Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-rays, and Isotopic Murder—A Journey into the Wild World of Nuclear Science

James Mahaffey. Pegasus, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-68177-421-3
Hot on the heels of Atomic Accidents, nuclear scientist Mahaffey devotes attention to another bevy of nuclear-related flops, failures, murders, thefts, and suicides. What Mahaffey details is often hilarious and occasionally horrifying. He begins in 1903 with the discovery of N-rays, which was announced by a distinguished French physicist and confirmed by peers. These rays turned out to be a pseudoscientific delusion. In 1989, some labs—the author’s included—confirmed the dazzling discovery of cold fusion. Many, though not all, recanted their findings. Today, the idea of a nuclear-powered bomber carrying a massive reactor and shielding generates laughs, and Mahaffey does not disappoint with his descriptions. But the U.S. Air Force took the concept seriously until the project’s cancellation in 1961. The nuclear rocket tested during that same period worked well, generating twice the thrust of a chemical rocket, though it too was canceled—the U.S. military lost interest in expensive space projects after the successful moon landing. Nuclear accidents wreak havoc, but nuclear thievery also kills, as Mahaffey shows in accounts of criminals who stole radioactive material with fatal results. Mahaffey’s book is largely a collection of unconnected tales and anecdotes, but the results are irresistible. Illus. Agent: George Lucas, InkWell. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/17/2017
Release date: 06/06/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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