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Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power Paperback – October 15, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For many people, the idea of nuclear power died with the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, but for the curious and open-minded, this book offers a timely look at nuclear technology that, the author argues, could provide plenty of cheap, renewable energy, if only we can get past our oversized dread of it. Mahaffey's history lesson begins along a familiar path, from 17th-century chemist Robert Boyle to the great 20th-century physicists. Nazism and WWII sent hundreds of scientists—and their cutting-edge work—to the U.S. But the war also sent that research underground in the ultra-secret Manhattan Project. Researchers also dreamed of peaceful atoms to generate electricity and run submarines, planes and rockets. The specters of Hiroshima and a few horrifying nuclear accidents displaced that peaceful vision. With a wealth of anecdotes, Mahaffey, a senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, offers hope leavened with pragmatism that, while nuclear technology may be experimental forever, it can still be useful and safe. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

Atomic Awakening offers an essential look at nuclear power and how it will overcome its negative connotations to shape our century. (Scientific American Book Club Selection)

The world of science education in America would be an altogether different one if its textbooks were as readable as James Mahaffey's latest on nuclear technology. (Charleston Post-Courier, Michael S. Smith II)

ATOMIC AWAKENING provides the most complete history of nuclear power, nuclear weapons and nuclear energy development I have ever read in a single book. (Nuclear Street, review by Randy Brich)

The book aids in the understanding of how atomic science is far from the spawn of a wicked weapons program and how nuclear power will shape the 21st century, in which renewable energy and climate change have become defining concerns. (Nuclear News)

“Starred Review. Mahaffey writes with delightful witty prose. A surprisingly entertaining history of nuclear power.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“A senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Mahaffey offers hope leavened with pragmatism that, while nuclear technology may be experimental forever, it can still be useful and safe.” (Publishers Weekly)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus; Reprint edition (October 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605981273
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605981277
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Beverly Dezenberg on June 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is fascinating. The material is beautifully organized and surprisingly entertaining. It tracks atomic/nuclear research from earliest days to the present, when many countries already generate sizable percentages of their electrical power from nuclear reactors. As a liberal arts major, I wasn't sure I would understand much of this, but the writing is aimed at anyone interested in the subject. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and learned a great deal. Anyone interested in nuclear energy as clean, safe power - pro or con - would be glad they read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
The Holy Trinity of science best sellers like Brian Green's "The Elegant Universe or Walter" Issacson's "Einstein: His Life and Universe" has been people, history and science. James Mahaffey's Atomic Awakening breaks this mold with addition of application, interrelation and a point of view.

Mahaffey, a nuclear engineer as well as physicist, gives an extremely readable, no entertaining, history of nuclear physics. He also explains the science better than any other book I've read on physics. Because he shows the interrelation of theory and practice I finally understand Heisenberg's theory of uncertainty and why the key to a nuclear reactor is to slow down, not speed up, the neutrons. That is, if you cannot know with certainty where the Uranium atoms are you have a better chance of hitting one if the added neutrons spend more time in the target area by going slow!

Mahaffey brings the theory to practice without editorializing by comparing the devil we know with the devil we don't know. His well quoted example that if the first use of gasoline was napalm we would all be driving electric cars is dead on. Mahaffey describes the dangers of a nuclear accident, balances that with the cost of non-nuclear alternatives, then leaves the conclusion to the reader.
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Format: Hardcover
A thoroughly fascinating book about a serious subject. The author provides a very interesting history of the birth and development of the atomic age and sprinkles it with numerous, little known facts and stories to personalize the adventure. The book makes a strong case for the pursuit of nuclear energy in the U.S. at a time when that industry is resurging around the world, and may be awaking in the U.S. Through factual presentation, understatement, and a dry wit, the author presents the case for nuclear power to the reader and allows the reader to reach his own conclusons. I had difficulty putting it down until I had finished it.
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Format: Hardcover
James Mahaffey, a scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, writes about the nuclear power industry that he has spent his life in. His history goes back well before his time, though, to the dawn of nuclear power. Then traces nuclear power from those early days through to today. Filled with stories and details, Mahaffey's history powerfully makes his point -- that nuclear power will be our power source for the future.

Mahaffey writes well. His history has both humor and drama. He gives sober thought to the drawbacks of nuclear power, and admits they are real. But the drawbacks can be countered. On balance, the advantages weigh so heavily against the drawbacks that we should, Mahaffey argues, power our way forward with nuclear power.

First, a couple of minor points. The footnotes are footnotes, at the bottom of the page, rather than endnotes at the back of the book. With Mahaffey's style, that adds immensely to ease of reading. And the tidbits Mahaffey feeds the reader are choice. They add spice and flavor to the main meal.

Just one example: Mahaffey tells how a key Manhattan Project meeting was secretly held in northern California at the Bohemian Grove, out in the redwoods in the middle of nowhere. Mahaffey drops a footnote to give us President Nixon's comment on the Bohemian Grove that was caught on tape: "The Bohemian Grove -- which I attend from time to time -- it is the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine, with that San Francisco crowd. I can't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco." Vintage Nixon.

Mahaffey's book has a few weaknesses. Sometimes the humor seems forced. Sometimes the narrative drifts off topic. Sometimes the facts are wrong.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found this book exciting to read. Mahaffey takes the complex subject of Nuclear Physics and tells a fascinating story beginning in the 1700's and ending today.

I couldn't put it down. All the great scientific names we learned in school are brought to life along with their atomic accomplishments and failures. Maxwell, Planck, J.J. Thompson, Curie, Einstein, Rutherford, Bohr, Fermi, Oppenheimer, and many more, all weaved into a somewhat chronological account that takes us into WWII and the Little Boy and Fat Man Atomic Bombs. Then to Admiral Richover and the Nuclear Submarine and how we got to where we are today in Nuclear Power.

The Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters are enlightening fast-paced reads, and by the time you reach them toward the end of the book you have been educated in the fundamental workings of a nuclear reactor (without realizing it), and are able to follow along with the erupting emergency situations within those two reactors.

Mahaffey candidly explains the risks taken and the accidents made by the nuclear industry throughout the book. He doesn't seem to sugar-coat the failures and disasters as they are all valuable learning experiences. He finally dedicates about a page and a half almost at the end of the book to make his claim for Nuclear Power.

I encourage anyone who is interested in history, global warming, science, nuclear energy, nuclear physics, atomic bombs, radiation medicine, radiation poisoning, uranium, plutonium, or space travel to read this book. It is a lively, interesting, and educational read.

I give Mahaffey Five Stars.
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