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Publisher's Summary

From the New York Times best-selling author of Rocket Men and the award-winning biographer of Thomas Paine comes the first complete history of the Atomic Age, a brilliant, magisterial account of the men and women who uncovered the secrets of the nucleus, brought its power to America, and ignited the 20th century.

When Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Teller forged the science of radioactivity, they created a revolution that arced from the end of the 19th century, through the course of World War II and the Cold War of superpower brinksmanship, to our own 21st-century confrontation with the dangers of nuclear power and proliferation - a history of paradox, miracle, and nightmare. While nuclear science improves our everyday lives - from medicine to microwave technology - radiation’s invisible powers can trigger cancer and cellular mayhem. Writing with a biographer’s passion, Craig Nelson unlocks one of the great mysteries of the universe in a work that is tragic, triumphant, and above all, fascinating.

From the discovery of X-rays in the 1890s, through the birth of nuclear power in an abandoned Chicago football stadium, to the bomb builders of Los Alamos and the apocalyptic Dr. Strangelove era, Nelson illuminates a pageant of fascinating historical figures: Marie and Pierre Curie, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Franklin Roosevelt, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Harry Truman, Curtis LeMay, John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others. He reveals how brilliant Jewish scientists fleeing Hitler transformed America from a nation that created lightbulbs and telephones into one that split atoms; how the most grotesque weapon ever invented could realize Alfred Nobel’s lifelong dream of global peace; and how, in our time, emergency workers and low-level utility employees fought to contain run-amok nuclear reactors while wondering if they would live or die.

Radiance defies our common-sense views of nature, with its staggering amounts of energy flowing from seemingly inert rock and matter pulsing in half-lives that transforms into other states over the course of decades or in the blink of an eye. Radiation is as scary a word as cancer, but it’s the power that keeps our planet warm, as well as the force behind earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, and so organic to all life that even our own human bodies are radioactive. By tracing mankind’s complicated relationship with the dangerous energy it discovered and unleashed, Nelson reveals how atomic power and radiation are indivisible from our everyday lives.

Brilliantly told and masterfully crafted, The Age of Radiance provides a new understanding of a misunderstood epoch in history and restores to prominence the forgotten heroes and heroines who have changed all of our lives for better and for worse. It confirms Craig Nelson’s position as one of the most lively and skillful popular historians writing today.

©2014 Craig Nelson (P)2014 Simon & Schuster

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Interesting and informative, and yes........very e

This is a perfect book mate to "the disappearing spoon" and/or history of the atomic bomb. I really enjoyed the energy for the reader

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Strong finish

This ended for me better than it began, as the history it covered I was less aware of in newer years pertaining to nuclear history. Many good statistics and emotionally taxing moments in the latter parts of this book that for me are a plus, as I am a whore for drama. It would have been nicer if the drama was fictional, but you learn much about the real effects of radioactive catastrophe, as the earth is no stranger of...just blinded by nations attempts to keep it under the table. If particle physics are strange or old hat to you, the end of this book should still be somewhat informative, and educational. Take that, and my three star rating for what it is.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting listen for science history

As someone in nuclear science, this book had bits that are relatively well known to the field. However, it also had some interesting stories that I had never heard before that gave a freshness to the subject. Definitely a good read for those into science history.

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Solid listen, good narrator

If you could sum up The Age of Radiance in three words, what would they be?

A well-written and well-read history of atomic research, from the discovery of radioactivity to the aftermath of the cold war.

Any additional comments?

The narrator read M.I.5 (the British Intelligence Agency) as "em one five" which is inaccurate and was slightly annoying.

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  • Rosemary
  • Greenwich, CT, United States
  • 06-12-15

Badly narrated

The voice sounds bored and so the reader gets bored. We needed Scott Brick here or one of the better voices to bring this book to life.

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Good info. Nice read

Enjoyed the history of atomic power. Hope it helps dispel inaccurate misconceptions of nuclear power for some

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great book

great rump through the history of radiation and the wonderful characters who brought it to us.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-22-17

Far too fast

content good. Speed reading too fast. Spoilt the book as its hard work to keep up.