Customer Reviews: Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science
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on September 17, 2011
Marjorie has done a reasonable job although I must say that in places information was lacking-especially on subjects pertinent to the central thrust- such as what radiation and radioactive decay actually is?. I would have expected some discourse on say Fermi decay or half-lives, why some elements are stable and others are not, The Weak Force, how damage occurs in biological tissues due to free radicals-you know basic nuclear 101 physics fodder? That said I'll give this the thumbs up pretty much like Atomic Power: Necessary Evil or Virtually Uncontrollable Force that's Wrecking the Planet? which has a misleading title but is a good source of info on radiation and nuclear chemistry.
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on January 6, 2012
Malley does a fine job of tracing the history of radioactivity from the end of the 19th century to WWII. She explains what radioactivity is, how it was discovered and the resulting uses of it. She also goes into some detail about the science behind its discovery and how it corresponded with the discovery of relationships in the periodic table itself and the notion that elements should be organized around atomic number and not atomic weight. There is some explication of the atom and isotopes as well. Malley does a nice job of showing how the science of radiation allowed for greater understanding of other areas of science (this is particularly evident in her chapter in the appendix on radioactivity's elusive cause. Here she goes into the strong force, the electrostatic force, wave mechanics, half lives and the weak force. This section is well worth reading on its own for a primer of radioactivity and quantum mechanics).

The ending chapters are the weakest. They are very over general and provide little insight into radiation itself. Or how radiation is used/viewed today. They seem to be attached simply to make the book longer. I would read Part I and Part II for their introduction to radioactivity and its role in science and leave Part III alone. The appendixes are also worthwhile.

There is a glossary at the end of the book and other useful appendixes. She includes noble prize winners associated with radioactivity, the relationships among different radioactive elements and their isotopes, and a detailed timeline.

If I were a student studying the elements and chemistry at the turn of the 19th century, I would find this book a very accessible introduction to radioactivity as it relates to chemistry and physics.
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on August 18, 2012
Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science, written by Marjorie C Malley, is a non-fiction detailing the history of Radioactivity and how it captivated the imagination of the scientific community as well as the industry, politicians, and the general public.

Radioactivity was not just another scientific phenomenon. It created a new branch of study in itself, had a profound impact on the society, international politics, war, business and industry and medical sciences.

This is a very geeky book with lots of scientific jargon which a non-technical person may not be able to understand without considerable effort. However, readers who have relevant technical background will find it a good and interesting read.

I loved the portions of the book which contained the stories of the researchers, even more than the technical stuff. I was interesting to know how the personality traits, education, background and even religious beliefs of the researchers shape the way they hypothesized and tried to explain radioactivity. Life stories of Marie Curie and other researchers of the era was fascinating and heart warming at the same time (the biography of the Curies is on me "To read" list now). I was also surprised to know the sheer number of scientists who got noble prizes for their discoveries related to radioactivity. It was also very interesting to read about the effect of politics, war, and economics on the development of this field of study.

On the flip side, the book misses out on a lot of interesting recent developments in this field. I was anticipating a section on nuclear power industry, all the associated controversies and the role this industry has played in international politics. Also, there is a lot of interesting history related to nuclear warfare industry, which could have made the book much more interesting and appealing for an average reader.

Overall it is a well written book, meant for a very niche audience.
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on February 16, 2016
I found this book rather frustrating. It's amazing that these scientists, working with, from our perspective, very primitive equipment, no knowledge of the dangerous substances they were working with, and, of course, their prodigiously insightful and inventive minds, made great strides toward explaining the fundamental nature of radioactivity and how it is produced without the faintest notion of what an atom looked like. The careful attention paid to the changes made necessary to the Periodic Table as a result of these discoveries was clearly written and understandable. However, I found the (long) chapter on misuse of radioactive elements as all-purpose curatives, almost certainly causative of radiation poisoning and even death, to be rather trivialized. Likewise, it is difficult to conceive of a book about radiation that does not address at all the first successful chain reaction and its background, lends one sentence to "splitting the atom", and ignores the discovery of plutonium in 1940. Radiation research was a lot farther along that one would realize were this the only book on the subject one read. I would have liked visuals on radiation decay and more information on quantum theory as well. Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with one reviewer who opined that the final couple of chapters were unnecessary, and, in my estimation, rather opinonated.
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on March 5, 2012
I usually don't read science, but found this book interesting and engaging. The topic is inherently interesting and is well presented by the author. The book is written for non-scientists with an interest in the topic.

The book is short and contains a lengthy set of notes, so it is a quick read. It left me wanting to read more.
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on March 17, 2013
This book is highly recommended as an historical treatise on the evolution of concepts about radioactivity. The contributions of well-known as well as less widely known scientists are described. Excellent reading for a student or teacher of college or secondary school physics.
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on September 5, 2011
I am a chemist and have read extensively about science yet I found the book enjoyable although a bit of a tease. I felt the author skimmed some aspects of the story and completely ignored a scientific explanation of radioactivity. Nevertheless it is a good read.
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on February 13, 2013
Historical events and developments are always a complicated tangle of stories as they happen and there are basically two ways to recount them. One is to follow a strict timeline in which the narrative bounces around among the various story lines to keep them temporally aligned. This method relates the story as it actually happened but imposes a burden on the reader of having to keep track of several stories at once and remembering what was going on in each when it is returned to after a diversion to the others.

The second method is to tell each of the stories, in turn, as a separate narration. This makes each story easier to follow but may involve having to leaf back once in a while to be reminded what things were happening contemporaneously. This is the format followed by this book and I think I prefer it. The participants in historical events and processes rarely know much about the other story lines as they are happening. It is mostly in retrospect that it is clear what developments were really part of the same story, so this approach gives a better feel for how the events were viewed by the actual participants.

This is a very well-produced and well-written book that can be enjoyed by readers with a broad range of technical backgrounds. I highly recommend it.
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on October 21, 2013
Firstly, it is exceptionally well written, in an easy-to-understand method. Secondly, you won't need to be an expert on the topic by any means. I look forward to checking out any other books Majorie has written.
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on October 3, 2011
This is more a book of who's who and problems that faced them. You do get a little history about radioactivity in section two. But very little. Then the author jumps right back to who's who in section three. ... There a a lot of better books on radioactivity out there.
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