Plutonium: A History of the World's Most Dangerous Element

( 1 )

Overview

When plutonium was first manufactured at Berkeley in the spring of 1941, there was so little of it that it was not visible to the naked eye. It took a year to accumulate enough so that one could actually see it. Now so much has been produced that we don't know what to do to get rid of it. We have created a monster.

The history of plutonium is as strange as the element itself. When scientists began looking for it, they did so simply in the spirit of inquiry, not certain whether ...

See more details below
Paperback
$14.01
BN.com price
(Save 21%)$17.95 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (17) from $7.48   
  • New (10) from $10.83   
  • Used (7) from $7.48   
Sending request ...

Overview

When plutonium was first manufactured at Berkeley in the spring of 1941, there was so little of it that it was not visible to the naked eye. It took a year to accumulate enough so that one could actually see it. Now so much has been produced that we don't know what to do to get rid of it. We have created a monster.

The history of plutonium is as strange as the element itself. When scientists began looking for it, they did so simply in the spirit of inquiry, not certain whether there were still spots to fill on the periodic table. But the discovery of fission made it clear that this still-hypothetical element would be more than just a scientific curiosity—it could be the main ingredient of a powerful nuclear weapon. As it turned out, it is good for almost nothing else. Plutonium's nuclear potential put it at the heart of the World War II arms race—the Russians found out about it through espionage, the Germans through independent research, and everybody wanted some. Now it is warehoused around the world—the United States alone possesses about forty-seven metric tons—but it has almost no practical use outside its role in nuclear weaponry. How did the product of scientific curiosity become such a dangerous burden?

In his history of this complex and dangerous element, noted physicist Jeremy Bernstein describes the steps that were taken to transform plutonium from a laboratory novelty into the nuclear weapon that destroyed Nagasaki. This is the first book to weave together the many strands of plutonium's story, explaining not only the science but also the people involved.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In Plutonium, Jeremy Bernstein acknowledges that everything connected with the element is complicated, and that includes plutonium itself and its history. Its discovery in 1941 by Glenn Seaborg and Arthur Wahl is part of a much bigger story in which each part becomes a story in itself."—Nature

"Plutonium is a strong candidate for the weirdest, most fascinating, and most frightening element in the periodic table. For it to be the subject of a book by the acclaimed physicist turned science writer Jeremy Bernstein promises a great deal. Plutonium does not disappoint, even for those who think they are already familiar with the evolution of nuclear science during the twentieth century."—Physics World

"Bernstein spins an accessible, insightful description of how the great scientists Curie, Bohr, Rutherford, and Fermi, among others, deconstructed the atom through a combination of individual brilliance, a spirit of collaboration, and serendipity."—Publishers Weekly

"Bernstein's book should play a useful role by helping demystify plutonium and by encouraging interested members of the public and Congress to start constructing a more rational policy to deal with the dangers posed by this man-made element."—American Scientist

"Irony and drama shape Bernstein's accounts of amazing feats of scientific deduction and world-endangering secrets, which give way to a sobering overview of the environmental damage caused by plutonium-producing reactors and the enormous threats embodied in today's global plutonium inventory."—Booklist

"Running through a spectrum of Nobel Prize winners, Bernstein grippingly portrays the race to develop the first nuclear weapon during World War II as well as the interplay among the global personalities involved. Readers learn that this hazardous element, good for nothing but nuclear weapon production, continues to hold us hostage with the threat of nuclear terrorism."—Library Journal

"None of Jeremy Bernstein's devoted New Yorker readers were surprised that he brought J. Robert Oppenheimer to life in his compelling biography, Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma. But bringing plutonium to life—making the 94th element as interesting as 'the father of the atomic bomb'—is science writing that borders on literary magic."—Martin J. Sherwin, coauthor of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography

Publishers Weekly

Physicist and former New Yorkerstaff writer Bernstein presents a scientifically rigorous (equations and all) but clearly written explanation of the recondite reasons why plutonium is supremely suited for bomb-making material—and little else. From the discovery of uranium in 1789 to the Manhattan Project, Nazi attempts at a nuclear bomb and the post-WWII efforts of the U.S.S.R. to become a nuclear power, Bernstein reviews the element's storied past. Although the discovery of the atom's structure has been covered before, Bernstein spins an accessible, insightful description of how the great scientists Curie, Bohr, Rutherford and Fermi, among others, deconstructed the atom through a combination of individual brilliance, a spirit of collaboration and serendipity. He also brings his acquaintance with several Los Alamos scientists (he interned at the laboratory in 1957) to the less canonical subject of the scientific and engineering problems inherent to building a working nuclear bomb. Here the search for the elusive element comes to center stage in this challenging but rewarding account (after 2005's Secrets of the Old One: Einstein 1905). (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Plutonium was the heaviest natural element found in minute amounts of pitchblende in the mining area of Saxony, Germany, at the beginning of the 20th century. The radioactive substance is now overwhelmingly prevalent, and because of its extensive half-life, it poses an environmental threat. Intrigued by its bizarre chemical and physical properties and its subsequent role in nuclear reactions, physicist Bernstein, who has written both technical papers and popular science (e.g., Oppenheimer: Portrait of an Enigma), here traces plutonium's history and describes its chemical and physical properties along with its role in the construction of nuclear arms. Running through a spectrum of Nobel prize winners, he grippingly portrays the race to develop the first nuclear weapon during World War II as well as the interplay among the global personalities involved. Readers learn that this hazardous element, good for nothing but nuclear weapon production, continues to holds us hostage with the threat of nuclear terrorism. This historical record of the growth of chemistry and its effect on history is suitable for public and academic libraries.
—Rita Hoots
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801475177
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/2/2009
  • Pages: 216
  • Sales rank: 785,425
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

I. Preamble
II. The History of Uranium
III. The Periodic Table
IV. Frau Röntgen's Hand
V. Close Calls
VI. Fissions
VII. Transuranics
VIII. Plutonium Goes to War
IX. Los Alamos
X. Electrons
XI. Now What?

Notes
Credits
Index

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 1 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 1, 2012

    A very interesting read

    Well written, clear, and gives good insight into some of the peculiarities of why certain elements behave the way they do. Also gives a good historical view of the discovery, preparation, and use of Plutonium and other actinides.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)