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Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld Hardcover – April 25, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560258497
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560258490
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,286,101 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Pentagon's fascination with fringe science is old news, writes veteran defense reporter Weinberger in this incisive study, but the Bush administration has pushed it to new levels of wackiness. After reviewing our government's pursuit of antimatter weapons, psychics and telepathy, she focuses on a "nuclear hand grenade" that may cost billions and seems certain to fail. Before the War on Terror and the avalanche of government money for advanced new weapons, few paid attention to physicists who said they could harness the energy of unstable atomic nuclei, or "isomers," through a wildly expensive process involving atomic reactors. But in recent years, a group of fringe scientists aided by defense industry insiders has convinced the Pentagon that America's post-9/11 survival depends on developing an isomer bomb. While proponents compare it to the Manhattan Project, opponents point out that independent researchers have not been able to duplicate the results attained by isomer enthusiasts, and that many assumptions behind the bomb contradict the laws of physics. Though Congress canceled isomer bomb development in 2004, the Department of Energy found $5 million to continue the research. (July 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

That the Pentagon wastes billions of dollars on outmoded or ineffective weaponry has been old news for decades, but Weinberger offers a new dimension. Editor of the magazine Defense Technology International, Weinberger has previously worked for the U.S. State Department and the Systems Planning Corporation, and she uses her insider's understanding to expose the flaws in weapons design through a case study built around a device called a hafnium bomb. The idea for a handheld weapon with the explosive power of a nuclear bomb begins in the mind of a pseudoscientist who makes more headway with the Pentagon than seems logical. "All it took," Weinberger notes, "was a used dental X-ray, a few die-hard supporters, some farfetched claims of a new arms race, and the Pentagon thought it was on its way to the next superbomb." The episode seems outlandish enough to be satire, but alas, it's true to life. Weinberger injects humor into the saga, but comedy pales in light of the potentially deadly nature of the proposed weapon. Steve Weinberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

This book is very hard to read.
Phil Laco
This book would have made a very interesting magazine article, no doubt about that, but as a book there just wasn't enough of a story.
D. Muhr
I was going to write a long and detailed review of this book outlining its many minor and few major flaws.
Chris Knight

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Russian Student on July 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I bought the book "Imaginary Weapons" hoping to have an entertaining read on some of the less plausible ideas and concepts that are thrown around the "Pentagon's Scientific Underworld." I'm very interested in both science and technology, so I was also interested to hear the "science" behind these prospective weapons and the case studies on them.

Sadly, the book matched neither the title nor my expectations. In reality, the book focuses exclusively on "isomer weapons" and the "hafnium bomb," or, I should say, the in-squabbling that takes place between fringe scientists over these ideas. The book is less of a study, less of a technological focus and more of a "he said, she said" soap opera of the scientific world, with a narrow focus to those scientists in the isomer/hafnium field.

If you're interested in the history of isomer/halfium research, then this may be a good read, otherwise, I advise you look elsewhere.
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77 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Howard on August 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Imaginary Weapons by Sharon Weinberger is an extremely disappointing book. Promos claimed it would be a broad investigation of the unconventional technologies evaluated by the DOD. What it turns out to be is a pitifully narrow view of a single trivial issue about whether the energy stored in a peculiar isomer form in Hafnium can be useful or not. Having no technical competence, the author seems only able to spend the 300 pages producing an immature view of hypothetical squabbling between characters portrayed in a totally unconvincing style. By the end of the book it is clear that the analysis reported in the Product Forum got it right. Imaginary Weapons is fiction concocted from interviews with sources that have no credibility or corroboration. What a waste of $10.10!
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By D. Muhr on November 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I saw the author plugging the book on The Daily Show and she was quite engaging and the book sounded like a good read. But after reading the book I can't recommend it. It was very dry and reminded me of a college term paper that was very much padded for length. There is one central story and it's beaten to death over and over. This book would have made a very interesting magazine article, no doubt about that, but as a book there just wasn't enough of a story. And one other thing...the book is loaded with TYPOS!! Very distracting...I'd say I noticed six or seven typos and generally you shouldn't find ANY.
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61 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Ingeborg on August 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Reviews and Forums seem to divide between misguided loyalist partisans who want to believe and to argue that Sharon Weinberger uncovered some big deal in Imaginary Weapons and others like myself who are convinced that the book is fiction. Recently posted is conclusive evidence that one more event the author describes in graphic detail is false. Starting on page 205 she writes:

"In early April 2004, Esen Alp, a senior physicist at the Argonne lab, appeared in the office of the director of the SPring-8 synchrotron in Japan.... Alp was another in a long line of Collins critics who had bristled when the obscure Texas scientist...he brought with him one small present for the director at SPring-8, a copy of my Washington Post Magazine article featuring the cover story on Carl Collins.... He wanted to be sure the director got a copy of the article. Pictures and all."

On July 31, 2006 the Chief Counsel of the Chicago Office of the US Department of Energy (that owns Argonne) sent a letter saying "Dr. Alp advised that he did not provide Spring-8 officials with Ms. Weinberger's magazine article, contrary to the account in the book." The full text of the letter is posted on the internet.

Myself, I can see no other resolution of the conflict between these two statements except to conclude that Sharon Weinberger just fabricated her story out of nothing.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Andarte on June 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Imaginary Weapons by Sharon Weinberger is worse than garbage. I knew Jack Agee also and he is nothing like the slanderous image repeated over and over in the book. I also know some of the Texas people and they too are nothing like the picture that this vicious gossip columnist tries to cram down the reader's throats. From personal knowledge I can say that all individuals Weinberger demonizes are regular people who are trying to do their best to meet their heavy responsibility to our country, their work intentionally made much harder by the lies and vendettas promoted by Sharon Weinberger.

The book market has already figured it all out, that Imaginary Weapons is a total flop, the secondary booksellers have dumped their books at cut-rate prices, and you can read most of the nasty parts for free by using the CAP links. Don't buy this garbage book because it might encourage another book by Sharon Weinberger.
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66 of 83 people found the following review helpful By John Warner on July 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It is interesting to see how reviews of Imaginary Weapons mature as people actually read the book before writing about it. The use of Google to search upon the title "Imaginary Weapons," returns a rich menu of opinions, from blogs and reviews that are not just the panegyrics seen here that are designed to push sales. Starting with "wickedly funny" and "clear to anyone regardless of their education", we finally arrive at "I am truly sorry to conclude that Imaginary Weapons by Sharon Weinberger is just made-up nonsense, if not worse." In the forum section below, I find the author's preference to weave and evade legitimate questions about the provenance of events she described to be particularly telling. Myself, I must agree with George's conclusion - Imaginary Weapons is made-up nonsense.
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