Called "one of our best science popularizers" by Publishers Weekly, Amir Aczel now tackles the cause of one of last century's most destructive events -- the scientific discovery of nuclear power. Drawing on his rich storytelling skills, Aczel presents the fascinating and suspenseful story of the scientists who first uncovered the potential of uranium. Uranium Wars takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of 1920s Europe where the scientific elite of the day were embroiled in a fierce rivalry to achieve nuclear fission. Leading us to an understanding of both the processes that take place inside a uranium nucleus and its destructive power are the brilliant men and women at the heart of the race -- mammoth figures such as Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, and Lise Meitner. Enmeshed in the story of scientific intrigue is the complex and ongoing story of uranium itself, which Aczel presents as a dynamic, dual natured force, capable of providing both abundant usable energy and generating unfathomable destructive power. From the nuclear programs in the Middle East to plans for nuclear reactors at home, the element uranium is never far from today's headlines.
Author and Boston University research fellow Aczel (Fermat's Last Theorem) shares a scientist's history of nuclear chemistry in the 20th century, and its eventual application in the form of the atomic bomb. In the first half, Aczel covers figures of early modern science like the Curies in Paris, the Meitner-Hahn group in Berlin, and Italian physicists before they were driven out by the Fascists. (One of WWII's greatest ironies is that the science Nazis dubbed "Jewish physics" gave the Allies their conquering weapon.) Newly released documents and post-war memoirs also help Azcel chronicle German scientists, like Werner Heisenberg, who participated in the Nazi bomb project. Aczel is at his most intriguing analyzing Truman's decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima; further declassified U.S. documents reveal that the U.S. knew Japanese ambassadors were making peace offers in Moscow before the bombing, and that the destruction of Hiroshima was also meant to send a message to the Soviets. Using a wealth of new source material, Azcel covers the triumphs and mistakes that come from powerful, cutting-edge science, while sounding a cautionary alarm regarding ongoing global conflicts with terrorists and nations.