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

The latest investigation from acclaimed nuclear engineer and author James Mahaffey unearths forgotten nuclear endeavors throughout history that were sometimes hair-brained, often risky, and always fascinating.

Whether you are a scientist or a poet, pro-nuclear energy or staunch opponent, conspiracy theorist or pragmatist, James Mahaffey's books have served to open up the world of nuclear science like never before. With clear explanations of some of the most complex scientific endeavors in history, Mahaffey's new book looks back at the atom's wild, secretive past and then toward its potentially bright future.

Mahaffey unearths lost reactors on far flung Pacific islands and trees that were exposed to active fission that changed gender or bloomed in the dead of winter. He explains why we have nuclear submarines but not nuclear aircraft and why cold fusion doesn't exist. And who knew that radiation counting was once a fashionable trend? Though parts of the nuclear history might seem like a fiction mash-up, where cowboys somehow got a hold of a reactor, Mahaffey's vivid prose holds the reader in thrall of the infectious energy of scientific curiosity and ingenuity that may one day hold the key to solving our energy crisis or sending us to Mars.

The latest investigation from acclaimed nuclear engineer and author James Mahaffey unearths forgotten nuclear endeavors throughout history that were sometimes hair-brained, often risky, and always fascinating.

Whether you are a scientist or a poet, pro-nuclear energy or staunch opponent, conspiracy theorist or pragmatist, James Mahaffey's books have served to open up the world of nuclear science like never before. With clear explanations of some of the most complex scientific endeavors in history, Mahaffey's new book looks back at the atom's wild, secretive past and then toward its potentially bright future.

Mahaffey unearths lost reactors on far flung Pacific islands and trees that were exposed to active fission that changed gender or bloomed in the dead of winter. He explains why we have nuclear submarines but not nuclear aircraft and why cold fusion doesn't exist. And who knew that radiation counting was once a fashionable trend? Though parts of the nuclear history might seem like a fiction mash-up, where cowboys somehow got a hold of a reactor, Mahaffey's vivid prose holds the reader in thrall of the infectious energy of scientific curiosity and ingenuity that may one day hold the key to solving our energy crisis or sending us to Mars.
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About the Author-
  • James Mahaffey was a senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute where he worked under contract for the Defense Nuclear Agency, the National Ground Intelligence Center, the Air Force Air Logistics Center, and Georgia Power Company. He is the author of Atomic Awakening and Atomic Accidents and lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 17, 2017
    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.

  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2017
    Further stories of nuclear nuttiness from the physicist and engineer.After a delightful history of nuclear power in Atomic Awakening (2009) and nuclear mishaps in Atomic Accidents (2014), Mahaffey, a former senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, delivers an expert, equally amusing chronicle of the wide world of nuclear science. Readers will roll their eyes to the point of exhaustion as the author recounts incidents, scientific discoveries, secret military programs, or tax-supported research that seem wacky now but were taken seriously by scientists and government officials. In 1948, Ronald Richter, a charismatic scientist refugee from Nazi Germany, convinced Argentine dictator Juan Peron that he could produce clean energy through nuclear fusion; it was "a match made in heaven, or at least on another planet." In 1982, another charismatic scientist, Edward Teller, convinced another national leader, President Ronald Reagan, that a space-based X-ray laser would destroy Soviet missiles. Mahaffey does not ignore the parallels between the two ill-conceived projects, including the immense, futile expense. Laboratories around the world, including the author's, fell over themselves to confirm the spectacular 1989 announcement that two scientists had produced nuclear fusion at room temperature. Mahaffey's account is not the first but definitely the funniest, surpassing even his history of the nuclear-powered bomber, a massive, radiation-drenched behemoth extensively tested in the 1950s and '60s. Amusingly gruesome are the innumerable clueless thieves who ignored warnings, smashed locks, bypassed shielding, carried off fiercely radioactive material, and then died horribly. There are fewer laughs in stories of murder by radiation, possible terrorism, and the Pakistani physicist who built his nation's nuclear bomb and then proceeded to sell the technology to other nations. A hodgepodge of unrelated anecdotes, journalism, memoir, and history, the book has the feel of an author clearing his files of unpublished material, but most readers will forgive him due to the entertaining tales.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    June 1, 2017

    Although the atomic craze peaked in the mid-20th century, the topic continues to fascinate, and Mahaffey (Atomic Accidents) has tapped into the excitement. A former government scientist and researcher, he provides a practitioner's view of subjects such as the search for cold fusion and the dangers of unshielded radioactive elements. The tone is casual and even funny at times. However, this book assumes a high tolerance for technical details and an above-average familiarity with the development of nuclear weapons in the United States during World War II. The different types of fusion are examined in excruciating detail, but other aspects, such as the Manhattan Project, are glossed over. The purpose of the footnotes is unclear, since they frequently undermine the narrative with contradictory information or snark. Readers less familiar with some of these themes but who want to learn more about the making of atom bombs in the United States would be better served by Denise Kiernan's The Girls of Atomic City. VERDICT Though this title has some drawbacks, it is unlikely that those with a serious interest in nuclear history or physics will find these events described more clearly elsewhere, particularly the parts about the Georgia Tech Research Institute cold fusion experiments.--Cate Hirschbiel, Iwasaki Lib., Emerson Coll., Boston

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist (starred) Did you mourn the ending of Simon Winchester's Pacific? Fret no longer, the companion is here, and it's no less filled with batty geniuses who want to power the world with a scary mixture of nuclear energy and hubris. Stellar nonfiction.
  • Publishers Weekly (starred) Irresistible.
  • Library Journal Although the atomic craze peaked in the mid-20th century, the topic continues to fascinate, and Mahaffey has tapped into the excitement.
  • Kirkus Reviews Delivers an expert, equally amusing chronicle of the wide world of nuclear science. Mahaffey's account is not the first but definitely the funniest.
  • The Wall Street Journal A rewarding book. H.G. Wells would have been fascinated by Atomic Adventures, especially by the ways its cast of scientists—who range from authentic experts to the shadiest of con artists—have tried to make use of atomic energy in war and in peace. Mahaffey, a former research scientist at Georgia Tech, is a knowledgeable narrator who plainly loves his subject. He knows how to tell a good story and, no less important, has an eye for unfamiliar and revealing details. An enlightening read.
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Atomic Adventures
Atomic Adventures
Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder: A Journey into the Wild World of Nuclear Science
James Mahaffey
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