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

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,874 ratings  ·  166 reviews
The fascinating story of the most powerful source of energy the earth can yield

Uranium is a common element in the earth's crust and the only naturally occurring mineral with the power to end all life on the planet. After World War II, it reshaped the global order-whoever could master uranium could master the world.

Marie Curie gave us hope that uranium would be a miracle p
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 5th 2009 by Viking
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3.85  · 
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 ·  1,874 ratings  ·  166 reviews

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Mar 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
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
May 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 05, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Roy Leadholm
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Crazy and fascinating book that reads as a page turner and is full of amazing facts, like who introduced Israel to the nuclear club? I always thought it was the USA but in fact it was Norway who sold then heavy water combined with France who sold them raw uranium yellowcake. They developed 'their bombs' in clandestine, 6 stories underground beneath the very nose of the CIA's watch ... many, many more fun stories stretching from Marie Currie's experiments to the present debate on whether a renais ...more
John Crippen
Aug 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Thanks to Konstantin for the recommendation. Good history/primer on the discovery, mining, and processing of uranium. The style was a bit florid sometimes, but the book was still very readable. A nice starting point for more reading about nuclear power and/or weapons.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
The author’s approach was bit dry for me. I don’t mind a boring and technical read, but this book lacked the sort of layering that can make such a significant story even better. This read like a dry report, rather than an engaging chronicle of some of the most incredible achievements of the twentieth century.

Did not finish.
Aug 25, 2009 rated it liked it
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
J.S. Green
First of all, this book is *not* a science book. Instead, it is a somewhat meandering history of the use of uranium, particularly as it relates to U-238 and U-235 used in nuclear fission reactions. Initially, uranium was used for little except as an occasional colorant in stained glass, but in 1934 Enrico Fermi discovered the instability of it's atom and the potential use in bombs. Zoellner discusses the history of mining uranium in Joachimsthal (Czeck Republic), Shinkolobwe (Congo), Australia, ...more
Austin Larson
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
Atila Iamarino
Sep 30, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Jerry Smith
Mar 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Craig Fiebig
Aug 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting narrative on the history, weaponization and industry concerning uranium. While informative, the author makes a number of errors of fact and logic pertaining to the looming risks of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. That area notwithstanding the book is worth reading for those curious in the field. A more informed and informative alternative is William Langewieche's "Atomic Bazaar."
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating book about the history of uranium. Primarily, it is about the mining of uranium, and secondarily about its use in bombs and in nuclear power plants, and the security (or lack of it) surrounding the mineral. The author has a very engaging style, that keeps one interested all the way through the book.
Jun 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
A rollick through the science, politics, and history of earth's heaviest (naturally occurring) mineral.

While the book is overlong in a few points, many of the otherwise unnecessary details mold the book into a travelogue as much as anything else. I found it totally engrossing and enlightening.
Jun 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, physics
Very investigative and thorough. It really went full circle on the element and its impact. Was a slower read for me because it carried a lot of depth that I wanted to be sure to understand and grasp.
Callen Carrier
The book "Uranium", by Tom Zoellner, shows what uranium is, and why it's important enough for a book to be written about it. At first, people didn't want uranium. People didn't know what it was, and tossed it aside. It was a rock that was left behind when miners dug up silver. People thought the silver was the real treasure, but uranium was about to make a huge impact, literally. Scientists found that the atoms of this rock were unstable, and the atom was spewing parts of it away. This is how ur ...more
Scott Johnson
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was solid, though my one gripe would be the author's unnecessary personal visits to some of these locations in the present day that add nothing of value. The best one was talking about going to Staten Island to see a thing he already knew doesn't exist anymore and talk for 2 pages about what is now there in that neighborhood.

It's my absolute favorite local news crap: Let's spend money to send a reporter to stand on the side of the road near a building where something happened that you can't
This book was ok but not better than that. Zoellner has quite an eclectic style that makes this book hard for the reader. He will switch from the science behind uranium radiation to the history of the Mongol empire. While the transitions are slightly comprehensible (in the previous example he was talking about uranium mining in modern Mongolia), they still showcase the unnecessary broadness of the work. The book feels at parts like a travel log, a biography of different men and women, political ...more
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A great blend of journalistic and story-telling style. I have always been fascinated by the radioactive elements and Zoellner told a brilliant story of humanity's first contact with this element up to the point when scientists realized its potential as a source of seemingly harmless energy and later, a weapon of mass destruction. The entire chain of history is told in an engaging manner that makes the book captivating. A must-have historical reference book for science lovers.
Feb 16, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: what-i-own
This book took me FOREVER to read, but it wasn't because I didn't enjoy it. Zoellner's book is well-researched, and the many interviews with people related to the uranium industry were particularly interesting. I don't feel that I learned all that much that I didn't already know, but I don't regret having read this book.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it liked it
The beginning chapters of this book provided some new information about the history of uranium mining and how location and coincidence influenced power dynamics in World War II. The story petered off a bit when it centered in Australia, and the author fell into the trap of describing way too many bit characters.
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting read. I have to wonder if it wouldn't have been a better investment of resources to build a few nuclear power plants instead of covering the landscape in unsightly wind turbines and solar farms.
Neil Gilbert
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating read. A great perspective on the progress of science in the field of nuclear power and weaponry and a helpful primer for life with a maniac in the White House. The research that went into this book deserves much respect. Thank you, Tom!
Cecily Kyle
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: towers-vi
A book quite out of my usual genre of choice but I really enjoyed the information and feel like I learned a lot. About 3/4 of the way through, I felt like it was going on too long but an interesting read for sure.
Dec 16, 2016 rated it liked it
A history of the use of this very consequential material, and of its power to either benefit... or damn, mankind.
Luis Brudna
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fui com baixa expectativa e acabei gostando do livro.
Fala bastante dos aspectos geopolíticos da mineração do elemento.
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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.
“The best place to find a new mine is next door to an old mine.” 4 likes
“And a single ton of raw uranium provides the same electricity as twenty thousand tons of black coal.” 3 likes
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