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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.

What listeners say about Atomic Awakening

Average Customer Ratings
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great book. Atrocious robot narration.

At first I thought the narration was one of those robotic voices everyone hates on YouTube. Even had the weird Scandinavian accent heard on old automated weather radio. I almost quit the Audible book at first. It got a little better later. This book deserves a redo by a good narrator. Because, as a science teacher who has read a lot of stuff on nuclear history, I can say this is a really good book by a fine author. It has a lot of new material on the history of the nuclear era.. A pet peeve on complex scientific material is that the narration should be read much slower. Some material just needs space between ideas so the listener can digest it. Speed reading does not work with technical topics. Speed reading is like running through an art gallery. Narrators: Slow down! Breathe between sentences. Pause between paragraphs. Make audio books great again : -)

10 people found this helpful

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Great but needs a new edition

The history lesson is fantastic but a new version is needed to bring the reader beyond 2010 where the current story ends. Explaining the author’s perspective of the progress of fusion and TWR reactors (Terra Power & Bill Gates) would be greatly appreciated.

4 people found this helpful

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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.

3 people found this helpful

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Awesome perspective on nuclear history

This book makes the story of nuclear science and engineering so cool that I too could imagine myself standing over a naked core and daring it to go critical. One of my favorite books.

3 people found this helpful

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Awfully narrated, but exceptional book

I would highly recommend getting this book in written format, as the content is highly interesting and is a very satisfying read if you are interested in the history of nuclear energy development. It's heavily USA biased, of course.

However, what essentially ruins it in audio format is narrator. How in the world did they pick this guy to write scientifically-inclined material is beyond me. His understanding of the source is almost non-existent, and that shows through. And his voice would be more suitable for reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Completely uninterested and sounding absolutely corky.

2 people found this helpful

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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.

2 people found this helpful

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Great book

I discovered this book after a YouTuber shared they got their inspiration to make a video after listening to it. It's definitely a book I've recommended to my friends who want to learn more about this topic.

1 person found this helpful

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wonderful book!

great narrator, gifted writer. very highly recommended. I laughed my butt off over the helmet story in chapter 15. I learned a lot, laughed a little and cringed 100 times over some of these stories. amazing book..

1 person found this helpful

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great and fascinating book.

learned a lot of things about nuclear physics with stories that keep you interested. a lot of information that is unbiased regarding nuclear power.

1 person found this helpful

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pretentious author, but good content

lots of good content. the history of science was particularly good. the author is somewhat rude and belittling to the reader/listener sometimes, but if you can get past that, he seems to know a good deal if relevant information. the reader was too cheesy-action-movie for my taste, and mispronounced several scientists names, but other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this work.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jim Vaughan
  • 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!

7 people found this helpful

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  • Kevin Taylor
  • 09-12-17

Couldn't listen. The narrator is a robot

I was so looking forward to this one but the narrator voice is far too annoying and characterless. Sounds like Siri.
Lesson learned, always try the sample before you buy

5 people found this helpful

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  • Reluctant Sceptic
  • 08-31-21

I was determined to finish this book

I really wanted to enjoy this book but the narrator had other ideas. So I persevered. Over the first half every sentence is spoken like a melodrama movie trailer. Apart from that the book’s entertaining and informative but of its time on opinions.

I’d love to understand how narrators are chosen for audio books. It seems so haphazard.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jonjoe Mawson-Walton
  • 03-24-19

Great fairly in depth overview

A verry well written and in depth overview of nuclear power from the early 40s onwards even for someone who has a physics background. very good!

2 people found this helpful

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  • R
  • 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.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-22-21

Great topic, strange voice acting

The story and topic is great but the voice acting is done by one who's working towards becoming the next American action movie trailer voice, "he had one job!".

1 person found this helpful

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  • Michael G.
  • 07-20-18

Great writing

Mk 3 is pronounced mark three not M K 3. Otherwise a great book. Recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • T.
  • 02-16-22

Paid-Nuclear-Engineer-Whinn Eeeeee

I found that is was a sneering and condescending attitude to people who did not understand the beauty of Nuclear Energy as he did.

