge amounts of energy. Scientists started experimenting, finding discovery after discovery. Radioactive compounds found many uses, especially in the medical industry where it was found to have large effects in fighting different types of cancers. Eventually as war began to break out, scientific efforts bent towards the war effort. Rather than searching for peaceful applications of nuclear energy, all research was directed towards weaponry, specifically bombs. This section of the book contained lots of interesting war stories and descriptions of the fast-paced discoveries. My favorites/the most memorable had to do with the use of 'little neutron gun' to bombard the uranium atoms at either extremely high speeds or extremely low speeds. Once the atom asbored a neutron, it would become highly unstable and eventually split in half. The two new products would have a lower mass than the uranium atom with the missing mass expelled as energy. To give some perspective, a kilogram of fissioned plutonium would lose a gram of weight whereas a kilogram of propane would lose only 0.000000056 grams of weight. That is a huge energy differential and one of the reasons uranium and plutonium are significantly more efficient as fuel sources. The book also went in detail on the main roadblocks nuclear energy faces. Mahaffey points to fear of radioactive exposure and the high cost of energy production as the two largest obstacles. With the government's wanton use of nuclear as a weapon and tool of destruction throughout the Cold War, much of the public was raised to fear nuclear fallout. Public perception has never recovered, especially after two high profile nuclear plant failures at Three Mile and Chernobyl. While nuclear does have its risks, safety regulations have meant that even the worst disasters only lead to 55 deaths. Compared to the 55,000 who died from exposure to the black smog in England created by coal plants or the thousands in India who have died from chemical exposure, nuclear is a relatively safe power option. As for the costs, these mostly stem from the large capital requirements in building a plant. Until engineers find ways to create cheaper and simpler plants, costs will stay high. More financing and experimentation will be needed. An additional option would be to price in the effect of carbon on the environment. In this case, nuclear would be a significantly more attractive option. Overall, I would recommend this book if you want to learn more about nuclear energy/weapons. I'm trying to learn as much as possible about electric generation and found this to be an informative read. The sections on nuclear storage in Yucca Mountain were eye opening in how public fears can be overblown at times and used to create effective opposition. I honestly don't know what I'm writing anymore. I'm tired and going to bed. Just read the book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    R.A. Flannagan

    I’m interested and a big proponent of nuclear power, so when this book showed up in a sale, I snapped it up. Now having listened to it, I’m glad I did. However, be warned that the first third of the book is difficult to the point where you might want to give it up. The author spends too much time delving into the physics of nuclear science and goes a bit too deep into the history of splitting the atom. Math is hard and following along isn’t easy. Luckily, I’m one of these guys who forces myself t I’m interested and a big proponent of nuclear power, so when this book showed up in a sale, I snapped it up. Now having listened to it, I’m glad I did. However, be warned that the first third of the book is difficult to the point where you might want to give it up. The author spends too much time delving into the physics of nuclear science and goes a bit too deep into the history of splitting the atom. Math is hard and following along isn’t easy. Luckily, I’m one of these guys who forces myself to stick with it – if I paid for it, damn it, I’m going to listen to it. The last two-thirds of the book is more consumable and therefore more enjoyable. The author walks through about four decades of well-researched and well-told events that took place in the nuclear industry (civilian and military). By way of one example, did you know the Americans almost built a nuclear-powered bomber. As in an airplane with a nuclear reactor on it. True fact. Things were crazy back in the fifties and sixties. The risks that were taken are unbelievable by today’s standards. These historical anecdotes are both informative and entertaining and they save the book. Aside from the first third of the book, the other part that I was disappointed with was the near absence of what lies down the road regarding nuclear technology. The gentleman who wrote the book is a nuclear scientist himself and is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject. He provides a mere dusting of what could lie in store for the planet were we to give nuclear power a real go. Perhaps those details are in his next book? A chapter or two dedicated to future technologies would have strengthened this text. If you’re into nuclear energy, the bombing of Japan, Three Mile Island or Chernobyl and events like this, you’ll enjoy this historical tale.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Having grown up in Richland WA, near Hanford, which was part of the Manhattan project referenced in the book, and having served on one of Admiral Rickover's nuclear submarines, I thought this book would be interesting to "fill in the blanks" for me to provide historical references of the physics and physicists who developed our nuclear industry while inventing quantum mechanics along the way. Boy did it! I really appreciated both the history lesson of nuclear physics and the engineering referenc Having grown up in Richland WA, near Hanford, which was part of the Manhattan project referenced in the book, and having served on one of Admiral Rickover's nuclear submarines, I thought this book would be interesting to "fill in the blanks" for me to provide historical references of the physics and physicists who developed our nuclear industry while inventing quantum mechanics along the way. Boy did it! I really appreciated both the history lesson of nuclear physics and the engineering references. Quite a few early physicists made great contributions that I never heard of until now. Don't worry -- he kept most of the technical details pretty light overall. I also appreciated his dry sense of humor throughout the book. He didn't wash over the nuclear debacles that occurred--he directly spoke to them. I wished he had spent a little more time on the Chernobyl accident, and that he referenced the financial debacle of the Washington State Public Power Supply System (WPPSS, aka Whoops) in the early 1980's. But his overall focus stayed true to the physicists and their unbelievable insights and ingenious work. And he's right to say that nuclear power may see a renaissance now in this day and age, due to its usefulness as a carbon free energy source and because so many safety issues have been worked out. I hope that's true, since I've seen first-hand that nuclear power can deliver ongoing safe results (as on a submarine). I think we just need to lock in a good commercial design (as France has done) and replicate that so everyone is working with the same basic reactor.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Josh Berry

