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Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World

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3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  1,174 ratings  ·  127 reviews
The astonishing biography of a mineral that can sustain our world- or destroy it
Uranium occurs naturally in the earth's crust-yet holds the power to end all life on the planet. This is its fundamental paradox, and its story is a fascinating window into the valor, greed, genius, and folly of humanity. A problem for miners in the Middle Ages, an inspiration to novelists an
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ebook, 368 pages
Published March 5th 2009 by Penguin Books
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Sesana
Eminently readable, Uranium traces the history of the element from garbage rock to coveted weapons material. Zoellner made the (probably wise) decision to avoid giving too much space in his book to events widely covered elsewhere. So there's very little about Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, and even the Manhattan Project gets rather less attention than it might have, with Zoellner focusing more on the uranium than on the scientists. Because let's face it, if you're going to pick up a history of ...more
Lee at All Ears
I just listened to Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World by Tom Zoellner. Maybe you know it's radioactive, and maybe you also know the timeframe it went from being an unknown nuisance rock to something that would change the world forever. But do you know where it first came from on its race to its final resting place in Hiroshima? Zoellner does a great job of following its path through history from the first people who dug the mines and quietly shipped it to the secret processi ...more
Brian
It was pretty good from a history perspective with a few gaps, but I guess there seemed to be a matter of fact attitude with little on whether it was good or bad. Seems like he could have taken a bit more of a stand one way or the other. I guess he is leaving that up for us to decide.

It also seems like he should have covered more on Chernobyl, 3 Mile Island, and Yucca mountain. I would have also liked to hear more about how European countries are doing with nuclear power. Guess I will have to fi
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Austin
This book caught my eye because of the nuclear accident in Japan. It starts with the stories of the first physicists and chemists who posited that nuclear fusion would be possible in the 1930s. There's a fascinating episode in which Albert Einstein used his clout to finally get the possibility on the radar of the American Government. There's a concise history of the Manhattan Project, but mostly Zoellner focuses on Uranium itself. All of the ore for the first American atomic bombs was mined in C ...more
Grumpus
This is basically the biography of Uranium. The history of how it was discovered and evolved to what it is today was a great read, especially considering the time we're in with everyone trying to get the bomb.

This powerful quote from the book's introduction sums it all up, " From dust to dust, the Earth came seeded with the means of it's own destruction--a geological original sin. "

The news is always talking about if terrorists ever got nuclear weapons how easy it would be to use them. After r
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Atila Iamarino
História legal, mas o livro não acrescenta muito. Da parte histórica, a descoberta e o uso do urânio são retratados melhor no The Making of the Atomic Bomb (um dos melhores que já li, aliás). E a parte química é muito mais bem descrita no The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. Ou seja, tirando algumas coisas sobre o urânio depois da Segunda Guerra, outros livros são melhores.
Mustafa
I love these kinds of books that create entire, fascinating histories out of things we hardly give a second thought to.

As I write this review, I am also watching a news report on the new nuclear agreement between the US and Iran, with Israel and Russia on the sidelines and realize that uranium seems to have a rather exceptionally unique history, and Tom Zoellner does a superb job of documenting it. It reads like a thriller. The history of uranium just goes on to show us that science and governme
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Converse
The author starts his tour of the world by inspecting the source in the Congo form whence the uranium for the Hiroshima Bomb was dug, and then goes on to consider other sources of the stuff; from the Czech Republic for the Curies and for Stalin's bomb; from East Germany also for Stalin, from Niger for France, from Australia for Britain, from New Mexico for the US. Ironically, the very deadliness of the alternative bomb making material, plutonium, means that its probably less of a problem than ur ...more
Jerry Smith
It must be hard to write a book on this topic without getting bogged down in complicated nuclear science. Zoellner manages to achieve this feat by telling the story as though it is a chronology of a life.

It works, leaning fairly heavily on the mining side and the various sources of Uranium that have been in the ascendancy since its discovery. There is also a fairly heavy emphasis on the a-bomb which is interesting and, of course, natural given the nature of the subject.

