Top positive review
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Well travelled, well researched, and fascinating
on April 3, 2009
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. Thankfully, he also reports on the pithy and humorous -- including his own foibles while travelling the world.
My primary criticism is the dearth of time spent discussing today's choices -- does America become a nuclear country, like France? How do we address the deadly remains of the Cold War? Who can we trust to make these decisions.
In sum, Uranium is a fascinating read, a good book for history buffs, current events junkies, non-fiction lovers of all stripes, and even scientists.