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In 1898, Marie Curie first described a phenomenon she called "radioactivity." A half-century later, two physicists would stand before dawn in the New Mexico desert, slathering themselves with sunscreen-and fearing that the imminent test detonation might ignite Earth's atmosphere in a cataclysmic chain reaction and transform our planet into a burning star. This is the epic story of Curie's quest to unlock the secrets of the material world; of the scientists-Rutherford, Bohr, Einstein, Oppenheimer-who built upon her work; of the day the first weapon of mass destruction dropped on Hiroshima, bringing both sudden terror and sudden peace, and of the new era of global uncertainty that emerged in its wake. With the clarity of great science writing, the vividness of historical narrative and the insight of biography, Before the Fallout is an unforgettable and sweeping account of the scientific discovery that changed the world. "
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About the Author

Diana Preston is an Oxford-trained historian, writer, and broadcaster who lives in London, England. She is the author of The Road to Culloden Moor: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the '45 Rebellion and A First Rate Tragedy: Robert Falcon Scott and the Race to the South Pole.

Reviews

Nuclear weapons have been an immutable aspect of the world for the past 60 years. The story of how they came to be, and the race between the Allied and Axis nations to be the first to harness the destructive power of the atom, is wonderfully told by British historian Preston (A First Rate Tragedy; Lusitania; etc.). She weaves together history, physics, politics and military strategies to convey both the monumental scientific achievement the bomb represented and, at the same time, the ethical and humanitarian implications of creating such a wild power. Preston is an impeccable researcher with a gift for choosing small details that illuminate and humanize the bomb's world-changing effects. She quotes a doctor in Hiroshima saying the mass of burned flesh around him smelled like "dried squid when it is grilled-the squid we like so much to eat"; elsewhere, Preston relates that the potential explosive effect of a chain-reaction atomic bomb was first calculated on the back of a napkin. This is a story with a reservoir of events heroic and horrible and a fabulous cast of characters that includes scientists Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller and Hans Bethe, and world leaders Roosevelt, Churchill, Truman, Stalin, Emperor Hirohito and Hitler. Preston presents each with rare insight and expertise. But her rarer achievement is to capture not only the work of making the bomb with its myriad ramifications for humankind, but also the ineffably human qualities-curiosity, ambition, fear, patriotism-that animated the participants in the great drama. 50 b&w illus. Agent, Michael Carlisle. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

The well-worn saga of the events, circumstances, and personalities that culminated in the detonation of the first atomic bomb has been recounted in several books; yet, the story remains compelling. Historian Preston (A First Rate Tragedy: Robert Falcon Scott and the Race to the South Pole) offers an expansive account covering half a century, beginning with Marie and Pierre Curie's 1898 discovery of radium and continuing through other important scientific findings (e.g., Einstein's relativity theory and Heisenberg's quantum mechanics). She draws on numerous primary sources, including interviews with surviving scientists, to offer an insightful, engaging, and surprisingly fast-moving account, although there is little content that can be characterized as groundbreaking. The concluding chapter entertains several intriguing "what if" scenarios. While Preston's book captures the dynamic of an exuberant scientific community against the backdrop of world war, Richard Rhodes's masterful The Making of the Atomic Bomb remains the standard.-Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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