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on April 29, 2017
Craig Nelson's The Age of Radiance provides a comprehensive history of radiation and nuclear technologies, starting with Roentgen's discovery of X-rays and ending with the recent meltdown of the reactor at Fukushima. Craig Nelson provides a factual and analytical view of the evolution of nuclear weapons, strategy, and utilities and how they affect society, while also using anecdotes from scientists, statesmen, and celebrities to express public views of these technologies over time. This is an engaging and interesting read, I highly recommend it.
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on June 10, 2014
Good overall presentation of the timeline of the atomic era. Excellent insight into some of the key people who moved the atomic era forward, such as the Curies. Some fairly gruesome stories about the atomic testing and accidents that were hard to read - emotionally. Easy to read and I would recommend the book for anyone interested in this subject. I'm not entirely sure I agree that the atomic age is coming to an end - there are just too many crazy people in high places around the world who might be tempted to use atomic weapons regardless of the consequences - even to themselves.
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on March 31, 2015
A true epic journey through the scary time of my life. The drills under our desks in elementary school now have reason... Surprised that even Marie Currie experienced such discrimination. Was shocked that the US lagged Europe in all things "physics" then. It's amazing that we won the war. An extremely well told story with tons of details and disturbing looks into the characters (or lack of) of that time.
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on April 14, 2014
This book somewhat cleverly sets the limits on what comprises "The Age of Radiance" by offering up short bios on the scientists who discovered the various forms of radiation, beginning with the X-Ray and then into the Curies and those that followed. Each is so short that you learn little about the technology or the humans involved, but it does make for a fairly quick review of the chronology of physics in the last 100+ years for those who might need such an education. I suppose that those raised on academic books have learned to enjoy footnotes and a large part of the end of a book being devoted to answering those footnotes, but I could have done without all those research aspects and with a few more facts on this vital era of physics.
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on September 11, 2014
Wow. A worthy companion volume to Richard Rhodes's "The Making of the Atomic Bomb." Many different details here, however. Lots of anecdotal material regarding the scientists who were involved in all aspects of atomic theory development.last century. Casual readers will not be put off by too much physics -- there's just enough.
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on April 24, 2014
Craig Nelson’s “The Age of Radiance” offers a survey of nuclear energy from Henri Becquerel through the recent accident at Fukushima, and, overall, does a respectable job. As a physicist, I am familiar with the science involved with this material. I found its coverage of the personalities involved to be engaging, and intended to go through the entire volume. However, I soon noticed that it contains numerous small errors, especially in the sections that dealt with my own area of expertise, the Manhattan Project; I finally gave up about half-way through, and this is why I give this book a two-star rating.
Here is a partial list of corrections: In a discussion of a memo from Vannevar Bush to President Roosevelt (p. 146), FDR is quoted as writing “Time is very much of the essence,” whereas the actual wording is “I think the whole thing should be pushed not only in regard to development, but also with due regard to time. This is very much of the essence.” Page 147 implies that a group of scientists chose General Groves to lead the Project, an assertion I have never come across in my own research. Los Alamos had 6000 residents, but only about 2500 employees (150). No credible source ever refers to Einstein having consulted at Los Alamos (153); his forte was not nuclear physics and Groves would have considered him too great a security risk. Construction on the K-25 diffusion plant did not begun until 1943, and was not finished until well into 1945 (161). A discussion at the bottom of p. 161 confusingly mixes the discovery of plutonium and uranium separation techniques in the same paragraph. A description of the S-50 liquid-diffusion plant reverses the order of heated and cooled pipes (163). On page 166, the assertion that the Hiroshima bomb “went supercritical for less than a second” is strictly true, but the actual order of magnitude is only about a microsecond. Otto Hahn does not have an element named after him (190), and David Hawkins was a philosopher, not a physicist (192). A paragraph on p. 197 confusingly garbles the roles of the Jumbo containment vessel and sealing the windows of the McDonald ranch house to reduce dust during bomb assembly(!); “searching light” on p. 202 is probably supposed to be “searing light”; William Parsons is misidentified as the bombardier of the Enola Gay (212); Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was in Nagasaki, not Hiroshima (212); and the name of Enola Gay’s bombardier, Tom Ferebee, is mis-spelt as Farraby (212).
Also, are descriptions such Wilhelm Roentgen having “unruly beard and hair, wild and untamed” (13), or the Fat Man bomb as “grungy and cobbled together” (197), or Edward Teller “With a face like an abdominal muscle foreshadowed by a prow of beetle brows ...” (157) really necessary? Mr. Nelson is an experienced writer who should be above such characterizations.
Individually, the above points are each minor, but they make me wonder how carefully this book was researched. These are not arcane points, but rather relate to material that has been reviewed many times by scientists and historians and which can now be researched with a few minutes of online effort. Readers who seek surveys of the history of nuclear physics, radioactivity, and the development of nuclear weapons have many other more carefully-prepared volumes from which to choose.
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on July 28, 2014
While this book may not serve a reliable source book on the science of technology of nuclear energy and the atom bomb nor an always accurate history of the events, it does offer many interesting stories about and quotations from many of the participants. While the author is admittedly not a scientist and he does err on some of the details, his general perspectives on these matters reflects a better understanding than I find exhibited by many non-scientists. He does relay many fascinating stories in which their opinions and interactions are revealed. I am familiar with much of the science, having worked extensively with radiation and having visited some of the sites where much action has occurred such as Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Hiroshima. I have met several of the scientists involved including Einstein, Oppenheimer, Teller, Urey, and Feynman, have enjoyed a course taught by Wigner, have attended lectures by Bohr and von Neumann, and have been a member of a delegation to China led by Seaborg, leading to my having opinions about their personalities. The stories about them by Nelson add to this perspective and have complemented my own experiences. It is true that some of the stories are disjointed and that it is desirable to consider them as enhancing other impressions.