The tales of mining are p
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Sky
I liked the premise of this book more than I liked the execution. Basically, this tells the story of the atomic bomb and nuclear energy from the perspective of the fuel, i.e., uranium. It was good, but I took it down another star because it feels about 100 pages too long. It focuses heavily on the history and logistics of the mining and refinement of the mineral and provides and insight into nuclear history that I was painfully unaware of. It also highlights the willful ignorance (or monumental ...more
Dawn
Having studied Uranium and nuclear science for as long as I can remember, this book fills in a lot of the history behind the metal itself--from it's junk status to weapon of mass destruction. I've often found it fascinating that one element holds such potential to power entire countries, yet can destroy entire cities in seconds if manipulated just right. And yet its isotopes have medicinal uses.
The only problems I found was the author tended to get into a little too much detail and background
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Vicky
This is a fascinating book, almost thriller like. Not only does it present the history of the development of the atomic bomb and the security risks of uranium exploitation, but it is especially interesting to Utahans since much of it takes place in Moab and southern Utah where uranium mining dominated for many years. Highly recommended
George Arak
Very fascinating volume. Eruditely packs with critical historical and scientific knowledge yet thoroughly entertaining to boot. Shit I could not have imagined and probably never would have ever learned about this crazy element and our quest for exploitation of its galactic scale power. I was totally transfixed by this story. Style and humour add to the package. This should be compulsory secondary school reading as the decisions we make about exploiting atomic energy rebound on this planet for an ...more
Mackeely Weaver
This books starts out with the beginnings of humanity's interaction with Uranium. The slave mines of the Belgian Congo, and the small silver mine in Easter Europe. Uranium is a common mineral in the earths crust, Marie Curie helped us believe it and it's byproduct Radium could cure many things. However, World War 2 and the Manhattan Project made us understand that Uranium, and the people who control it, could end us all.

I very much enjoyed this book. Although there was a lot of information so th
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Lisagoegan
So, this book was a slow build to amazing. First, I was amazed that I'd read the first 100 pages in a couple of days: the author has a clear, story focused style that makes the subject comprehensible and engaging. There are moments of wry humour and sly observation that pop out. About 2/3 of the way through, I realized how comprehensive Zoellner's research was and began making mental comparisons to McMafia, because the way the book is structured, you move geographically and historically getting ...more
Andy
In the nineteen-forties, Manhattan Project geologists concluded that uranium was a rare element and that the U.S., controlling a large deposit in the Belgian Congo, had a strangle-hold on the world uranium supply. Well, it turns out that they were wrong. Uranium is actually forty times more abundant than silver, with deposits on nearly every continent and large, concentrated deposits in Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Namibia, Niger, Uzbekistan, the U.S., Ukraine, and China.

Tom Zoellner’s
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John
Covers the history of uranium and the countries that have mined it. How we got the uranium to make the first atomic bomb that dropped on Hiroshima. You have to mine tons (literally) of uranium to get enough enriched uranium (about the size of a football) to make a bomb. How a country like Pakistan got a nuclear bomb. How Iran is trying to get a bomb right now. Talks about the differences between how the USSR went about getting their uranium (forced labor camps; no regard for human life) and how ...more
Peter Jana
The narrative is a bit fragmented and the middle part lags with too many uranium miner stories that all seem to resemble one another, but overall this is an informative and entertaining read. The first couple chapters provide the most accessible explanation of the science behind nuclear power that I know of, along with interesting anecdotes, trivia, and history. H.G. Wells, for example, provided a fictional account of an element that works like uranium, before it was discovered, and was the firs ...more
David
Nov 21, 2010 David rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: From New Scientist magazine 21/27 Mar 09
Shelves: read-history
I listened to this book as an Audible download. I enjoyed listening to it while I drove, took public transportation, and exercised. A cranky complaint I have about this book (and many others) is that the reader (apparently a native of North America), when compelled to read a quotation, feels that it is necessary to assume an accent that is associated with the writer's native region. The result sounds like the list below:

Accent: Characters from aging or ancient popular culture that, in the minds
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Angus Mcfarlane
This was not all I had hoped it would be, but was informative enough to live up to the cover-claim that uranium has been the most influential element of the last century. The book gives plenty of detail about how human history has been impacted by uranium (along with plenty of side detail that has little to do with anything except journalistic 'personal interest'). From the discovery of radioactivity and the associated fears and new understanding of the atom that resulted, through invention of n ...more
Tricia Fields
When I make it to the library, or more frequently order off Amazon, I almost always read fiction for pleasure. Over the past several years the only nonfiction I’ve read has been research oriented. But, some of those books have been as unworldly as any fiction on the market. A great example – I just finished an excellent book by Tom Zoellner called Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World. Jon Steward, The Daily Show, called it “crazy fascinating,” which actually is a really accur ...more
Danielle Parker
Book Review: Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World
Author: Tom Zoellner
Viking Penguin, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-670-02064-5
337 pages

