The Curve of Binding Energy and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more

The Curve of Binding Energy: A Journey into the Awesome and Alarming World of Theodore B. Taylor

Sign in to turn on 1-Click ordering
More Buying Choices
Have one to sell? Sell yours here
Start reading The Curve of Binding Energy on your Kindle in under a minute.

Don't have a Kindle? Get your Kindle here, or download a FREE Kindle Reading App.

The Curve of Binding Energy: A Journey into the Awesome and Alarming World of Theodore B. Taylor [Paperback]

John McPhee
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

List Price: $16.00
Price: $12.07 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details
You Save: $3.93 (25%)
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
In Stock.
Ships from and sold by Gift-wrap available.
Want it tomorrow, Aug. 22? Choose One-Day Shipping at checkout. Details
Free Two-Day Shipping for College Students with Amazon Student


Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle Edition $8.89  
Hardcover --  
Paperback $12.07  
Mass Market Paperback --  
Audio, Cassette --  
Unknown Binding --  
Save up to 90% on Textbooks
Rent textbooks, buy textbooks, or get up to 80% back when you sell us your books. Shop Now

Book Description

April 1, 1994 0374515980 978-0374515980 Reprint
Theodore Taylor was one of the most brilliant engineers of the nuclear age, but in his later years he became concerned with the possibility of an individual being able to construct a weapon of mass destruction on their own. McPhee tours American nuclear institutions with Taylor and shows us how close we are to terrorist attacks employing homemade nuclear weaponry.

Frequently Bought Together

The Curve of Binding Energy: A Journey into the Awesome and Alarming World of Theodore B. Taylor + La Place de la Concorde Suisse + The Survival of the Bark Canoe
Price for all three: $37.51

Buy the selected items together

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought

Editorial Reviews Review

Theodore B. Taylor was among the most ingenious engineers of the nuclear age. He created the most powerful and the smallest nuclear weapons of his time (his masterpiece, the Davy Crockett, weighed in at a svelte 50 pounds) and also spearheaded efforts to create a nuclear-powered spacecraft. But in his later years, Taylor became increasingly concerned that compact and powerful bombs could be easily built not just by nations employing experts such as himself, but by single individuals with modest technical ability and perseverance. McPhee tours American nuclear installations with Taylor, and we are treated to a grim, eye-opening account of just how close we are to witnessing terrorist attacks using homemade nuclear weaponry. The Curve of Binding Energy is compelling writing about an urgently important topic.


A book holding, with pretty good authority, that tens of thousands of people know enough about the bomb and are close enough to what they don't know to produce a bomb at home . . . The report's art at its difficult best."—Alvin Beam, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

"Though dwellers in the nuclear age should ponder this book, as much for its intellectual excitement as for its warning."—Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal

Product Details

  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (April 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374515980
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374515980
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was educated at Princeton University and Cambridge University. His writing career began at Time magazine and led to his long association with The New Yorker, where he has been a staff writer since 1965. The same year he published his first book, A Sense of Where You Are, with FSG, and soon followed with The Headmaster (1966), Oranges (1967), The Pine Barrens (1968), A Roomful of Hovings and Other Profiles (collection, 1969), The Crofter and the Laird (1969), Levels of the Game (1970), Encounters with the Archdruid (1972), The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed (1973), The Curve of Binding Energy (1974), Pieces of the Frame (collection, 1975), and The Survival of the Bark Canoe (1975). Both Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most influential books of the last 30 years January 5, 2004
By A Customer
"The Curve of Binding Energy" is the landmark work that changed the American government's collective mind about the possibility of nuclear terrorism. It is fair to say that until nuclear weapon designer Ted Taylor sat down with John McPhee, and until McPhee's articles and book were published, the U.S. government believed that building a nuclear weapon required a regiment of top scientists and an effort on the scale of the Manhattan Project, something which could only be done by major industrialized powers (despite China).
After "Curve" was published, the government accepted the idea that terrorists could build nuclear devices, given only that they had access to fissile material and shifted gears almost immediately, an occurrence as rare as its effects were crucial. Taylor demonstrated that a few competent people mining the scientific literature could do the job. Many millions of dollars, pounds, francs, euros and rubles have been spent by many governments since publication of "Curve" to ensure that no terrorist ever gets his hands on plutonium or enriched uranium, and we are all safer as a result.
The book is, of course, incredibly readable and compelling. One would not expect less from the foremost prose stylist in the United States.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prophetic, scary and still important June 18, 2006
John McPhee is a writer for the New Yorker with a particular focus on science and nature. His heroes tend not to be the pure scientists but the engineers, the doers. His 1987 profile of the Old River Control Structure, the enormously complex and epic-scale engineering works that prevent the main body of the waters of the Mississippi from spilling down the Atchafalaya as they really want to, was widely linked at the time of the New Orleans floods last year and deservedly so -- search for "McPhee Old River Control" to read it, it's well worth it. He has a love for the concrete that doesn't prevent him having a good understanding of the underlying science that his engineers use and writes clearly and with energy.