The amount times he was apologist for Nuclear energy from:

More people died from the Ferris Wheel invention
Just as much radiation than airplane
There were loads... I can't remember all of them
Push, push, push...

He mentions now and again radioactive waste was put into the atmosphere from Nuclear Energy but not its tonnage from the 1940s.

How much radioactive waste was dumped in the oceans, prior to its banning in 1996

Clean C02, yeap flying around all the radioactive waste that gets dumped into the atmosphere, and then all the radioactive waste that needs to put in cannisters and dumped underground.

Somehow it feels dirty both ways.



Chapter 17 -This is superb design of engineer he states - huh? The orion space craft a spherical space ship that fires nuclear bomb out to cause pulse momentum forward; is just DAFT. Oh, it dumps 40 Mega tonnes of radioactive waste into the atmosphere.

If you were foreign power saying in orbit, can you aim that bombs to a region if you want - Daft, bonkers design - throw bombs out to move forward. What happens if one goes off while others are primed near the ship...And what happens if goes off near the ground!


No Fukushima which is a shame - a bit out-of-date, red forest, etc.


The books gives some interesting topics, but push-push-push nuclear as great; not really balanced.

It is like a parent saying his baby is beautiful, and turns out to be a serial killer, breathe that radioactive air from 1940s onward.

No CO2, but hey the data says you won't get cancer - breathe!!!! A bit like smoking maybe you will be lucky and won'tbut why risk it.

Radioactive Waste in the air and the ground. It's okay does not give off CO2

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  • bloom92
  • 02-11-22

Horrible narration

The content was interesting, but ruined by the narrator. He sounds like an extremely sarcastic action movie trailer voiceover.

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  • Orb
  • 01-30-22

Wanted to enjoy it but...

Interesting book but didn't enjoy it due to the narrators over dramatic robot voice.. Most sentences were like the trailor you see/hear when they're trying to push a new movie.

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  • AtreidesOne
  • 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.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Gary
  • 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.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Bob
  • 05-25-22

Generally good but some rough spots

The information contained in this book is fine but the narrator is not the best choice for the technical language. Mispronunciation is jarring and breaks the flow of the work

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  • Mr G.
  • 05-18-22

Fascinating

A great insight to the inner stories of so much modern advancement. loved it. Also helped me appreciate the chemistry I learnt and made it exciting again

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  • Deirdre E Siegel
  • 05-14-22

Excellent narration

The narrator made this book more real, funny and sad.
The taxes spent by US Administration’s to perpetuate the
myth of ‘super power’ are a sorry reflection of the
treatment of their less fortunate citizens.
It appears only Nixon and Carter understood that Education builds
a more humane world, far more important than instilling
paranoia and inadequacies :-)

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  • Kevin Wiltshire
  • 04-12-22

Great subject for the current age

Enjoyed the content, very thought provoking on how we currently view nuclear power and seemingly inevitable requirement for the future of power production earth.

Only criticism is the choice of narrator, found his voice a bit monotone and dry.

9/10 and would reccomend heavily

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  • Kodie
  • 02-22-22

An interesting brief overview of the history.

I've always been a believe in fission for power (until we can do fusion) and this brief overview of the history of splitting the atom has just reinforced that. The fact that an entire human lifetime of energy can be had from less than a coke can is incredible; compare that to a mountain of coal for each person and it boggles the mind as to why we're still swaying.

The book is interesting and well paced, with the narration being the right mix of serious and emotive.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-02-22

Bloody wonderful.

I cannot express to the layman physicist enough (me) how informative this is, Good Lord, I walked away with a sound knowledge of nuclear physics. James Mahaffey is a brilliant physics writer and should be in charge of educating the public on nuclear physics.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-19-21

Fantastic

Content and delivery is captivating, intriguing, extremely thorough and well worth the listen. Highly recommended.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • D A IVEREIGH
  • 04-13-21

Extraordinarily refreshing look at nuclear physics

I enjoyed this book immensely. Looking with new eyes at the history, and some commentary on the future. would love to see this brought up to date with new developments in nuclear physics and energy.