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The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era
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The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  456 ratings  ·  81 reviews
A riveting narrative of the Atomic Age—from x-rays and Marie Curie to the Nevada Test Site and the 2011 meltdown in Japan—written by the prizewinning and bestselling author of Rocket Men.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rocket Men and the award-winning biographer of Thomas Paine comes the first complete history of the Atomic Age, a brilliant, magisterial accou
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published March 25th 2014 by Scribner
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David Webber
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
If you are looking for a historical scientific book, look elsewhere. This book stumbles through the early history of scientists and experiments (with lots of trivial side notes about what they all thought about each other and trivial details of their families), and then attempts to show how the cold war was a waste of time and money, then moves on to the accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima in order to show that we really can't handle this genie out of the bottle, and finally ...more
"Physicist James Mahaffey: “As they say in nuclear engineering circles, if the first use of gasoline had been to make napalm, we’d all be driving electric cars now.” Nuclear’s invisible powers, mythic history, and scientific mysteries add up to inspire in the general public a belief in magic—black magic. Reactors are exotic and strange...
...When it comes to the science of radiance, Mettler said, “Children in the United States are inundated with all kinds of nonsense on television from the time t
Dennis Mitton
Apr 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Nelson has written a readable overview of the atomic age thus far. Readers not familiar with the story will enjoy the book - it's easy to read and digest, it follows a logical progression, and it engages the reader. Those familiar with the science, however, will bristle. There are errors of minutiae and there are editorial decisions made for drama's sake rather than firm accuracy: I am very familiar with the unit REM but have never seen it defined as 'a measure of the cancerous effects of radian ...more
Apparently I have been reading this book since 2016, which sounds about right. I went from hardback to avoiding reading the hardback because I wanted to take notes and felt I needed to do it perfectly by learning a new citation software to avoiding that to purchasing the audiobook to ignoring the audiobook because my husband had already read it to finally knocking it out while trying to move across the world.

A readable (but cited) history of the atomic era from the late 1800s to Fukushima, large
Two things I would say will help dictate whether you are likely to enjoy the book “The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era” by Craig Nelson. The first and most obvious is whether you have interest in the subject matter of learning about the sweeping history of the atom, radiation and nuclear weapons, power, and medicine. The second reason is if you like the style of historical writing that is used by author Craig Nelson. The style that Nelson uses and which is not ...more
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I admit that whenever I hear words like "enriched uranium" or "thermonuclear fusion" my eyes glaze over, so a book about atomic energy is probably the last thing I would have thought to find on my reading list. But "The Age of Radiance" is an excellent book that offers a fascinating overview of the history of the atomic age, written so that it's comprehensible even to a non-science person like myself.

In it we find the key players in the foundation of atomic energy, from the beautiful Marie Curie
May 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Age of Radiance does a much better job of explaining the personalities that went into the discovery of nuclear science. Curie, Meitner, Fermi, Szilárd, Teller, and Oppenheimer all receive more lifelike treatment compared to any other book I've consumed on the topic. Considerable effort it made to straighten out the missing history of Lise Meitner's work in the wake of Otto Hahn and I hope this starts a trend to rehabilitate her legacy.

The chemistry isn't gone into in huge detail but the proc
Oct 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a really great book. Unfortunately, at the end the author spins into a little bit of a political whirlwind, that ends up making very little sense to me. He's pretty balanced up to that point.

Other complaints: He really skips over most of the Cold War and doesn't go into the politics of nuclear weapons design (or tactics/strategy) in as much detail as I would have liked.

However, his treatments of the European pre-Manhattan-Project and North American Manhattan-Project eras are really grea
Peter Tillman
Skimmed and abandoned. The author's anti-nuclear and anti-American prejudices are obvious, and he twists history into pretzels to fit his preconceptions. This is based on skimming areas that I know pretty well, so take with a grain of salt. But life is short, books are many, and Mr Nelson's opinions are of little or no interest to me. ...more
May 19, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, nonfiction, 2022, tt9
Though I disagree with the author on the future of nuclear power.
Jul 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Washington's Capitol ... is so vibrant that it would fail the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's licensing conditions for a reactor site." (3)

"'We bought a car, the Flying Tortoise, which we drove back to New York, not without some mechanical difficulties along the way. These did not scare Fermi, who is a good mechanic. Once at a gas station he showed such expertise in repairing the automobile that the owner instantly offered hum a job. And these were depression days.'" (quoting Emilio Segre, 59)

Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio
From the Curies to today's shrinking nuclear arsenal and fading nuclear energy, Nelson describes the rise and fall of nuclear energy. Using a slightly sarcastic tone - which seems right - he describes the discoveries, the spending, the horror and the wonder of nuclear energy. The atomic bomb turns out to be more effective when not used and nuclear energy scares everyone because they think of the bomb. Great writing, very thought provoking.

A couple of observations Nelson makes...

