"Persuasive and based on deep research. Atomic Awakening taught me a great deal." (Nature)
The American public's introduction to nuclear technology was manifested in destruction and death. With Hiroshima and the Cold War still ringing in our ears, our perception of all things nuclear is seen through the lens of weapons development. Nuclear power is full of mind-bending theories, deep secrets, and the misdirection of public consciousness - some deliberate, some accidental. The result of this fixation on bombs and fallout is that the development of a non-polluting, renewable energy source stands frozen in time.
Outlining nuclear energy's discovery and applications throughout history, Mahaffey's brilliant and accessible book is essential to understanding the astounding phenomenon of nuclear power in an age where renewable energy and climate change have become the defining concerns of the twenty-first century.
©2009 James Mahaffey (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
Starting slow, but building to a crescendo, this is the exciting story of the exploration of the sub-atomic realm, radioactivity, and the inspiring intellectual challenges, successes and terrible blunders made by the many individuals and nations in the race to harness nuclear power both as a devastating weapon, and an inexhaustible supply of useful energy.
As an insider to the Nuclear industry, Mahaffey knows his stuff, and he pitches the balance between scientific theory and social narrative just right, in my opinion. Some slightly quirky references to the supernatural in his introduction are rapidly left behind as he charts the history of the discovery of atomic structure, the isolation of neutrons among the various curious emissions of the first discovered radioactive elements such as Radium, Polonium and Uranium and the destabilising impact of very slow or very fast neutrons on the fissile nuclei of these same elements. The book has many nice anecdotes such as the famous "traffic light" moment - the sudden realisation of the potentially huge energy that could be released in a nuclear chain reaction. The tale really takes off as the race to build a super-bomb during the war gathers pace.
A satisfying irony of history described in the book, is that it was the anti-semitism of the Nazis that so handicapped the German atom-bomb project, and gave such a decisive final advantage to the Allies. To quote one wag "We got there first because our German scientists were better than their German scientists"!
Mahaffey then goes on to describe the post-war development of the nuclear industry, as well as the further development of a variety of military nuclear hardware, reactors, rockets etc. including the fusion bomb, and the leaking of secrets to the USSR. He misses no detail out, for instance in describing the principles behind major competing reactor designs, the Cold War politics of the time, and the notorious accidents, including Winscale, 3 Mile Island and Chenobyl, as well as some less well known incidents (such as the deliberate suicidal removal of the central control rod in one military reactor) with the political as well as nuclear fallout that resulted.
These accidents, increasing capital costs, plus a growing opposition to nuclear energy changed the dream of free energy into the public image nightmare of a costly, dangerous, long lasting radioactive contaminant producing technology. However, if there is a moral to the book, it is that this fear we must overcome. He lays his cards on the table in his opposition to the "anti nuclear movement" who in his opinion may prevent us utilising this clean, safe, inexhaustible form of energy, through prejudice. Its time we looked again at nuclear energy. One area he surprisingly does not explore is nuclear fusion as a source of energy.
All in all, it is an excellent book, read in a slightly "American heroic" style, reminiscent of those 1950s information films (which sort of feels appropriate). It exemplifies all the scientific excitement of a futuristic technology, the cold war tension of a secret super-weapon, the adrenaline of nuclear disaster, and the sometimes stranger than fiction truthfulness of a historical account. Much to think about!
Well narrated, the story moves along at a nice pace and with a good sense of humour. You don't need to be a physicist to understand it, as as much of the story is about the people behind the development of our understanding of radioactivity as what was actually observed. By the time the author gets to the Manhattan Project (after about 100 years of discoveries) you're hooked and can't put the earphones down.
An excellent history of the development of atomic technologies. Great insight into the hype and ultimate realisation of true potential. A little light on current innovations and future potential. Despite that, highly recommend.
Inherently interesting material, presented with insight and a sense of humor and perspective. I didn't love the reader: good diction and clarity, but an odd, "radio-advertising-like" delivery. I got used to it, but couldn't really settle in. Still, recommended.
great narrator, gifted writer. very highly recommended. I laughed my butt off over the helmet story in chapter 15. I learned a lot, laughed a little and cringed 100 times over some of these stories. amazing book..
"Awesome perspective on nuclear history"
This book makes the story of nuclear science and engineering so cool that I too could imagine myself standing over a naked core and daring it to go critical. One of my favorite books.
"great and fascinating book."
learned a lot of things about nuclear physics with stories that keep you interested. a lot of information that is unbiased regarding nuclear power.
"pretentious author, but good content"
lots of good content. the history of science was particularly good. the author is somewhat rude and belittling to the reader/listener sometimes, but if you can get past that, he seems to know a good deal if relevant information. the reader was too cheesy-action-movie for my taste, and mispronounced several scientists names, but other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this work.
"Interesting but with flaws"
The first half of the book is primarily the history leading up to the atomic age. This is all well and good but the narration and writing are both weak. The narration seems stilted and robotic. I honestly wondered if it was a really good text to speech machine or just bad narration. It doesn't help that the writing tends towards sentences that could easily double as click bait headlines. The second half of the book is about the peak of atomic research and the present status of the same. This half is better than the first half by a mile. The content is good. The history follows atomic research back to the very beginning and does a good job of explaining what and why each piece is important. The personal stories in the second half really help to pull in a lot of the mood of nuclear work and development home to the listener.
"Odd, but well written"
This book is quite good but troublesome. I'm glad I read it, as it takes a backdoor peek into the nuclear world. The narrator is awkward at times, but so is the author. The book can also be fairly dry. I would recommend pushing through it if you really want to know about the state of all things nuclear. I feel much more informed and feel I can understand the discussion of nuclear topics and contribute better. Regardless of your stance on nuclear energy, I think this book is a worthwhile read.
"The blessings and bombs of nuclear technology"
Atomic awakening by James Mahaffey is one of the better books I've ever gone through! From blessed Marie Curie to the genius buffoon Richard Feynman and many more amazing people the thrilling and fascinating story is told of the discovery and development of nuclear technology. Alas the story also tells of how regretful it is that destruction and death was our first real public introduction to this potential second coming of Promethean fire to mankind. Good heavens, this book was interesting and John McLain does a great job narrating it.
"Excellent History and Engaging Science"
The history is SO recent and SO relevant, yet I was unaware of a lot of it. That is disturbing. The book is 90% history so if the "awakening" in the title has you believing it's all about the future of nuclear energy you will be disappointed. But the history does lay the foundation we need to move forward and that is his aim -- moving forward after a long, and really stupid, pause. The book was a lot of fun! And I learned a lot. For a scientist, the author is surprisingly good at explaining science in a way that is easy to understand. Even more surprising was the ease with which he told the story in a very engaging way. I would read more books by this author.
"Perfect for any science nerd"
Loved it. Five stars, all that. Thorough history of nuclear radiation and nukes. Can be a bit "text-booky" at times, but overall it's a great read on the subject. My biggest gripe is that the narrator sounds like he is reading a movie-trailer, but this is a minor annoyance. I highly recommend it anyone who wants to learn more about the subject. I would also recommend Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, by Eric Schlosser. It read more like a novel and is also full of great info.
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