Synopses & Reviews
Uranium, a nondescript element when found in nature, in the past century has become more sought after than gold. Its nucleus is so heavy that it is highly unstable and radioactive. If broken apart, it unleashes the tremendous power within the atom—the most controversial type of energy ever discovered.
Set against the darkening shadow of World War II, Amir D. Aczel's suspenseful account tells the story of the fierce competition among the day's top scientists to harness nuclear power. The intensely driven Marie Curie identified radioactivity. The University of Berlin team of Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner--he an upright, politically conservative German chemist and she a soft-spoken Austrian Jewish theoretical physicist--achieved the most spectacular discoveries in fission. Curie's daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, raced against Meitner and Hahn to break the secret of the splitting of the atom. As the war raged, Niels Bohr, a founder of modern physics, had a dramatic meeting with Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist in charge of the Nazi project to beat the Allies to the bomb. And finally, in 1942, Enrico Fermi, a prodigy from Rome who had fled the war to the United States, unleashed the first nuclear chain reaction in a racquetball court at the University of Chicago.
At a time when the world is again confronted with the perils of nuclear armament, Amir D. Aczels absorbing story of a rivalry that changed the course of history is as thrilling and suspenseful as it is scientifically revelatory and newsworthy.
"Author and Boston University research fellow Aczel (Fermat's Last Theorem) shares a scientist's history of nuclear chemistry in the 20th century, and its eventual application in the form of the atomic bomb. In the first half, Aczel covers figures of early modern science like the Curies in Paris, the Meitner-Hahn group in Berlin, and Italian physicists before they were driven out by the Fascists. (One of WWII's greatest ironies is that the science Nazis dubbed 'Jewish physics' gave the Allies their conquering weapon.) Newly released documents and post-war memoirs also help Azcel chronicle German scientists, like Werner Heisenberg, who participated in the Nazi bomb project. Aczel is at his most intriguing analyzing Truman's decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima; further declassified U.S. documents reveal that the U.S. knew Japanese ambassadors were making peace offers in Moscow before the bombing, and that the destruction of Hiroshima was also meant to send a message to the Soviets. Using a wealth of new source material, Azcel covers the triumphs and mistakes that come from powerful, cutting-edge science, while sounding a cautionary alarm regarding ongoing global conflicts with terrorists and nations." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A fascinating examination of the events, the personalities, and the science that have led to the atomic bomb. A very timely book at an era in which nuclear proliferation has become a real danger." Mario Livio, best-selling author of Is God A Mathematician?
"Reinforced by Aczel's intent review of the historical controversy surrounding the 1941 meeting between physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, and of the decision (which Aczel criticizes) to use the new doomsday weapon on Japan, this synthesis of early atomic history strengthens Aczel's reputation for writing accessible, well received popular works on physics and mathematics." Booklist
"A concise and cogent review of one of the most exhilarating, yet fearsome, eras in the history of scientific discovery. Aczel sharply profiles the brilliant — and often conflicted — men and women who led us into the nuclear age." Marcia Bartusiak, author of Einstein's Unfinished Symphony
Called one of our "best science popularizers" by Publishers Weekly
, Amir Aczel now tackles the cause of one of last century's most destructive events — the scientific discovery of nuclear power.
Drawing on his rich storytelling skills, Aczel presents the fascinating and suspenseful story of the scientists who first uncovered the potential of uranium. Uranium Wars takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of 1920s Europe where the scientific elite of the day were embroiled in a fierce rivalry to achieve nuclear fission. Leading us to an understanding of both the processes that take place inside a uranium nucleus and its destructive power are the brilliant men and women at the heart of the race — mammoth figures such as Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, and Lise Meitner.
Enmeshed in the story of scientific intrigue is the complex and ongoing story of uranium itself, which Aczel presents as a dynamic, dual natured force, capable of providing both abundant usable energy and generating unfathomable destructive power. From the nuclear programs in the Middle East to plans for nuclear reactors at home, the element uranium is never far from today's headlines.
About the Author
Amir D. Aczel is the author of 14 books, including The Riddle of the Compass, The Mystery of the Aleph, and the international bestseller Fermats Last Theorem. An internationally known writer of mathematics and science and a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, he lives near Boston.
Table of Contents
- The Blinding Light
- Physics and Uranium
- On the Trail of the Nucleus
- The Draw of Radioactivity
- The Meitner-Hahn Discovery
- Enrico Fermi
- The Rome Experiments
- The Events of 1938
- That Christmas
- The Heisenberg Menace
- Chain Reaction
- Building the Bomb
- Decision to Use the Bomb
- The Spying Operation
- The Cold War
- Uraniums Future