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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

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  366 ratings  ·  67 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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3.88  · 
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 ·  366 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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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
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
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
Nov 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Splendid! Much more fascinating than I expected...
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.
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 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
Peter Mcloughlin
I liked the first half of the book better than the last. The first half on the early history of Atomic Physics and its early pioneers was interesting. Things go downhill a bit after 1945. It goes very fast and very trivially over postwar developments in Nuclear Physics. I felt the first half was a real science history and the second half diverting filler. The book should have been either shorter or much longer. It gets four stars for the first half.Reminds me of how Tom Wolfe would end his story ...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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Kyle Garner
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting historical view of the atomic age. A good read.
Donald Luther
Sep 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a very useful companion piece to another book I've reviewed her, 'The Dead Hand'. While this is not quite so comprehensive as that latter work, it does go into some very good detail on specific areas and developments that need a fuller treatment there. It also covers in great detail the Daiichi tsunami of 2012, which was beyond the chronology of 'The Dead Hand'.

When I started this book, I hoped it would give more of the history of science and technology of the 'atomic age', and in t
Andrew Skretvedt
Mar 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
(this space to be more thoughtfully completed later)

I got suggestions from other reviews gloss all the Cold War stuff thru the middle of the book, but I found this section worthwhile. I don't have the book to hand just now (gotta redo this), but I was alarmed to read a few parts. They all went down to the behavior of our government (USA). Well read people probably know the so-called "missile gap" was a fiction. Perhaps policymakers/military didn't know this for a fact at the time (I have doubts
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Feb 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014, non-fiction, science
"The Age of Radiance" is an absolutely fascinating account of the history of nuclear energy from the early to mid-20th century until very recently. It was really amazing to me how much things have changed. You had so many scientists who put their lives on the line to study this new kind of energy that both excited and scared the world at the very same time. I really enjoyed this history. This book goes through the personalities and the events that shaped such an important way of getting energy.

D.R. Oestreicher
Jan 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson is a four part history of atomic energy.

Part 1: The fundamental science from Marie Curie to Lise Meitner with a refreshing emphasis on women scientists.

Part 2: Los Alamos, Manhattan Project, and the development of the A bomb.

Part 3: Cold War with newly declassified information which is still frightening even after all these years, and in some place laughable.

Part 4: Atomic power generation with highlighting Three-mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Like most
Aug 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This is an enjoyable while dense account of mankind’s adventure on discovering and unraveling the power of atomic energy. It gives a taste of the harrowing, dangerous effort that it took to extract energy from matter, and how much of our dark side was imprinted on the results. The promise of Disney’s “Our friend, the atom” famous book, quickly turned into a sci-fi nightmare and Dr. Strangelove.

The book could have been twice as long without exhausting the subject, and, I guess, the need to compre
May 05, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a good look at the power of radioactive elements and the scientists who discovered them and developed their applications, from medicine to electric power to weapons. Beginning with Rontgen's experiments with the mysterious x-ray, to the Curie's separating of radium from tons of ore, to the disaster of Fukushima, this is a fascinating, non-technical history. Nelson includes lots of personal tidbits of people in the "big picture"--one little story being that the Nazi scientists had a hard ...more
Don O'goodreader
The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson is a four part history of atomic energy.

Part 1: The fundamental science from Marie Curie to Lise Meitner with a refreshing emphasis on women scientists.

Part 2: Los Alamos, Manhattan Project, and the development of the A bomb.

Part 3: Cold War with newly declassified information which is still frightening even after all these years, and in some place laughable.

Part 4: Atomic power generation with highlighting Three-mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

Even for
May 11, 2016 rated it liked it
The Age of Radiance is a serviceable history, but it does have a lot of flaws – mainly structural ones. The variability of chapter lengths (ranging from as short as five/six pages to as many as fifty-six!) is one such example.

Other problems included an occasionally poor use of quotes (with Nelson employing paragraph-length quotes in full), inconsistent naming practices for almost everyone which make it really difficult to keep track of who’s who (for example, J. Robert Oppenheimer is referred to
Jan 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
The Age of Radiance is overall a very interesting and informative book. Craig Nelson provides detailed backstory on some of the forgotten fathers and mothers of the Atomic Age, but unfortunately some of the more minor characters are given no introduction at all and their abrupt drop into a storyline left me confused and searching to see if I'd missed something. On a similar note, many times I would find myself wanting to know more about a fun-fact he mentioned in passing, but never delved into. ...more
Denise Morse
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is THE definitive book on the rise of the Atomic age, from before the discovery of radium through the disaster in Japan following the tsunami. There is so much detail, biographies and history that I had never heard about.

Honestly, most of the specifics on the science went over my head and I struggled to get through the first part of the book. It was incredibly interesting, I just am not a chemist.

The second part of the book with the rise of Nazi Germany and the impact on scientists in the
The giveaway gods are wise. Just as I reached the end of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements this beauty arrives on my doorstep. What timing!

It's taken me about a month to finish. Slow in parts but mostly an interesting look at the scientists, politicians and military men behind the development of nuclear science and weaponry.

"...once a society reaches to sun power, and makes nuclear weapons, it dest
Dani Shuping
Jan 08, 2015 rated it liked it
ARC provided by NetGalley

It is no easy feat to write a readable, and somewhat enjoyable, overview of the atomic age thus far. Particularly as it is a somewhat convoluted, and at times terrifying, history. And yet, Nelson has crafted such a tale, albeit it with some errors.

If you’re looking for a good scientific overview, with accurate details, then this is not the book for you as Nelson has errors and some editorial decisions used to create drama vs. reality. But the book does a good job of out
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