While the book tells much about atom bomb developments in the US and the USSR, often motivated by the paranoia by each of fear of conquest by the other, it neglects the probably important role of China in this competition. As mentioned, I participated in a China visit with a group led by Glen Seaborg. This was before China was recognized by the US and part of the goal of the group was to learn about China’s status with nuclear weapons. The Chinese realized our desire and called us into the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where we were addressed by their science minister who told us that they were told by the US Secretary of State that if China wished to be recognized by the US, it should develop a bomb. Apparently we were motivated at the time by fear of the Russians and wanted China’s help in opposing them. I suspect there are some who now regret our encouraging them.

A lesson is that scientific monopoly is short-lived, and an increasing number of nations have or will develop this capability. I encountered in India, a high Army official involved in their nuclear program and felt somewhat reassured that he seemed to have a good understanding of the potentials and problems. I believe that most rational people will conclude that atomic warfare has no winners and could lead to the destruction of most of the earth’s civilizations. A problem is that the possibility may fall into the hands of those who are not rational. What then?

The author is, in my view, overly pessimistic about the future of nuclear energy. He thinks, as indicated in his subtitle “The Rise and Fall of the Atomic Era” that the atomic era has fallen. He believes that the poor educating of the public about the nature of radiation, the emphasis on the “disasters” of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, as well as present economic difficulties, have resulted in a decline of public enthusiasm and political support. I am more optimistic about the future and have faith that technology may lead to solving some of these problems. While we can’t be sure, it may be that Nelson’s “death certificate” may be premature. If we find a way to use nuclear energy safely, it is essential, however, that the effort be accompanied by one to prevent its use in warfare that could lead to consequences that might negate all of the advantages.

One should not rely on this book alone but it is good reading for supplementing information acquired elsewhere. I certainly provides much “food for thought.
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on August 22, 2016
Worth reading and understanding, Thank You
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on January 29, 2015
Liked the writing style and story. Try Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986) for more of the science.
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on March 18, 2015
Displays excellent knowlege of the science and history. Makes important points from an educated basis.
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