If gasoline start
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
From Marie Curie to the Fukushima disaster, this book packs in tons of characters and facts about the history of nuclear science. The biographies of Curie, Teller (Dr. Strangelove), Fermi, Oppenheimer, etc... were super interesting. It was a bit disturbing to read about the stupidity of various governments and corporations in their handling of nuclear power during the cold war and nuclear disasters like Chernobyl. I was a little intimidated when I won this from a Goodreads giveaway because of th ...more
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Based on the WSJ review, I was expecting a well organized history of the atomic age. Instead, the book is a study in cognitive dissonance as it vacillates between anti-nuclear screed and anti-hysteria propaganda. Splitting the atom is bad. Radiation exposure is not horrific. Coal is worse than nuclear power plant meltdowns. I grew bored about half way through the book.
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Splendid! Much more fascinating than I expected...
Dec 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Dnf, too focused on the lives of the nanes involved and not enough on the era
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Nuclear Studies Book 23:

This book was dense, packed to every margin with details. It’s to the point that it can be overwhelming and isn’t a book that I would want to sit down and read in a day.

This author and this book are pro-Nuclear power. It’s worth noting this first. This bent doesn’t show up until the last quarter of the book but it is clear that he believes Americans should stop believing in silly myths about the dangers of nuclear power and should realize that it’s far safer than they be
Nat Davis
Jun 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
Despite its intimidating topic, I found this book to be an excellent read, and easy to follow. It starts with Marie Curie and her famous radium discovery, and follows the development of nuclear science, on up until the Fukishima meltdown in 2011. I learned so much from this book, not only about the science of the matter, but also about how it impacted history and society. I learned just how close the Nazis were to discovering nuclear energy, and the efforts of the wise scientists who are credite ...more
Dec 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I went into this book without expecting much from it. Actually, that’s not true: I expected to read about a fall from grace with a side helping of moralizing and hand-wringing about the legacy of the nuclear weapons enterprise in the U.S. There was a bit of that, however, I certainly did not expect a lively exposition and retelling of the birth of the “Atomic Age”, replete with heroes like Curie, Bohr, Fermi, and Einstein. Especially, I enjoyed The tragic tale of Lise Meitner.

From this cast of
B.J. Marshall
Jul 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
Don't read this book. The historical information about the first half of the 20th century may be correct, though differs in many placed from more reliable sources (e.g., Richard Rhodes Making of the Atomic Bomb). The latter stages are related to Chernobyl and Fukushima, and include innumerable mistakes (and several typos) and exaggerations.

The only nuclear engineer quoted regarding Fukushima is David Lochbaum, the head nuclear engineer at the staunchly ANTInuclear Union of Concerned Scientists.
Sara G
Apr 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great read about nuclear everything, from the initial scientific discoveries to the modern nuclear weapons and power plants that are still in use. I especially really enjoyed reading about the experiments performed by Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, etc. The author doesn't go into too much technical detail which may be a negative for some readers, but it was good for a layperson like me. I have to admit I cried reading the section about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I visited the Hiroshima Peace ...more
Nov 17, 2022 rated it liked it
The majority of this book deals with the development of the atomic bomb and it’s immediate aftermath. If you’ve read “The making of the atomic bomb” you can basically skip to the last couple chapters that deal with Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The book is comprehensive and covers forgotten scientists who have not received their die either due to misogyny or racism (e.g. Lise Meitner). It also does a good job of painting the political, military and social contexts during this historic period. At time
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
First part of book was interesting...the remainder not not so much.

The first part discussed the early history of the atomic scientists. The second part focused on the building and employment of the bombs used to end WW2 and then the amazing growth of weapon production. When the author got into the Reagan Administration, he let his liberal thinking get the best of him and it ruined the remainder of the book for me. The book went on to discuss the Fukashima incident that still plagues the Japanese
Kevin P
May 26, 2022 rated it really liked it
I'll start by saying that this book is very factually dense, it took awhile to plow through it.

Learning about the early discoveries in the nuclear phsyics field was very interesting, followed by the race to harness the atoms destructive power in WW2 and into the Cold War and beyond. I learned a lot, and it was at times quite shocking.

To quote Marie Curie "Now is the time to understand more, so that we fear less", I think that quote could not be more true.

If you're at all interested in the histor
Harriett Milnes
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
1. I finally have learned who Oppenheimer, Teller, and Fermi are.
2. Fukushima and Chernobyl seemed really bad at the time, but have not had many deaths resulting.
3. Most people don't want any part of nuclear; not weapons, not peacetime uses, not power plants.
4. The story of the radioactive boy scout and his admirer was great.
Al Berry
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A good book that mostly focuses on the development of the atomic bomb; and where it excels the most; other key highlights of the ‘age of radiance’ are covered such as 3 mile Island, Chernobyl and Star Wars.

Book has its weaknesses such as when it delves into Marie Curie’s romances... why?
A great book, but I stopped reading it once Nelson kept glossing over the tech iCal aspects of the technology - as interesting as the history of the people is, it's really the technology that interested me and I felt that he only touched it on the surface. ...more
Feb 06, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Not my first book on the subject and not the most comprehensive but perhaps the best organized and most readable. 5/5 would recommend to anyone who is likewise enamored by the rockstar flyboy nature of the physicists who changed the course of history.
Kyle Garner
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting historical view of the atomic age. A good read.
Jun 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Chock full of history I never imagined...brilliant descriptions of Chernobyl and Fukujima. History the way it ought to be written for the general public.
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