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

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  2,073 ratings  ·  178 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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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  2,073 ratings  ·  178 reviews

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Mar 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
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
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
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
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Audio book

Very interesting!!! I learned a lot and am happy with the content. So much so I want to read the ebook so I can highlight parts of interest as if I were in school, lol. 😁

At times this read like a novel which was awesome! It made it so much more likeable and not as if it were a boring textbook. I do recommend this to those who want to learn the history of uranium.

4.5 stars
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.
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.
Clayton Keenon
Oct 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Every individual chapter was interesting by itself, but all together it got a little tedious. Still, I learned a lot. Now, I’d love to read a book that delved more directly into the ethical debates about uranium and nuclear technologies.

Note on the audiobook. The narrator did accents for every person quoted, and they were terrible. Like cartoon characters. Stereotypical, bordering on offensive at times.
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
Jul 11, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-science
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
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
(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
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. ...more
Eugene Miya
Jun 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
I can't believe the American Geophysical Union (AGU) rated this as highly as they did. This books lacks the continuity and personal writing style of Oliver Sacks and his Uncle Tungsten or Jeremy Bernstein's 49 (Plutonium).

Zoellner writes in an annoying style which he criticizes another writer from the 40s and 50. He then has a chapter attempting the split time-line technique. Nice attempt, but it just doesn't quite do it for me.

I'm not expecting a metallurgy text, but I was hoping for something
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
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
Jul 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book is filled with many interesting tidbits but it's a little dry and the narrative lacks the certain cohesion necessary to turn a textbook into a page turner. There author has a tendency to go off tangents, and I almost got the sense that he was trying to fill space. Very little here that is provocative or that I really couldn't have gotten from wikipedia.

But I know know a lot more about uranium than I did before, though i still have a very elementary understanding of fission.

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
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.
Feb 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Listened to this on CD. Every time he quoted someone he had to do the accent (or attempt the accent). This was very distracting. The book seemed to drag and become garbled near the end. I thought maybe my CD's were out of order because his line of thought was hard to follow. The first part (the science) was very interesting. I know there has to be better books out there on the subject.
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
The book put forth an fairly interesting history of the use of Uranium. Discussion of the science behind using Uranium for weapons or energy was clear and mostly concise. The Author spent too much time in my view talking about his particular adventures to various parts of the world investigating the history of Uranium and its impact on the world.
Sep 21, 2014 rated it did not like it
Actually couldn't bring myself to finish this. Waayyy too much rambling about where we get the word Armageddon from, blah blah, poetic, and oh yah, here's a little bit of actual history about Uranium BUT HOW COULD THEY HAVE KNOWN WHAT THEY WERE FINDING?! *dramatic chord* e_e
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.
Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
I was drawn to this because The Heartless Stone is one of the best books I've ever read. I couldn't get into it, but I'll try it again later.
Aug 31, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, ebook
Better than I thought it would be. I need to read more about early chemists and physicists. That part of the book really fascinated me!
Benjamin Winkler
Nov 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
Gave up -- too many obvious factual errors; lost trust in author.
Feb 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
I liked it, but the book was hard to follow jumping between time periods and locations. Enjoyed the first half then had a hard time finishing the last half.
Gary Gray
Mar 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Interesting, but a little dry.
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Tom Zoellner is the author of several nonfiction books, including Island on Fire: The Revolt that Ended Slavery in the British Empire, and works as a professor at Chapman University and Dartmouth College. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, The American Scholar, The Oxford American, Time, Foreign Policy, Men’s Health, Slate, Scientific American, Audubon, Sierra, The Los Angeles Tim ...more

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