    First, anyone I know that lives in or near Atlanta should pick this up, if only to read the epilogue. I regret that I don't live near there, anymore, so can't head just north with some geiger counters. :) If anyone I know does this, please post about it! On that note, I think having gone to school and worked at the places mentioned in this book makes it very personal. The writing style really helps, as well. I really got a sense of the wonder and pure experimentation that was going on during som First, anyone I know that lives in or near Atlanta should pick this up, if only to read the epilogue. I regret that I don't live near there, anymore, so can't head just north with some geiger counters. :) If anyone I know does this, please post about it! On that note, I think having gone to school and worked at the places mentioned in this book makes it very personal. The writing style really helps, as well. I really got a sense of the wonder and pure experimentation that was going on during some of this time. At a personal level, it is still somewhat mind boggling to me that all of this predates computers. We were building machines capable of instantly boiling hundreds of gallons of water as their safety shutoff mechanism years before transistors were common components of machinery. Even just writing that, I have to pause and let it sink in. The experiments on using nuclear reactors to power jets and spacecraft seems natural, and yet it is interesting to realize that doesn't seem to get mentioned anymore. If anyone has any followup suggestions after reading this, I'm definitely interested. I have already listened to Atomic Accidents. So I will do another plug for that story here. There is some overlap, but I am glad to have read both of them.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zeke

    Ever since I was aware of nuclear energy, I have always been interested in its history. The first few chapters of this book were a little dry and a bit technical for me, but as I got towards the middle it became a page turner. It is always amazing how new things are being unveiled about the Manhattan Project as the documents become declassified 6 to 7 decades later. Some of the chapters of this book turn into a biography of the author, which I think adds some credibility and zest to his overall Ever since I was aware of nuclear energy, I have always been interested in its history. The first few chapters of this book were a little dry and a bit technical for me, but as I got towards the middle it became a page turner. It is always amazing how new things are being unveiled about the Manhattan Project as the documents become declassified 6 to 7 decades later. Some of the chapters of this book turn into a biography of the author, which I think adds some credibility and zest to his overall goal in describing how nuclear energy has evolved. There is nothing like first hand experience. The final chapters will give you some food for thought on nuclear power plants and there are some interesting comparisons to non-nuclear disasters in other parts of the world. If you are a fan of atomic testing, power plants, or science then I would recommend this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    I really enjoyed this book until I didn’t. The first 70-80% is a fascinating look at the development of nuclear energy, told through the lens of countless mathematicians, physicists, and brilliant thinkers. The last 20% feels like a hastily slapped together op-ed in which the author laments that nuclear energy has gotten a raw deal (an example: nothing that the 55 confirmed deaths at Chernobyl pale in comparison to the number of deaths prompted by other man-made disasters). Don’t get me wrong: I g I really enjoyed this book until I didn’t. The first 70-80% is a fascinating look at the development of nuclear energy, told through the lens of countless mathematicians, physicists, and brilliant thinkers. The last 20% feels like a hastily slapped together op-ed in which the author laments that nuclear energy has gotten a raw deal (an example: nothing that the 55 confirmed deaths at Chernobyl pale in comparison to the number of deaths prompted by other man-made disasters). Don’t get me wrong: I generally agree that nuclear energy *has* gotten a raw deal and will be vital in our fight against climate change. But if this is meant to be the perfect bridge from retrospective history to a guidebook for the future, it falls flat – it is too brief to give proper historical context to the many events of nuclear energy and it is too rushed to be a guidebook.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John

