Summary of Uranium

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Uranium book summary

Editorial Rating



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This is a great story about a very special rock which was formed millions of years ago, and continues to breed a deadly form of energy. Tom Zoellner’s factual book about uranium reads like a gripping novel. He breathes vigorous life into a saga that could have been a dry political and geological tale. His beautifully crafted story puts uranium into its complex context as a key protagonist on the world stage. Zoellner’s reporting ranges from the Congo to Nazi Germany to the war in Iraq, with vivid information at every turn. getAbstract found this meticulously researched book exceptionally interesting, and recommends it to anyone interested in discovering how society entered the atomic age and how it is muddling through.

About the Author

Tom Zoellner wrote The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire, an American Library Association “Notable Book,” and he co-authored An Ordinary Man. He is a former Men’s Health contributing editor and San Francisco Chronicle reporter.


Natural Danger

Uranium, the core element in the atomic bomb, is most powerful in the form of enriched U-235 – heavily concentrated uranium ore. At a 20% concentration, U-235 can create a spontaneous explosion due to its unstable molecular composition and its atomic inclination to divide with so much force that, in specific circumstances, a concentrated baseball of U-235 could vaporize a city. Uranium is the heaviest element. Its nucleus has 92 protons and the atomic threads that hold it together are more fragile than anything else in nature. Uranium is so unstable that it constantly whirls off two protons and two neutrons – the act that registers as radioactivity. It is always “disintegrating,” always losing atoms, but its fissile energy remains potent for about 700 million years. Yet, like the other elements, uranium is a natural substance, “more common than tin, and nearly 500 times more abundant than gold.” The Romans used it to tint stained glass and southwest American Indians employed it for art and body paint. Yet, uranium is extremely dangerous. People must heavily protect themselves from breathing uranium or being exposed to it. The fast-moving particles penetrate...

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