If anyone doubts the power of the idea in science fiction, an anecdote from Tom Zoellner’s fascinating riff on everything uranium will settle the argument. H. G. Wells, considered (along with Jules Verne) one of the two great-grandfathers of the genre, wrote a massive antiwar tome about a fictionalized mineral called Carolinum.
His 1914 vintage mineral bore
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Elaine Nelson
Excellent wide-ranging history of uranium. Less about the science -- and C notes that some of the science is over-simplified -- than about its meaning historically, particularly over the last 100 years.

Sort of chronologically organized, but often jumps from the historical moment in question (Manhattan Project, 70s, etc.) to the present day, or loops back to earlier sections. I didn't get lost very often, though, so I'd consider the technique successful.

Lots of weird anecdotes, which is exactly
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Todd
Well done comprehensive overview of all things Uranium. Each chapter deals with a different aspect with the majority of them giving a history of a particular discovery and mining site (Congo, US West, Australia, Russia, Niger, Mongolia, etc.). It also follows the acquisition of both nuclear power and the bomb by most of the countries that now have it. Also gives the overview of details in most modern controversies and scandals like just how outrageous was the Bush administrations lie about Niger ...more
Christopher
Years ago I used to love reading books about a single physical thing. I read 'Gunpowder' 'Cod' 'Spice' et all but I kind of wilted in interest. Then I found this. Well, this nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and the cold war arms race have all always been extremely interesting to me so I was happy to find that this book it good. Some basic science, a fair amount of history and technology, and it wraps up nicely. The details about the ongoing mining in the Congo from the mine which gave us Fat Man ...more
Jen
There's no getting around that the more you hear the word "uranium" the weirder it sounds. By the end of this book. You hear it ... a lot.

This book tells the story of not only the nuclear age, but also the story of the stone that started it. Now we see uranium as this dangerous rock, but in the beginning it was seen as this annoying rock that miners found while looking for something valuable.

This book was exceedingly thorough, at times the facts were piled on so thick the reader might well worr
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Cindy
Uranium is a subject that makes the hearts of many citizens skip a beat. A cause of war, death, disease, and debate this chemical has had an enormous impact on the world. I talks about how when mining for silver uranium was cast off as a waste product, but noticing that those who were around it were becoming ill it got a bad reputation. The author visits the Shinkolobwe mine in the Congo without being stopped or questioned. Uranium was originally used is creating glass and paints. Zoellner talks ...more
Yeo
Many of us would have heard of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Perhaps the fabled name "Manhattan Project" would hold some vague but significant meaning for most people.

Yet what exactly is Uranium? Is Uranium purely a tool for man-made weapons of mass destruction? If it is so dangerous, why is it that mines containing Uranium have not exploded into themselves and created enormous craters?

Tom Zoellner sets out to answer such questions, putting things into perspective where they once were bu
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Chris Friend
A fascinating story about a rock we've all heard about but might not know the stories behind, Uranium digs deep (if you'll pardon the pun) into the history and influence of this one little metal.

Zoellner is thorough, tracing numerous paths of the element's influence over life, politics, and nations. That thoroughness does get wearying at times, when he includes the type of drink offered him by a resident, the color of clothing worn to a meeting, etc. Many details, like a near-miss bus hijacking
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Kristiana
Uranium
(or why some things should stay in the ground)
This nonfiction book takes a look at Uranium and its history in the world.
It is an interesting book, it is told through a completely linear timeline starting at its discovery and ending just a few years ago and its place on the world market.

The book looks not only at the affect radiation exposure has had on people but also the affect Uranium mining has had in the countries it is and was mined in.
The description of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima
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Tom Zoellner is the author of popular nonfiction books which take multidimensional views of their subject and show the descent of an influential object through history. His work has been called "genre-defying" and has been widely reviewed and translated. He is an Associate Professor of English at Chapman University.
More about Tom Zoellner...
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“The best place to find a new mine is next door to an old mine.” 2 likes
“And a single ton of raw uranium provides the same electricity as twenty thousand tons of black coal.” 0 likes
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