The Curve of Binding Energy is about Ted Taylor, a physicist from Los Alamos, his efforts to develop the lightest fission bomb that he possibly could, and how his research pushed him in the direction of proper oversight of post-fission materials. The writing is excellent, pacey and readable, though at times tending too much to the New Yorker structure of "At facility Y I was ushered in to meet Expert X. He had shrewd eyes and an expansive, welcoming half-smile at the corners of his mouth. He said Z." The basic message is: (1) plutonium is easy to get access to; (2) with current (1974) practices and volumes the amount necessary to produce a bomb (15 kg) would be lost in the statistical noise; (3) this will only get worse as volumes produced go up, and they're projected to go up massively.

This is all from the perspective of 1974, of course. Since then, prompted in part by the concerns this book raised (and in part by independent factors such as a fall in the price of oil), the US cut back hugely on reactor starts. Nevertheless, nuclear power in the US grew from 114.
Read more ›
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Far ahead of its time. Fascinating and perhaps prophetic December 31, 2003
By A Customer
I read this book in 1975 and have subsequently reread it several times. The possibilities imagined in this book haven't yet come to pass, mainly, I think, because Ted Taylor is a genius and the terrorists are actually pretty stupid. Dr. Taylor, or someone like him, could build a home-made bomb that would make the events of 9/11 look like a tea party. However, the people motivated to actually carry out events like 9/11 are fortunately not so technically inclined.
The book spells out in chilling detail how it is actually pretty simple to put together an atomic bomb that could rival a Hiroshima-class explosion, IF, and it is a big IF, you have enriched uranium or plutonium.
The book does into enough detail to prove the point that bomb construction is fairly simple, but it contains several deliberate mistakes (one in chemistry and one in physics, that I could find) that keep this book from being a "blueprint" for bomb construction.
Like "The Hot Zone" about ebolla, this book may keep you awake nights if you read it carefully and really think about the implications.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WAAY ahead of his time September 24, 2001
One of the best and brightest, through Mr. McPhee's able penmanship, Mr. Taylor gives a guided tour of the (then) current state-of-the-art. Chock full of facts, figures and references, all verifiable. With the current glut of so-called 'expert' writers in this field, this book is one of the better uses of a tree on this subject ;O). I guarantee that any person interested in the nuclear weapons stockpile-to-target sequence will find the book an EXCELLENT buy.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Typically brilliant McPhee August 20, 1997
By A Customer
It doesn't matter what McPhee writes about- he's simply the best non-fiction writer of the post-war era. All the best non-fiction writers today- Richard Rhodes comes to mind- owe a debt to the writings of McPhee. He makes literally any subject come alive, and when he has a compelling one like Ted Taylor and nuclear weapons technology and proliferation, the result is compelling, page turning narrative. Buy this book. Buy any John McPhee. You won't be disappointed
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is really an amazing book. July 31, 1998
By A Customer
Way ahead of it's time, I couldn't put it down when I first read it in 1997. Engaging, well-written and with McPhee's classic ability to generate a fantastic world in which to explore. This book started a years-long passion in trying to understand about and learn as much as possible of the current state of nulear testing, power, and all nuclear power deployment, really. I HIGHLY reccommend picking it up.
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Nuclear Demons, the future ?
I came across this book, almost by accident; having a technical interest in nuclear fission.
Initially uncertain, i just downloded a free sample . Read more
Published 16 days ago by Andrew Hartman
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read on the subject of nuclear bombs and power generation
The author has assembled some very interesting history and insights into the way that America's nuclear material stockpiles (both for bombs and for power generation) is handled,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by P. Schmidt
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, as usual with McPhee.
Excellent, if frightening book. One wonders how much MUF is out there, and who has access to it. The explanation of binding energy is also fascinating.
Published 4 months ago by JESSE L GATES
4.0 out of 5 stars This nearly forty year old book on nuclear dilemmas still stellar but...
John McPhee, the ultimate teacher of non-fiction writing, is also the ultimate purveyor of the genre. He can explain anything in crystal clear poetic language. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Frances Brent
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to build a nuclear weapon, this is where you have to start
For a writer with a non-techical background, John McPhee (Pulitzer Prize winner) clearly understands the problems and carefully describes the issues involved in achieving an... Read more
Published 6 months ago by NadaNOC
3.0 out of 5 stars Adoring Author
This unconventional book is stuffed with facts that raise the consciousness about the nuclear fuel cycle and its relationship to more sinister uses of these materials. Read more
Published 8 months ago by John McCowan
5.0 out of 5 stars The essence of a nuclear era.
McPhee clarifies, sometimes with heart stopping simplicity, the complexities of physics that have brought us to a nuclear age. Read more
Published 9 months ago by our ilk
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent ... and scary!
McPhee is an excellent writer. I realized this when I couldn't put this one down -- a book on U-235, Plutonium-240 and the nuclear fuel cycle. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Ann Lovell
5.0 out of 5 stars One of many McPhee classics
And a chilling reminder of the consequences of atomic weapons especially with the rise of terrorism since McPhee wrote it.
Published 18 months ago by Peter R. Christy
4.0 out of 5 stars ok
Not the best not bad just dated book with old data some historical interest perhaps depends on the point of interest
Published 19 months ago by Bradley J. Piatt
Search Customer Reviews
Search these reviews only

Books on Related Topics (learn more)

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?


There are no discussions about this product yet.
Be the first to discuss this product with the community.
Start a new discussion
First post:
Prompts for sign-in

Look for Similar Items by Category