This is a book review. Not something I ever expected to write, but I picked up a book on a whim and was so genuinely engaged by its content that I read it all and am now writing about it.
The book in question is Uranium, by Tom Zoellner (ISBN 9780670020645), subtitled “War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World” – but don’t be deceived: uranium is a metal.
It is a book worthy of its title: though both nuclear weapons and power are naturally addressed, Uranium is far more concerned with the raw material that features prominently upon the cover. Above all, this is a history book – though a quite enlightening one. It covers the entire history, up to the present (or at least, the book’s publication in 2009), of uranium’s identification and subsequent usage, dwelling quite extensively upon mining rushes all across the world.
What sets it apart is the depth or, more specifically, detail into which Zoellner addresses the small-scale events that could have easily been glossed over as trivial and generally irrelevant. The result doesn’t read like a story; it is a story which, stemming from the broad scope of its subject, details myriad more characters than any novel would.
I would not call Uranium a science book – the process of enrichment, which is so fundamental to every modern use of uranium, probably accumulates a total of two pages’ worth of elaboration throughout its text. Again: what Zoellner has compiled is a story spanning from a worthless rock in Czech silver mines to a crucial advance in modern science.
The details and technicalities of isotopes, nuclear binding energies, fission and criticality can all be found quite easily from many sources. But Uranium truly is something uniquely original that deserves a read.