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Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 5, 2009
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The focus of this book is on the history, not the science, of uranium (which should be obvious - it is a work of reportage, not science). Furthermore, the parts of the book that do deal with science are correct, clear, and concise; they are understandable to a lay reader but not boring -- the prose is poetic and beautiful in its description of uranium's structure, isotopes, and process of decay (ultimately winding up as lead).
Now on to the important stuff: Zoellner presents the paradox of uranium with drama and art. From the front lines, Zoellner reports on the tragic and terrifying. He speaks directly with survivors of Soviet prison camps on the border of East Germany and the Czech Republic, where thousands of political prisoners were forced to mine uranium to fuel the arms race. These stories are heartbreaking, and for me, were a new revelation about the havor wreaked by the cold war.
Zoellner travels into the heart of what is now the DRC, to visit Shinkolobwe, where the uranium for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was mined. The discoveries he makes there are bone chilling (I won't give them away!)
He also captures the intangible influence uranium has had on society - the paradox of salvation (clean energy) and damnation (mutually assured destruction); its integration into capitalism and stock markets; how its pursuit in Canada, the American West, and even Mongolia, resembles the goldrush and embodies American entrepreneurship and adventure.
Despite the terrifying realities Zoellner reports, he is even-handed and does not set out to scare the reader.Read more ›
"Uranium" takes a profound subject and makes it accessible to the lay person. While obviously informed by science, "Uranium" approaches its topic from the angle of social history, which makes it especially compelling. Zoellner's narrative comes alive with first-person reportage, fascinating anecdotes and lucid prose. You come away with a deeper understanding of how uranium has shaped modern society, influenced governments, and held both despots and the destitute in its thrall. Its very instability as an element mirrors the instability it threatens on a global stage. And as a mainstream energy source, it holds promise--but only if we can manage its waste and keep the source material out of evil hands. The more people understand about this substance, the better. Highly recommended.
The author is a newspaper reporter and magazine editor writing on the beach in Northern California (literally) but, mercifully, he avoids the knee-jerk environmentalism and turns in a fairly balanced work. He does makes some boners like comparing occupational hazards of early US underground mining for uranium with mining slave labor behind the Iron Curtain. They are comparable neither in moral equivalency nor in quantified loss of life.
As someone with a little background in the subject, he's sloppier in terminology and scientific concepts that I would like and has a weakness for purple prose.
If you're looking for WHY uranium is so significant to the human race, he talks about the Bomb but does a lesser job on the core fact that some of the advocates he quotes only hint at. The discovery of nuclear energy really can be a game changer for the human race. We've only the most clumsy applications so far - I know, I'm a nuclear engineer - but a universe awaits us.
Why don't we have more than 20% of country's electricity come from uranium? Why don't we have nuclear rockets to shuttle us to the Moon and Mars? (They were ready for flight-testing in 1972!) Why aren't we rushing to build pebble reactors to make gasoline from water and coal via nuclear heat?
The book was a quick read and entertaining but again, hardly touches the real issues we must struggle with.
One quibble with the editor and not the author - why can't we have a cover photo with adequate depth of field so that the rock is all in focus? It is set up for eye strain now.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
An informative and entertaining read, as much so as any non-fiction I've ever encountered.Published 3 months ago by JStevens
Excellent written and captivative - I recommend it.Published 3 months ago by West Coast Commentator
An excellent book, and a truly fascinating reading experience. If you have never been afraid of radioactivity, this book will do it for you! Read morePublished 4 months ago by Stephen Lee Morgan
This book almost made me cry. It was so informative. It is so sad, way too bad that this element was ever discovered. Oh, the grief it has caused and will continue to cause.Published 7 months ago by Lea
Much shorter version of Rhodes's saga of the nuclear bombs. Uranium, obviously, was essential and General Groves recognized it immediately. Read morePublished 8 months ago by oldcaman