The Star Builders: Nuclear Fusion and the Race to Power the Planet

Arthur Turrell. Scribner, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982130-66-4

In an impressively reported debut, plasma physicist Turrell surveys the global development of nuclear fusion as an energy source. The idea of harnessing the power of stars on Earth has for decades, Turrell writes, “captivated scientists, governments, billionaires, entrepreneurs, celebrities, a pornography magnate, and even a few dictators.” He details competing efforts to arrive at nuclear fusion­—a process whereby the nuclei of atoms are combined at extreme temperatures and pressures to produce energy with less radioactive waste than fission—among them the American government-funded National Ignition Facility, with the “world’s biggest and highest energy laser”; the Joint European Torus in the U.K.; and programs in Germany and China, plus a slew of start-ups. Turrell shares in the hope of the scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who are sure that fusion will be able to produce a large portion of the planet’s energy in the relatively near future, allowing for a switch from fossil fuels. Though the subject matter is complex, interviews with key players and accessible descriptions keep things moving along. Readers will find plenty of answers—and optimism—about the future of fusion here. Agent: Martin Redfern, Northbank Talent/Cameo House. (Aug.)