Atomic Adventures

Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder - A Journey into the Wild World of Nuclear Science
Narrated by: Keith Sellon-Wright
Length: 13 hrs and 29 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,476 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Whether you are a scientist or a poet, pro-nuclear energy or staunch opponent, conspiracy theorist or pragmatist, James Mahaffey's books have served to open up the world of nuclear science like never before. With clear explanations of some of the most complex scientific endeavors in history, Mahaffey's new book looks back at the atom's wild, secretive past and then toward its potentially bright future.

Mahaffey unearths lost reactors on far-flung Pacific islands and trees that were exposed to active fission that changed gender or bloomed in the dead of winter. He explains why we have nuclear submarines but not nuclear aircraft and why cold fusion doesn't exist. And who knew that radiation counting was once a fashionable trend?

Though parts of the nuclear history might seem like a fiction mash-up where cowboys somehow got a hold of a reactor, Mahaffey's vivid prose holds the listener in thrall of the infectious energy of scientific curiosity and ingenuity that may one day hold the key to solving our energy crisis or sending us to Mars.

©2017 James Mahaffey (P)2017 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Terrific at Times but Flawed at Others

If you could sum up Atomic Adventures in three words, what would they be?

Entertaining, Informative, Flawed

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

The progression through the book was great.

Have you listened to any of Keith Sellon-Wright’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I haven't knowingly heard him before this book. The performance on this book was excellent however.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Some sections I REALLY enjoyed... this was exactly the kind of book that I search far and wide for but there were some serious flaws within it.

Any additional comments?

This is exactly the kind of book that I search far and wide for. It started out great and I especially enjoyed the section on cold fusion. I remember those days well as I was wrapping up my third year in a four year undergrad degree in chemistry and my phys chem prof was also trying to verify the claims. It was terrific to hear the explanations to the results the author had (which I won't spoil by providing here... ). The narration was excellent and I found it very 'listenable'. Definitely one of the better readings I've heard in 10+ years of being an audible customer.The one area this book fell down in, however, was the explanations of specific impulse for rocket engines. The errors were blatent and took away from an otherwise enjoyable review of NERVA and nuclear rocketry. For the record. Isp has a dimension of seconds because the 'pounds' quantity in the numerator and denominator cancel out. (Isp = lbs of thrust / lbs of propellants per second if i recall correctly). Isp's do not tell you how long the rocket can fire for, rather it tells you how much thrust is produced for a given mass of propellants! Just because an engine has an Isp of 330s, doesn't mean it can only run for 330s but it means that engine will produce 330 pounds of thrust for every pound of the given propellants. This is pretty basic rocketry stuff and it's a shame neither the author nor the editor caught it as it takes away from the rest of the chapter and casts doubts on some of the other sections. Other issues with the rockets? The Russian R7 did not have 25 V2 engines as claimed, but rather 5 engines, each of which had 4 thrust chambers and while some of the technology can be traced back to the V2, they most certainly weren't V2 engines any more than an F1 was. All that aside, I would recommend this book. It is enjoyable and aside from a few technical slip-ups, the author does a great job of reviewing some pretty flakey unscientific claims.

219 people found this helpful

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Fun and informative

A pleasantly surprising amount of humor for such a technical book. I loved it, lots of detail which may be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated.

13 people found this helpful

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Some Great Stories of the Atomic Age

This new book has most of the known stories of atomic adventures and misadventures, including new data I haven't seen elsewhere. Also, some great new stories. Altogether a fascinating read, very well narrated. Fun and interesting.

8 people found this helpful

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Details you say...

Great stories and interesting happenings from the nuclear age, told in a folksy way , with an undertone of humor. My only issue would be that the author at times, goes into incredible details... probably beyond the needs of most readers. But overall a very insightful and enjoyable read

15 people found this helpful

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Interesting - but there's better NF out there

While I started the book wanting very much to like it, I was repeatedly disappointed by its inability to rise to the level of other nonfiction titles I've listened to recently. I'm not sure if it was due to the lack of forward momentum or diversity of voices or personal disinterest in the topic. Granted, there are some wonderful nuggets within the text - but they are too few and far between for me to highly recomment this text to other listeners.

5 people found this helpful

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quite interesting, well read and performed.

I found this book to be far more interesting than I thought it would be. the author does a great job of explaining the science without oversimplify them.

11 people found this helpful

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Excellent Overview Of Numerous Nuclear Adventures

Dr. Mahaffey is a gifted story teller regarding highly technical subjects; although, he frequently dilutes the clarity of his stories with needless details e.g. which soft drink he was sipping. He made a major technical error in stating that the Phoebus-2 reactor, rated at approximately 4 GW thermal, was roughly four times the power of modern commercial reactors. Here, Dr. Mahaffey neglected the distinction between electrical and thermal power. Many commercial reactors in the U.S. produce 1.1 to 1.3 GW electrical, and 3.3 to 3.9 GW thermal, based on a thermodynamic efficiency of 33%.

