Uranium Wars

Uranium Wars


I’m reading Amir Aczel’s Uranium Wars: The Scientific Rivalry that Ignited the Nuclear Age, and while I’m enjoying it, a few things here and there keep nagging at me. They’re somewhat illuminated by all the negative reviews the book got on Amazon (and elsewhere).

I’m enjoying the book, but I can’t really disagree with the criticisms of the obviously superficial attempts to create drama. And while my grasp of nucleart physics is tenuous at best, and my knowledge of chemistry even less acute, it does seem like the occasional factual error (or simple lack of clarity) has crept in, somewhat unforgivably.

Sounds like the worst crime is yet to come — the portrayal of the Nazi nuclear program as being “just behind” the Manhattan Project, which is utter poppycock. However, it’s common currency in popular culture, from Hogan’s Heroes to Star Trek. It has no place in a serious history, but I’m not so sure that Uranium Wars is a serious history. It’s certainly not a complex or critical historical work, and I can’t imagine it appealing to chemists or physicists, since the research details are too basic for them. On the other hand, it spends a lot of time on nuclear physics and chemistry, so it’s not that valuable for someone like me who doesn’t have a physical sciences background.

I think this is a problem of Aczel’s washing his clothes in warm water — it’s neither science nor history, nor scientific history, unlike Jeremy Bernstein’s Plutonium: A History of the World’s Most Dangerous Element, which I LOVED — but which was pretty confusing with the chemistry. That said, Plutonium is a way more interesting element. And yes, I have favorites among the elements. Wanna make something of it, Actinium-lover?

Still enjoying the book, just because Meitner, Hahn, Fermi, Bohr, Curie et.al. are all so just damned interesting.


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