    Mahaffey's style is fun and smart. I read two of his more recent volumes and liked them better, but this is a good and valuable read. [My only criticism is that in historical matters distant from his experience he occasionally passes common misconceptions off as fact--notably that Meitner rather than Hahn first suggested that his barium was the product uranium nuclei splitting and that Szilard's 1934 patent involved fission or even a chain reaction of simple neutrons (it relied on non-existent s Mahaffey's style is fun and smart. I read two of his more recent volumes and liked them better, but this is a good and valuable read. [My only criticism is that in historical matters distant from his experience he occasionally passes common misconceptions off as fact--notably that Meitner rather than Hahn first suggested that his barium was the product uranium nuclei splitting and that Szilard's 1934 patent involved fission or even a chain reaction of simple neutrons (it relied on non-existent secondary super-heavy tetra-neutrons), but these distortions are as common in published works as the accurate accounts.]

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This is a very good book about the history of nuclear energy. The author discusses the development of physics as it relates to nuclear processes, the development of nuclear weapons, and the rise and fall (and perhaps reemergence) of safe nuclear electricity production. He compares the safety record of the entire history of nuclear reactors to that of coal and it isn't even close. Nuclear energy is much safer and is an inevitable direction to go if we have a goal of decreasing CO2 emissions. I re This is a very good book about the history of nuclear energy. The author discusses the development of physics as it relates to nuclear processes, the development of nuclear weapons, and the rise and fall (and perhaps reemergence) of safe nuclear electricity production. He compares the safety record of the entire history of nuclear reactors to that of coal and it isn't even close. Nuclear energy is much safer and is an inevitable direction to go if we have a goal of decreasing CO2 emissions. I recommend the book for anyone, but especially science educators and policy makers.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Benji Visser

    As it says on the tin — a thorough explanation of the history of atomic power, it’s use in nuclear weapons and for more civilian needs. Beginners fear not, it explains the quantum model of the atom required to make nuclear power possible. The first 200 pages or so are mostly review if you’ve completed high school chemistry and physics classes, with added historical tidbits. While Atomic Awakening has more depth, I’d probably just recommend people watch Our Friend The Atom from Disney studios to l As it says on the tin — a thorough explanation of the history of atomic power, it’s use in nuclear weapons and for more civilian needs. Beginners fear not, it explains the quantum model of the atom required to make nuclear power possible. The first 200 pages or so are mostly review if you’ve completed high school chemistry and physics classes, with added historical tidbits. While Atomic Awakening has more depth, I’d probably just recommend people watch Our Friend The Atom from Disney studios to learn atomic history — it has beautiful animation 😍.

  19. 4 out of 5

    თემო

    It's a solid book, but it's trying to be different things at different points. He starts with lots of biographical detail - too much, for my taste, since I don't particularly care whether Oppenheimer had a nice childhood. And then it transitions into a methodical explanation of the atomic experimentation and industry, and then finally into a decently robust argument for nuclear power. The first 80% is completely non-rhetorical, but you really feel it speed up and energize in the last 20%, and I It's a solid book, but it's trying to be different things at different points. He starts with lots of biographical detail - too much, for my taste, since I don't particularly care whether Oppenheimer had a nice childhood. And then it transitions into a methodical explanation of the atomic experimentation and industry, and then finally into a decently robust argument for nuclear power. The first 80% is completely non-rhetorical, but you really feel it speed up and energize in the last 20%, and I was left wishing he had chosen one or the other.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Druffner

    Very Enjoyable History By a Practical Engineer Excellent history of nuclear power in the U.S. by a practical engineer who worked in the field. A dangerous fascinating topic written about with a tough no nonsense style and plenty of dark humor. Who would have thought we were crazy enough to fly experimental jets with an unshielded reactor ?? Or to think a viable Would have liked to have had more discussion on modern design and nuclear power's future. Very Enjoyable History By a Practical Engineer Excellent history of nuclear power in the U.S. by a practical engineer who worked in the field. A dangerous fascinating topic written about with a tough no nonsense style and plenty of dark humor. Who would have thought we were crazy enough to fly experimental jets with an unshielded reactor ?? Or to think a viable Would have liked to have had more discussion on modern design and nuclear power's future.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sekaringtias