39 people found this helpful

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A very interesting history of Atomic development.

Mahaffey gives insight to the Atomic history that was not covered in other books that I have studied. I you like history and the development of the atom this book is for you.

8 people found this helpful

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Not my cup of tea.

Any additional comments?

This seemed to me way over the top for extraneous detail. Its one of these promising titles that really have little to say about anything but contained lots personal details. I could not finish it because for every one little tittle of technical info, I had to endure 100 details as mundane as the color of some scientists eyeglass frames. What he liked to eat, how long a plane flight was, where he vacationed, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. Nope.. Not my cup of tea. The interesting stuff was soooo far apart, I would forget the topic of the chapter by the time something relevant was stated. One has to wonder where some authors get all this trivial hearsay from people they never knew from so long ago? And... well, lets just say no more.

56 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Horrible narrator, meh story

Couldn't make it past chapter 3. The narrator was awful; seemed like the guy only ever narrated documentaries or anchored the local news, because his narration had a self-satisfied, casually smug cadence and lilt completely unfitting for a book. Absolutely killed the listening experience for me, which is rare.

The writing itself seemed amateurish also. The story rambles about off-topic stories like steel mills and Harry Houdini; normally this variety would make the writing interesting, but not when it has nothing to do with nuclear science. Even when he is on topic, it's not really nuclear science; for example, since the chapter on N-rays advertised in the subtitle is more about quack or psuedo-science, it's not tied into any real nuclear physics and is more a cautionary tale about subjective experimentation.

Sometimes the writing was just plain bad. At one point the he writes "I don't have enough time to talk about this guy in detail, but to prove to you that I did my research here's a a bit of trivia: his cat's name was Epsilon." WTF?? Was this some attempt at humor that came across horribly in audiobook form? (This was the "secret island" chapter about a German ex-pat working for the Argentinian government.)

The writer doesn't do a good job setting up his book as a fun romp through half-forgotten, often ill-advised nuclear experiments, which is what it's supposed to be. I was disappointed when it wasn't a fun history of nuclear energy, which I thought it was from the title, and more disappointed when he couldn't deliver on the story he was actually trying to tell.

Would not recommend.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Macksparky
  • 11-03-19

loved the book

Great to hear some new stories on this topic rather than the jaded old anecdotes we are usually treated to.

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  • Richard Harpin
  • 07-22-19

Interesting listen.

An interesting book, but could have been easier to read some of the technical terms than listen. The PRC-11-GN repeated three times in a sentence gets a bit hard on the ears, but otherwise fascinating and well delivered.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-29-19

enjoyed the fun stories

A really enjoyable book of forgotten nuclear stories. Read after Atomic Accidents, it follows on quite nicely.

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  • Angus
  • 12-07-18

Fantastic read for those studying physics

The book provides a detailed, humorous account of the development of nuclear physics during the atomic era in which the people studying it seemed to be given free reign to conduct their research with a budget consisting of a blank check. The technical level is not so high that it is incomprehensible by laymen but is detailed enough to be perfect for those studying physics at or above a graduate level.

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  • Charlie Draper
  • 09-04-18

More technical than adventurous

no litany of thrilling atomic adventures, rather hotchpotch of technical misfires and apologies for coldfusion

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  • AZ
  • 10-29-17

Interesting information

It’s like a bag full of interesting facts, with a bit a loose structure attached to each of the stories. I enjoyed it and would recommend it for those who already know a lot about this topic.

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  • Murray
  • 09-23-17

Laconic telling of hidden nuclear history

Lots of good stories ranging from the true origin of Roswell UFO stories though atomic rocket motors to the cold fusion debacle. Along the way I also learned to stop worrying about dirty bombs.

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  • Clive Gates
  • 08-04-17

Fascinating and entertaining science

Where does Atomic Adventures rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

first

What did you like best about this story?

This is nuclear science laid bare. From the the visionaries to the Dr Strangeloves, this book is an amazing historical journey. The author draws us into a complex world, but explains clearly how it all works. He does it with wit, fortitude and refreshing honesty. The book covers a huge range of topics. Conducting experiments, debunking conspiracy theories, confronting bad science, building nuclear powered bomber aircraft - that's just a few of them. This is the most enjoyable science book I have ever listened to. Funny, scary and highly informative.

Which character – as performed by Keith Sellon-Wright – was your favourite?

The author

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No

Any additional comments?

Please see above