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Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power
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Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power

4.28  ·  Rating Details ·  207 Ratings  ·  38 Reviews
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 ac ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published June 23rd 2009 by Pegasus Books
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Milhouse Van Houten
Nov 09, 2015 Milhouse Van Houten rated it really liked it
Good one!
Nick Black
Oct 26, 2014 Nick Black rated it liked it
Recommended to Nick by: James Mahaffey
A decent introduction to the history of controlled fission, although not nearly as in-depth as The Making of the Atomic Bomb, from which it takes a lot of its material. Focuses much more on the "history" element than the "future", which disappointed me. Unlike the author's more recent (but equally alliterative) Atomic Accidents, anyone who's deeply interested in this subject will have already found most of the information. Nonetheless, it's well-written, competently edited, and short enough to a ...more
G. Branden
Aug 28, 2016 G. Branden rated it it was amazing
I simply loved it. James Mahaffey is an excellent writer with an acid wit, a salty attitude, a Ph.D., and a gig as a research scientist at Georgia Tech.

As others have noted, the book is weighted heavily toward the "history" side of its title. Mahaffey does offer some thoughts on the future, but he's not here to hector people or sell anything.

In fact, I find him all the more credible as an advocate of further development of nuclear power technologies because he has a face-the-fuckups, no-bullshit
Feb 20, 2017 Prasanna rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. James has a great way to present the science, history and philisophy of Nuclear power. His often irreverent take on scientists made them seem more human than the biographies often paint. In addition, this book isn't quite explicitly a pro-nuclear energy book, neither is it anti-nuclear energy. It's pro- in the sense that James admits early on that humanity is losing options, so nuclear is inevitable.

The crux was that nuclear energy matured, maybe a little too soo
Geir Theodórsson
Feb 21, 2017 Geir Theodórsson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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 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!
Louis C Smith
Jan 20, 2017 Louis C Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is a nuclear electric plant in your future!

Articulate history of the discovery of radioactivity, its applications both bellicose and peaceful, and its new development to displace oil.
Feb 15, 2017 Lance rated it it was amazing
Fascinating history of America's nuclear program, including the nuclear-powered aircraft research that went on in Dawsonville, GA, specifically in Dawson Forest near the Etowah River. This definitely needs to be on Rick Perry's reading list.
Feb 14, 2017 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utterly fascinating and incredibly well written.
Mike Woodruff
A little dry and hard to follow for someone not familiar with this subject. Lots of interesting tidbits sprinkled throughout to keep things moving.
Jordan Shelvock
Jan 18, 2017 Jordan Shelvock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating look at the scientists and secret military operations that eventually lead to the atomic bomb.
Dec 21, 2016 Tom rated it really liked it
It's a solid book, but it's trying to be different things at different points. He starts with lots of biographical detail - too much, for my taste, since I don't particularly care whether Oppenheimer had a nice childhood. And then it transitions into a methodical explanation of the atomic experimentation and industry, and then finally into a decently robust argument for nuclear power. The first 80% is completely non-rhetorical, but you really feel it speed up and energize in the last 20%, and I ...more
Dec 25, 2010 Ilya rated it liked it
Shelves: energy
This is a book-length US-centric history of nuclear power. In 1954 the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission of the United States gave a speech that claimed that nuclear power would produce energy "too cheap to meter" within the lifetimes of children living at that time. This didn't happen. After an initial period of enthusiasm, it was realized that nuclear electricity will remain more expensive than electricity obtained by burning coal, and widespread recycling (especially of electricity-hun ...more
Lee Penney
Mar 12, 2015 Lee Penney rated it liked it
I come down on the side of non-nuclear, but I’m not above changing my opinion and an article around the time of the Fukishima disaster, an obvious low point for nuclear power, made me wonder if there were other types of reactor that could be the answer.

With a subtitle of ‘A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power’ I was hoping this would look at the options going forward. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

The book starts with the history. It’s a whistle-stop tour, even if it doesn’
Feb 05, 2015 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Shelves: atomic
I first read James Mahaffey’s Atomic Accidents and absolutely LOVED it. I loved his footnotes, the details and the wealth of information he put into this book. When I saw this one, I didn’t hesitate to get it. I still found myself eagerly anticipating each delightful footnote. Much of the text was engrossing and informative.
I did have a problem fitting all the things he discusses under the heading as “The Future and History of Nuclear Power.” The book starts from the earliest scientific discove
John Cornett
Dec 25, 2016 John Cornett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good read on history of nuclear research and development.

A well researched book. Written in a easy to understand manner. Corresponds well with what my experience was in my o nuclear device work in the 1961-1980 time period. I recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of nuclear explosions and power generators.
Mar 12, 2014 Angie rated it liked it
Shelves: science-related
The subtitle of this book, "A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power", is not exactly accurate. The book was not what I expected it to be. So let me catalog what the book was.

1) First 100 pages or so take us through the history of knowledge about the atom, and he finally gets to the discovery of the neutron in 1933. While fairly accurate and amusing, with little witty comments thrown in, I still don't know why this section is in this book.

