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Sun in a Bottle

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  668 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
When weapons builders detonated the first hydrogen bomb in 1952, they tapped into the biggest source of energy in our solar system – the phenomenon that makes the sun shine. Nuclear fusion seems a virtually unlimited source of power, but it has been at the center of a tragic and comic pursuit that has left scores of scientists battered and disgraced. Like the eternal quest ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published October 30th 2008 by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated (first published October 16th 2008)
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~ Odette Knappers
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: inbezit, 2016
This book starts of a bit slow and hard to read - but hey it is about nuclear fusion so I was not expecting a easy read. I was not expecting to read so much about the atomic bombs at the start of this book, but it is logical - it is where the idea of nuclear fusion starts.

This book takes you through the history of the nuclear fusion research in a chronological way. I feel the book is not totally objective everywhere, closer to the end it gets clearer why. But I did not mind that a lot, I've read
May 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-medicine
There are plenty of books about the discovery of radioactivity, the Manhattan project, the atomic bomb and nuclear fission in general. This book focuses on fission's lesser-known cousin, nuclear fusion, the process that generates the energy we receive from the sun and other stars. The red thread through this book is the belief that lab- or reactor-generated fusion could be a cheap and reliable source of energy, a clean alternative to the dangers of the classic nuclear reactors. As the author sho ...more
Nov 16, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought the book had an excellent start, but disagreed with the tone the book took toward the end, and especially its conclusions. The author seems to think believe that we somehow can't achieve reliable and useful fusion because of the hubris of many scientists that work on the problem. It's as if the human difficulties of politics, ego, etc are the main barrier rather than the monumental technical difficulties.
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another really well-researched (fusion seems to be a pet interest of the author) and well-written book. I found it interesting that the Mr. Seife has migrated from being a science reporter to a journalism professor. He certainly is qualified both from his experiences as a reporter and the quality of his work.

One of the things I learned from this book is that we are still decades (or more) away from a viable method of using fusion as a power source.

Before reading it, I knew of fusion bombs (the "
Sep 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is just about the perfect thing to read for a quick, easy explanation and history of fusion and its role in society.

