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Editorial Reviews

A person does not have to delve deeply into his or her memory to determine why nuclear power has a bad rap. The disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, not to mention the terrifying specters of Hiroshima and the Cold War, inform many personal judgments about nuclear safety. But in his first book, research physicist James Mahaffey aims to get the facts straight and establish the viability of nuclear power beyond both the hype and the scare tactics.
John McLain's performance makes this accessible and entertaining book even more inviting. At times McLain sounds almost like a narrator of a science fiction film, a fitting tone considering the term "atomic bomb" originally came from a novel by H. G. Wells.
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Publisher's Summary

"Persuasive and based on deep research. Atomic Awakening taught me a great deal." (Nature)
The American public's introduction to nuclear technology was manifested in destruction and death. With Hiroshima and the Cold War still ringing in our ears, our perception of all things nuclear is seen through the lens of weapons development. Nuclear power is full of mind-bending theories, deep secrets, and the misdirection of public consciousness - some deliberate, some accidental. The result of this fixation on bombs and fallout is that the development of a non-polluting, renewable energy source stands frozen in time.
Outlining nuclear energy's discovery and applications throughout history, Mahaffey's brilliant and accessible book is essential to understanding the astounding phenomenon of nuclear power in an age where renewable energy and climate change have become the defining concerns of the twenty-first century.
©2009 James Mahaffey (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Bil Stachour on 08-09-15

Fascinating material!

Inherently interesting material, presented with insight and a sense of humor and perspective. I didn't love the reader: good diction and clarity, but an odd, "radio-advertising-like" delivery. I got used to it, but couldn't really settle in. Still, recommended.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful


By James S. on 09-11-17

Narrator not as bad as in the intro snippet.

Detailed, informative, and entertaining. Not at all technical, but enough meat to keep technically-minded listeners happy. Complements his newest book, Atomic Adventures, which is also great.

Narrator was dry and took away significantly from the author's personality. Otherwise the narration was fine. Audible needs to choose better audio snippets; for the longest time I avoided buying this book for fear of having to listen to that obnoxious, overly-inflected narration for 12 hours.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Jim Vaughan on 11-20-13

Futuristic, tense, stranger than fiction history!

Starting slow, but building to a crescendo, this is the exciting story of the exploration of the sub-atomic realm, radioactivity, and the inspiring intellectual challenges, successes and terrible blunders made by the many individuals and nations in the race to harness nuclear power both as a devastating weapon, and an inexhaustible supply of useful energy.

As an insider to the Nuclear industry, Mahaffey knows his stuff, and he pitches the balance between scientific theory and social narrative just right, in my opinion. Some slightly quirky references to the supernatural in his introduction are rapidly left behind as he charts the history of the discovery of atomic structure, the isolation of neutrons among the various curious emissions of the first discovered radioactive elements such as Radium, Polonium and Uranium and the destabilising impact of very slow or very fast neutrons on the fissile nuclei of these same elements. The book has many nice anecdotes such as the famous "traffic light" moment - the sudden realisation of the potentially huge energy that could be released in a nuclear chain reaction. The tale really takes off as the race to build a super-bomb during the war gathers pace.

A satisfying irony of history described in the book, is that it was the anti-semitism of the Nazis that so handicapped the German atom-bomb project, and gave such a decisive final advantage to the Allies. To quote one wag "We got there first because our German scientists were better than their German scientists"!

Mahaffey then goes on to describe the post-war development of the nuclear industry, as well as the further development of a variety of military nuclear hardware, reactors, rockets etc. including the fusion bomb, and the leaking of secrets to the USSR. He misses no detail out, for instance in describing the principles behind major competing reactor designs, the Cold War politics of the time, and the notorious accidents, including Winscale, 3 Mile Island and Chenobyl, as well as some less well known incidents (such as the deliberate suicidal removal of the central control rod in one military reactor) with the political as well as nuclear fallout that resulted.

These accidents, increasing capital costs, plus a growing opposition to nuclear energy changed the dream of free energy into the public image nightmare of a costly, dangerous, long lasting radioactive contaminant producing technology. However, if there is a moral to the book, it is that this fear we must overcome. He lays his cards on the table in his opposition to the "anti nuclear movement" who in his opinion may prevent us utilising this clean, safe, inexhaustible form of energy, through prejudice. Its time we looked again at nuclear energy. One area he surprisingly does not explore is nuclear fusion as a source of energy.

All in all, it is an excellent book, read in a slightly "American heroic" style, reminiscent of those 1950s information films (which sort of feels appropriate). It exemplifies all the scientific excitement of a futuristic technology, the cold war tension of a secret super-weapon, the adrenaline of nuclear disaster, and the sometimes stranger than fiction truthfulness of a historical account. Much to think about!

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful


By R on 03-26-14

Doesn't matter if you aren't a nuclear scientist

What did you like most about Atomic Awakening?

Well narrated, the story moves along at a nice pace and with a good sense of humour. You don't need to be a physicist to understand it, as as much of the story is about the people behind the development of our understanding of radioactivity as what was actually observed. By the time the author gets to the Manhattan Project (after about 100 years of discoveries) you're hooked and can't put the earphones down.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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By Atreides on 10-31-14

Fascinating and well read.

A fascinating look at the history of nuclear power, going all the way back to when people first started poking at the atom and being surprised by the results. A really interesting history to which the author adds his own unique perspective and experience as a nuclear scientist. The writing style never gets dull, at one point describing shooting alpha particles at a beryllium nucleus as "alpha-slapping" it. The only thing this book misses out (since it was written a few years too early) is the Fukushima accident. Otherwise it's well recommended for anyone interested in nuclear power, weapons and science.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful


By Gary on 06-07-15

Nuclear energy History & Future

A relatively easy listen on a highly technical subject. The book is descriptive without overly scientific in its explanations. I was somewhat surprised how much I enjoyed the book, Witty at times, and enough detail to comprehend a little of the subject matter.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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