From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this fine piece of journalism, Zoellnerdoes for uranium what he did for diamonds in The Heartless Stone
—he delves into the complex science, politics and history of this radioactive mineral, which presents the best and worst of mankind: the capacity for scientific progress and political genius; the capacity for nihilism, exploitation, and terror. Because Zoellner covers so much ground, from the discovery of radioactivity, through the development of the atomic bomb, he doesn't go into great depth on any one topic. Nonetheless, he superbly paints vivid pictures of uranium's impact, including forced labor in Soviet mines and lucky prospectors who struck it rich in harsh environments, the spread of uranium smuggling, as well as an explanation of why it was absurd to claim that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase significant quantities of uranium from Niger. The only shortcoming is Zoellner's omission of the issue of radioactive wastes generated by nuclear power—a significant problem given the possibility of a growing reliance on nuclear power. (Mar. 9)
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In an element low on the periodic table, Zoellner discovers the focus for events at the top of the world’s list of troubles. Having traveled extensively through the savannas of Africa, the mountains of Eastern Europe, and the deserts of Utah, Zoellner knows well what uranium looks like, why peril pulses in its every atom, and how scientists exploit its nuclear volatility. But most readers will find the drama not in the science but in the weaponry uranium has spawned—terribly demonstrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In pursuit of this raw power, the U.S. let Navajos die extracting needed ore and let southwestern cities sicken beneath clouds from reckless testing. The Soviet Union sentenced tens of thousands to lethal gulag mines. Israel diverted ore through deception on the high seas. Pakistan stole European refining technology. Alive with devious personalities, Zoellner’s narrative ultimately exposes the frightening vulnerability of a world with too many sources of a dangerous substance and too little wisdom to control it. A riveting journey into perilous terrain. --Bryce Christensen