The book starts off talking about the politics and development of nuclear weapons. This section, like most parts of the book, doesn't go very deep into the subject -- but then again, a full treatment has been the subject of other (very good) books. The next chapter talks about the physics of fusion reactions and weapons. I think it does a great job of balancing out a real
Dec 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: energy
The world's first fission bomb (Trinity) was exploded in 1945, and the world's first fission power plant (in Obninsk, Russia) was connected to the grid in 1954, 9 years later. The world's first fusion bomb (Ivy Mike) was exploded in 1952. We'll be lucky if the fusion power plants are connected to the grid in 2052, 100 years later. The difference is so large because a fission power plant has solid fuel rods and either solid or liquid moderator, and the fuel in a fusion power plant is plasma, and ...more
Andres L
Mar 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quarter-3
"Sun in a Bottle", by Charles Seife, is a great expository book. Throughout the book are stories after stories of how people tried to unleash the power of the sun on planet earth. It started with the Manhattan project. Oppenheimer was in charge of the operation. However, the atomic bomb was not enough for Edward Teller. He did everything he could to build a fusion device, to build the H-Bomb. That's when it all started. Teller was obsessed with harnessing the power of fusion. He saw nuclear fus ...more
Todd Martin
Jul 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘Sun in a Bottle’ examines nuclear fusion – the process by which multiple atomic nuclei join together to form a single heavier nucleus and a release of energy, and the force that powers the sun. Scientists were first able to create a fusion reaction in the form of a hydrogen bomb in the 1950’s and ever since have been looking for a more beneficial use of the phenomenon as a source of clean energy. Charles Seife describes the history of these efforts, and as the subtitle alludes, their repeated a ...more
Mar 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 1939, Hans Bethe submitted a scientific paper which revealed how the stars, and our sun, convert matter into vast amounts of energy, just as Einstein had theorized, by fusing light elements together. Ever since, the governments of the industrialized nations have spent billions of dollars in searching for a way to bring that energy to earth; the holy grail of generating virtually unlimited energy from cheap, abundant hydrogen. Except for the uncontrolled destructive power of the hydrogen bomb, ...more
May 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Aaron, Lisa, Gianna
'Sun in a Bottle' by Charles Seife is not just about the history of fusion-This book is about the lives of those affected by fusion & about the state of the world as fusion technology progressed throughout the years. This brutally honest account of the rise and decline of fusion research is gripping and educational, as Seife begins by explaining how fusion works as well as the early projects that prefaced the Fusion Age (such as the Manhattan Project and Project Plowshare, which was a plan t ...more
Apr 12, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I picked this one up as a companion to the book I read on Uranium and fission. In this case, the book has the same starting point - the Manhattan Project during world war two - but continues to tell the story of the American weapons program after the war as they turner their efforts from nuclear fission weapons (uranium and plutonium bombs) to fusion weapons (thermonuclear or hydrogen bombs). After the development of the first weapons, thoughts quickly turned to nuclear fusion as a power source. ...more
Aaron Guest
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
A very solid primer on the subject of fusion energy. Compelling voice -- the voice of a journalist-- made the first part of the book easy and exciting to read. However when he comes to "Bubble Fusion" he comes at it from a different angle. One he was enmeshed in and could offer a different take than previous chapters, but not one that offered the same objective view of the ideas. This of course led to his over all conclusion which, in the history of scientific discoveries, reeks of the same arro ...more
Jan 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book tells the tale of fusion research, describing the convoluted path researchers have taken to get to our present point, and highlighting how tenuous the predictions of limitless power have been all along the way (at present the belief is that we will have a working fusion reactor design by 2030--wishful thinking given the pattern of prediction to date!). While the book is quite informative, the underlying theme is disturbing--the authors working assumption is that fusion research is tain ...more
Really interesting history of fusion science, and the narrator is kind of great--he totally sounds like a 1950s TV or radio announcer. Seife starts with the building of the first fission weapons and the desire to build more powerful fusion bombs up through all the many different ways scientists have attempted to come up with a way to create a sustainable, zero energy fusion reaction--so far, and for the forseeable future, without success. Several folks have complained about the way Seife goes in ...more
Sam knowles
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Seife actually does a great job in the making of this--the thing that suprises me though, is that after spending some time looking at the reviews made by others, they seem to give it a bad rating because of the Authors tone and writing style. Let me make this very clear, this is SUBJECTIVE WRITING, meaning the writer does take a side in his arguments (antagonistic to fusion, obviously)but puts feeling in his work, making it entertaining. Some may be offended by hearing him talk about how attaini ...more
Jul 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can now tell the difference between a Stellerator and a Tevatron! Going into this book I knew a bare minimum of the history of the Fusion race, but was pleasantly surprised to learn there was much more to the story. An especially timely book, as CERN comes online and there are tantalizing clues that the Higgs boson has been "found" (if you can call a blip on a graph "found"). There is much space devoted to "cold fusion" which, if it were possible, would be lighting up the cosmos in place of st ...more
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very engaging read, it offers a compelling history of the quest for obtaining power from fusion. It builds in a logical order, providing the necessary background to make all the information attainable, and breaks down the various methods in an easily understandable way. The author occasionally becomes the topic of the book, but generally in a way that doesn't detract from the overall story.

My only disappointment was to finish the book and realize just how unlikely fusion power really is as a s
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent overview of the continued failure to make fusion a viable form of energy production from a broad, though scientifically grounded, perspective. Only one star off for the conclusion, which is a shill for nuclear (fission) power and "carbon sequestration." Unfortunately, the author is himself invested in the myth of progress; this leaves the better questions about consumption and unrealistic expectations of our current civilisation unasked and unaddressed. Nonetheless, it is an excelle ...more
Apr 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Because I'm a nerd, I find fusion very interesting, which is why I wanted this book. But in fact I think just about anyone who enjoys tales of geniuses driven mad by obsession (and there are LOTS of them in this book) will find a good read here. Along the way there is, of course, some physics, but the author does an excellent job of making it accessible to the layman.

