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

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,644 Ratings  ·  154 Reviews
The astonishing biography of a mineral that can sustain our world- or destroy it
Uranium occurs naturally in the earth's crust-yet holds the power to end all life on the planet. This is its fundamental paradox, and its story is a fascinating window into the valor, greed, genius, and folly of humanity. A problem for miners in the Middle Ages, an inspiration to novelists an
ebook, 368 pages
Published March 5th 2009 by Penguin Books
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Mar 25, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 25, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Atila Iamarino
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: physics, history
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.
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Craig Fiebig
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."
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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!
A history of the use of this very consequential material, and of its power to either benefit... or damn, mankind.
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read about how national thirst for Uranium impacted miners, the environment, and global politics.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A well researched account of the numerous players involved in shaping out world due to uranium. Great book for anyone interested in the history, basic science, and politics of this incredible element.
Mar 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Danielle Parker
Nov 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book Review: Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock that Shaped the World
Author: Tom Zoellner
Viking Penguin, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-670-02064-5
337 pages

If anyone doubts the power of the idea in science fiction, an anecdote from Tom Zoellner’s fascinating riff on everything uranium will settle the argument. H. G. Wells, considered (along with Jules Verne) one of the two great-grandfathers of the genre, wrote a massive antiwar tome about a fictionalized mineral called Carolinum.
His 1914 vintage mineral bore
Jun 09, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: purple
Subtitle: “War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World”.

So, apparently H.G. Wells, in 1914, wrote a novella called “The World Set Free”. In it, there is an element called Carolinum, which is unstable at its core and gives off energy, along with tiny bits of itself. Soon scientists are using it to create an “atomic bomb”, apparently Wells being the first one to use the phrase, and they blow each other to bits. In remorse, the remaining humans resolve to keep the element forever locked away.

Tricia Fields
Nov 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I make it to the library, or more frequently order off Amazon, I almost always read fiction for pleasure. Over the past several years the only nonfiction I’ve read has been research oriented. But, some of those books have been as unworldly as any fiction on the market. A great example – I just finished an excellent book by Tom Zoellner called Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World. Jon Steward, The Daily Show, called it “crazy fascinating,” which actually is a really accur ...more
Mar 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the nineteen-forties, Manhattan Project geologists concluded that uranium was a rare element and that the U.S., controlling a large deposit in the Belgian Congo, had a strangle-hold on the world uranium supply. Well, it turns out that they were wrong. Uranium is actually forty times more abundant than silver, with deposits on nearly every continent and large, concentrated deposits in Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Namibia, Niger, Uzbekistan, the U.S., Ukraine, and China.

Tom Zoellner’s
Peter Jana
Nov 06, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
The narrative is a bit fragmented and the middle part lags with too many uranium miner stories that all seem to resemble one another, but overall this is an informative and entertaining read. The first couple chapters provide the most accessible explanation of the science behind nuclear power that I know of, along with interesting anecdotes, trivia, and history. H.G. Wells, for example, provided a fictional account of an element that works like uranium, before it was discovered, and was the firs ...more
Angus Mcfarlane
This was not all I had hoped it would be, but was informative enough to live up to the cover-claim that uranium has been the most influential element of the last century. The book gives plenty of detail about how human history has been impacted by uranium (along with plenty of side detail that has little to do with anything except journalistic 'personal interest'). From the discovery of radioactivity and the associated fears and new understanding of the atom that resulted, through invention of n ...more
So, this book was a slow build to amazing. First, I was amazed that I'd read the first 100 pages in a couple of days: the author has a clear, story focused style that makes the subject comprehensible and engaging. There are moments of wry humour and sly observation that pop out. About 2/3 of the way through, I realized how comprehensive Zoellner's research was and began making mental comparisons to McMafia, because the way the book is structured, you move geographically and historically getting ...more
Chris Friend
A fascinating story about a rock we've all heard about but might not know the stories behind, Uranium digs deep (if you'll pardon the pun) into the history and influence of this one little metal.

Zoellner is thorough, tracing numerous paths of the element's influence over life, politics, and nations. That thoroughness does get wearying at times, when he includes the type of drink offered him by a resident, the color of clothing worn to a meeting, etc. Many details, like a near-miss bus hijacking
Elaine Nelson
Excellent wide-ranging history of uranium. Less about the science -- and C notes that some of the science is over-simplified -- than about its meaning historically, particularly over the last 100 years.

Sort of chronologically organized, but often jumps from the historical moment in question (Manhattan Project, 70s, etc.) to the present day, or loops back to earlier sections. I didn't get lost very often, though, so I'd consider the technique successful.

Lots of weird anecdotes, which is exactly
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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.
More about Tom Zoellner...
“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
More quotes…