Book Reviews, History, Reading

Uranium: Tom Zoellner

One of the great things about living in Southern New Hampshire is access to GMILCS – that’s Greater Manchester Interlibrary Catalog System for the uninitiated. GMILCS is a network of over twenty libraries, including a couple of college libraries, that pool their resources and allow their patrons almost unfettered access to them. Need a book? Request it online and within a couple of days it will be waiting for you at your local branch. Want to download an ebook or an audiobook? Odds are you can get one for immediate download.

This is a far cry from the days when I would sit in the Belvidere Public Library where my sister was a page. I had an orange library card with a metal impression number, and when I wanted to get an interlibrary loan, I had to fill out a form and wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive. I love our libraries.

Most recently, I downloaded Uranium by Tom Zoellner. Just a couple of clicks on my phone and the files download directly. I can do the same thing with my iPad, but my phone is more convenient – even if the audio quality is sometimes iffy.

Here’s a subject I thought I knew a lot about but really knew nothing about. Uranium’s history is fascinating. I learned about interesting places like Joachimstahl in what is now the Czech Republic and Shinkakolobwe in the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), as well as some interesting people. Some were genius, some were ruthless, but all were interesting.

Did you know that the USA and the USSR spent tens of TRILLIONS of dollars on nuclear weapons we never used? Or that a rogue Pakistani nuclear physicist named Abdul Qadeer (A.Q.) Khan is responsible for the mess of nuclear centrifuges that exist in places like Libya and Iran? Or that Israel has never signed the Nuclear Proliferation Pact and refuses to acknowledge that they possess nuclear weapons – called the worst kept secret in the intelligence community?

Uranium changed the world several times. It brought power and it brought destruction. It’s existence and use is part of the reason that cancer numbers have skyrocketed across the world (and believe it or not, is probably indirectly responsible for my wife’s cancer). Zoellner’s book is a great overview of uranium’s effect on our world. It is worth a read, or a listen.

And if you live in the Greater Manchester area and don’t take advantage of our extraordinary library network, you don’t know what you’re missing.

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