Ultimately, the author is skeptical about the immediate future of fusion as an energy source, and after reading this book I tend
Jan 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Covers everything you ever wanted to know about fusion energy, and why we've spent hudreds of billions of dollars over 60 years trying to harness fusion for peaceful purposes, with almost complete failure. The explanation of the physics involved is very simple, and is detailed enough to give a clear understanding of what's happening inside modern tokamaks and laser fusin devices. Also covers the cold fusion fiasco in detail, which reads as a cautionary tale for researchers in any field for compl ...more
Filipe Dias
Feb 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful insight on the history of Fusion and the dreams of Scientists and the Public on the infinite energy. The dream to save Humanity forever.
Alas it has not come to it, maybe will never be economically feasible, yet such dreams are never dead, and the book presents many moments where light was seen at the end of the tunnel, but Nature always had something instored for the believers.
Very interesting for anyone who enjoys Science books and Humanity's dreams and deceptions.
Jan 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, science
Clear concise explanations without the vague popular science handwaving that is so prevalent and entertaining.

Before this book I had been wondering if the multi-billion Euro ITER project was going to finally do the business and it answered that question - not impossible but bloody unlikely.

At least the effort will keep those physicists involved off the streets.

It also really brought home that science too is a blood sport.
David R.
Jan 01, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This one started well, and on point, but too rapidly became a vehicle inordinate assaults on the "cold fusionists" (I only quibble about the amount of attention given these incidents). What was odd is that Seife, despite making a substantial case for ending the fusion Grail quest, never reaches the obvious conclusion that it's a doomed quest.
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Very nice read about the history of fusion science. This book taught me a lot about the potentially "limitless" supply of energy, and how the quest to achieve breakeven had a powerful effect on many scientists. It will be interesting to read a book like this in another 20-30 years, to see whether we are still spinning our wheels or have actually made a legitimate breakthrough.
Nov 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice history of fusion, from Teller through the National Ignition Facility. Fairly negative about fusion, very negative about Teller. The author was a science journalist for Science during the cold fusion debacle, which he gives a behind-the-scenes description of. One of the better books I've seen about how science really works.
Jim Lane
Nearly as infuriating as reading Legacy of Ashes, how do we end up throwing billions of dollars at unbalanced zealous crackpots who happen to also be educated? The literary style was a little dry, but certainly not clunky and amateurish that you find in a lot of the genre. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the Cold War and "big science."
Oct 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the many attempts to build a fusion reactor. Seife writes well and the book was a pleasure to read. At the end of the book he reveals that he's a skeptic when it comes to the possibility of a fusion reactor becoming feasible in the foreseeable future. I found his arguments compelling.
Philip Hollenback
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a thoroughly enjoying (yet depressing) overview of the state of fusion research. It provides a good explanation for why sustained power positive fusion is always '30 years in the future'.

After I read this book I was left somewhat depressed. Apparently fusion is basically a pipe dream, and we would be better of developing fission to supply the energy needs of our planet. Oh well.
Chris Rock
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, physics, history
A surprisingly accessible book, considering the subject. You still need to be interested in science and familiar with the basics to enjoy it, but if you are, it's very interesting.

I especially liked the last chapter where he took all the overinflated hype around fusion attempts to teach more on the proper process of science. I was surprised at how little I knew about modern fusion science.
Dec 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Despite a few points where the theory of evolution is 'verified', I enjoyed this book very much. It gives a clear, even-handed view of the history and basic science of nuclear fusion. You do have to be of a scientific bent to understand some of the concepts he presents, but overall it is an enjoyable read for anyone who wants to know more about nuclear fusion in all its forms.
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CHARLES SEIFE is a Professor of Journalism at New York University. Formerly a journalist with Science magazine, has also written for New Scientist, Scientific American, The Economist, Science, Wired UK, The Sciences, and numerous other publications. He is the author of Zero: The Biography Of A Dangerous Idea, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. He holds an M.S. in mathemat ...more
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