    I picked this up as an attempt to satisfy my curiosity on the development of nuclear energy (including all its controversies and delicate intricacies) and it really was a good decision. Mahaffey states that this book is not his attempt to sell nuclear energy - he is convinced that most of us already have our own opinions toward it. As I am still practically in awe of everything about the subject, I will let the ideas sink in and write the complete review and my thoughts on it later.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Largely focuses on the history of nuclear physics as many have said. In this regard, it's a fantastic and interesting read. That said, I would have liked to see more information of substance concerning the future of nuclear tech. For example, I was hoping for some thorium reactor info and there really isn't any. It's by no means enough to downgrade the rating, but a slight shame considering how knowledgeable Mahaffey is. Largely focuses on the history of nuclear physics as many have said. In this regard, it's a fantastic and interesting read. That said, I would have liked to see more information of substance concerning the future of nuclear tech. For example, I was hoping for some thorium reactor info and there really isn't any. It's by no means enough to downgrade the rating, but a slight shame considering how knowledgeable Mahaffey is.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    An honest history of radiation & all things nuclear told from a specific point of view (industry insider), who takes pride in the work - even if there have been a few moments of shame & danger. Only the author's straightforward tone about the 21st century's nuclear prospects are wrong, as the circuitous annals of fresh history have made abundantly clear. There should be an app for that, I suppose. An honest history of radiation & all things nuclear told from a specific point of view (industry insider), who takes pride in the work - even if there have been a few moments of shame & danger. Only the author's straightforward tone about the 21st century's nuclear prospects are wrong, as the circuitous annals of fresh history have made abundantly clear. There should be an app for that, I suppose.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Baltiyak

    The subtitle on this work is ‘A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power’ There is certainly lot of interesting history about nuclear power in this book, which is laid out in a manner that a layman can easily grasp the evolution from thought experiment to reality. I’d recommend it to anyone. However, this work is sorely lacking in the exploration of future technologies which makes me feel a bit mislead.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    History started much earlier than I expected (the discovery of magnetic fields). Not always the best organized and a large portion was dedicated towards nuclear weapons, but I learned numerous interesting facts that I think fellow Navy nukes would enjoy. Recommend to anyone trying to gain a broader understanding of the history of nuclear power and gain context of where Naval nuclear power fits into that history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Travis W

    The science was a bit heady for me at times and really over my head at others, but overall I learned a great deal about the history of nuclear power and the progress that led up to the discovery of it. I wish the ending had been less abrupt tho. The book ended in a weird way. A good read, particularly if you want a less biased approach to the history of it all.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nick Harriss

    I found this very interesting. While I had a good general understanding of the timeline for the development of atomic energy, this brought an extra level of detail that was pitched just right - not too scientific, nor too basic. The writer worked in the sector during its heyday, so brought the insight that only someone who has been in the thick of things can bring. Well recommended

  28. 5 out of 5

    Martti

    An interesting historical insight into the development of science and then practical engineering of the atom, but also a fascinating telling of some key events. The future "awakening" and the reasons for it might have needed more thorough examination to be worthy of the subtitle - "look at the future". An interesting historical insight into the development of science and then practical engineering of the atom, but also a fascinating telling of some key events. The future "awakening" and the reasons for it might have needed more thorough examination to be worthy of the subtitle - "look at the future".

  29. 4 out of 5

    John Crippen

    In my limited studies so far, this is the best single-volume explanation of the science, history, and politics of nuclear power. It's probably not the only book on nuclear power that you'll ever need to read, but it's a great starting point. The author is a nuclear engineer and I really appreciated his dedication to the science. I look forward to reading his other titles. In my limited studies so far, this is the best single-volume explanation of the science, history, and politics of nuclear power. It's probably not the only book on nuclear power that you'll ever need to read, but it's a great starting point. The author is a nuclear engineer and I really appreciated his dedication to the science. I look forward to reading his other titles.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    Starts in strong way with a very clear and elegent account of how the inner workings of the atomic and sub-atomic world was discovered. But the it decays :-) into an -albeit anecdotally interesting- mish-mash of personal reminiscences from the industry, the nuclear armsrace and the development of the nuclear power industry. Fun but flaky.

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