2) Next 100 pages or so are spent on the Man
Feb 04, 2016 Richard rated it it was ok
Shelves: dnf
I don't normally review books that I don't finish, but here goes:

This book is a strong example of why science history should generally be written by historians, not scientists. The first half is a pretty generic overview of nuclear technical development which has been better covered elsewhere (Richard Rhodes), and the second half is just a damn mess. It's mostly a series of disconnected anecdotes about famous moments in nuclear history, interspersed with personal anecdotes from the author's expe
Anthony Duarte
May 08, 2015 Anthony Duarte rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book mainly because it gave me a better understanding of nuclear power and it went into pure depth on why it is used today and how it was founded. Even though this book talked a lot about the atom more than what it can do i thought it was a very good book overall. My main focus however was on how the atom was developed to do more than cause explosions but how the atom can also "recreate" something in some sort of way. Nuclear power wasn't really mentioned that way but it was ...more
Marc Brodeur
Apr 15, 2010 Marc Brodeur rated it it was amazing
A pragmatic engineer's concise history of nuclear from about 1800-1990, when TMI and Chernobyl stopped all innovation.

His main premise is that nuclear technology is well understood by the scientific community, but that it was over-hyped to the public by politicians. It was even worse that the chief use of the technology was to create destruction never before known, and in the middle of the cold war, the US didn't really do much to change that image.

Nuclear was ahead of its time. Coal was (and i
Aug 25, 2009 Terry rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Stunningly good. The author is a nuclear engineer with penchant for storytelling and goes into delightful detail about attempts to use nuclear power for both military and peaceful purposes. I say excellent storytelling as there are a continuous steam of problems followed by their ingenious solutions (some of which are apocryphal, which the author notes) along with both hidden triumphs and public failures.

The author includes copious footnotes which add significantly to the text and these notes ar
Neil Crocker
Mar 29, 2014 Neil Crocker rated it really liked it
Mahaffey, a nuclear researcher, wrote this book for broad consumption. It tracks nuclear research and nuclear power generation from its origins to simple language. I've been over lots of this ground before but still found it interesting and entertaining. Lots of details I have never heard before. The author's objective is to de-mystify nuclear power so mankind and the US in particular will get going on new generating capacity in time to head off the inevitable energy crisis. Pro or co ...more
Cole Schoolland
Jul 27, 2011 Cole Schoolland rated it really liked it
A great overview of the history of nuclear power. This highly-accessible book breaks down some of the more daunting concepts into forms that are easily met and understood. I would recommend this book to ANYONE who is interested in the concept of nuclear power. Mahaffey had a wonderfully enlightening perspective that accurately summed up the current state of Nuclear affairs worldwide. I only wish he would have waited another year or so to write in order to include the recent events at Fukushima. ...more
Jun 21, 2010 Becky rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 20s
I've read "Power to Save the World" which is also a book about nuclear power and this book is a more about the history of nuclear power and the nuclear age and how it all came about. It mostly deals with atomic weapons but gives some great information about the nuclear age. It also has brief bios of some of the big names in nuclear. It's not super technical so anyone can understand it and if you find it too technical, then just keep reading because you don't need to understand it all to get a go ...more
Matt Heavner
Nov 06, 2014 Matt Heavner rated it really liked it
A good look at physics and radiochemistry history as well as the atomic enterprise (and paradox). If read a"stand alone" this is a great sweeping look at nuclear history (energy, weapons, propulsion, accidents, etc). When read in conjunction with other books of more general science history and nuclear enterprise, this was a bit redundant but did have some new personal and historical insights. While reading, I felt the "history of science" parts were most redundant but that overall it was a good ...more
Dale W
Jan 25, 2016 Dale W rated it really liked it
his book covers the history of nuclear power (and nuclear weaponry) starting from the early pioneers in physics and electricity and ending in our time. The author (a nuclear engineer) also gives his own perspective on the public's view of nuclear power and speculates on how this view may change in the future. After I finished the book I went back and reread portions just so I could better comprehend the material. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic of nuclear pow ...more
Feb 05, 2016 Kendall rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
The book is organized into 3 parts: the history of nuclear energy, the development and use of atomic bombs, and the future of nuclear energy.
I got what I was looking for with this book. The history was interesting but fairly surface level (though I believe it's written for people with prior knowledge), the part on WW2 taught me new things and solidified others, and that leaves me at my only criticism-- I believe part 3 on the present/future could have delved deeper.
With that said, this was a gre
T Dale
Feb 18, 2010 T Dale added it
I learned that nuclear powerplants are way safer than I thought possible. I enjoyed the auther, James Mahaffey's easy-flow writing style. Perhaps my background as a high school physics teacher infuenced my interest in this book, but I also loved the parts where he tied in Google Earth images to places he described in his book. Beware the Lat/Long in footnote No. 234 Page 332 has the first two numbers of the latitude reversed for the location of the "Lethal Fence" north of Atlanta, Georgia. You r ...more
Duncan Findlater
Mar 21, 2014 Duncan Findlater rated it it was amazing
The books spends a surprising amount of time ensuring you have a solid grounding in the beginnings of practical nuclear research. It then goes on to make a very sound and reasoned case for nuclear power generation. It also debunks a great deal of the media hysteria on the topic. Highly recommended to anyone wanting to see how nuclear power is both safer than you probably imagine and is becoming one of the only realistic options available.
sam tannehill
Jul 24, 2014 sam tannehill rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed the anecdotes throughout of real people who learned what the atom is and how to use it. Parts of this book reminded me of Tom Wolfe's story of the invention of the transistor and the microchip in "Hooking Up," which is a supremely fun and interesting book to read. My favorite story from "Atomic Awakening" was of the string of nuclear power plants along the North of the United States operated and maintained by the U.S. Army.
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