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Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World Paperback – Bargain Price, February 23, 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (February 23, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014311672X
  • ASIN: B0042P58JC
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,994,084 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Tom Zoellner is an American author and journalist. He is the author of popular nonfiction books, described as "genre-defying," which take multidimensional views of their subject and show the descent of an influential object through history. These boosk have been praised as "dazzling" (Entertainment Weekly), "mesmerizing" (Booklist), and "enchanting" (New York Post). He is an Associate Professor of English at Chapman University and lives in downtown Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

A very well written book and a definite read for any history buff.
Ted
Tom Zoellner creates a wonderful tome explaining how the discovery, scientific understanding, mining, and development of uranium influenced recent history.
Sandor J. Woren
This is a very powerful work, one that presents the facts and some fascinating stories of almost mythical proportions.
Bookphile

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on April 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Unlike some of the other reviewers, I have actually read this book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By reviewer2009 on April 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Forget the comparisons to pop histories about cod, salt, dictionaries, potatoes, or even the color blue. This book doesn't elevate an obscure or minor subject with the ersatz claim that it "changed the world." No--in point of fact, uranium really DID change the world, and continues to exert enormous influence. For once, we have a subtitle that really means what it says, and this book tells that story.

"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.
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Somsel on August 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Guess it depends on what you're looking for. Just don't look for too much science or engineering in this book. You will find entertaining stories and anecdotes as well as a bunch of travelogues. This is not a "serious" book - it's journalism in hard cover.

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.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bookphile TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
What I consistently found most disturbing about Uranium as I was reading it was what it had to say about human nature. The author doesn't take a political stand one way or the other, which I think really serves the book. Instead, he provides historical background about the discovery of uranium and the way that discovery has shaped our world since. I found it to be a very neutral account for the most part. Yet for me, even that neutral tone couldn't hide the horror of the realization of the brutalities and atrocities carried out by the governments of a wide variety of nations, all in the interest of procuring as much uranium as possible. It's truly stunning to realize just how indifferent humans can be to the plights of others when they're blinded by greed.

There is a provocative central question to this book: Has uranium actually made our world safer or more dangerous? The heads of state of most nations seem to think that the nuclear threat isn't all that real because no one in their right mind would drop a bomb on another nation as that nation would retaliate by dropping a bomb in return. This idea of mutually assured destruction apparently helps some people sleep at night but it's really a rationalization. Zoellner addresses this issue when he writes about the possibility of terrorists or rogue nations obtaining nuclear weapons. When you're talking about people who have no real respect for human life or people whose ideology leads them to think obsessively about the end of the world, can you really expect that the idea of mutually assured destruction will prove an adequate deterrent?

What is also disturbing about this novel is the many ways in which uranium has been used against people.
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