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Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power by [Mahaffey, James]
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Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power Kindle Edition

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Length: 364 pages Word Wise: Enabled

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Product Description


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

Product Description

Nuclear power is a paradox of danger and salvation—how is it that the renewable energy source our society so desperately needs is the one we are most afraid to use?

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.

It has been said that if gasoline were first used to make napalm bombs, we would all be driving electric cars. Our skewed perception of nuclear power is what makes James Mahaffey's new look at the extraordinary paradox of nuclear power so compelling. From medieval alchemy to Marie curie, Albert Einstein, and the Manhattan Project, atomic science is far from the spawn of a wicked weapons program. The discovery that the atom can be split brought forth the ultimate puzzle of the modern age: Now that the energy of the universe is available to us, how do we use it? For death and destruction? Or as a fuel for our society that has minimal impact on the environment and future generations?

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.

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2696 KB
  • Print Length: 364 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1605980404
  • Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (June 23 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002G1YCFA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #951,924 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9c049948) out of 5 stars 53 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b6e1360) out of 5 stars Reader Praise for Atomic Awakening June 9 2009
By Beverly Dezenberg - Published on
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.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b6e13b4) out of 5 stars Theory and Practice - a balanced approach Aug. 8 2009
By James E. Lester - Published on
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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b6e17ec) out of 5 stars Thoroughly fascinating -- serious subject June 15 2009
By C. T. Brown - Published on
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.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b6e1bac) out of 5 stars How we should learn from history Jan. 19 2010
By Edward Durney - Published on
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. (Like when Mahaffey says in a footnote that the Pentagon was originally designed to be a hospital. The author of a recent history of the Pentagon says that is a myth.)

But the strengths of the book more than make up for that. You do not need to be a scientist or engineer to understand this book. Yet the book delves into the details. This book is meat, not milk. Yet Mahaffey does not force feed the reader. He lets (for the most part, at least) the history speaks for itself. And though Mahaffey is a scientist, not a historian, he can tell a story very well. Excellent historical work.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b6e1c90) out of 5 stars An Excellent Read. Nov. 25 2009
By Roger Ball - Published on
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.