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The Age of Radiance

The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era

About The Book

“A thrilling, intense, and disturbing account of the atomic era, from the discovery of X-rays to the tragic meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant…Rich with powerful images and fraught with drama” (The Christian Science Monitor).

When Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Teller forged the science of radioactivity, they began a revolution that ran from the nineteenth century through the course of World War II and the Cold War to our current confrontation with the dangers of nuclear power and proliferation. While nuclear science improves our lives, radiation’s invisible powers can trigger cancer and cellular mayhem. Writing with a biographer’s passion, New York Times bestselling author Craig Nelson unlocks one of the great mysteries of the universe.

In The Age of Radiance, Nelson illuminates a pageant of fascinating historical figures: Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Curtis LeMay, John F. Kennedy, Robert McNamara, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others. He reveals how Jewish scientists fleeing Hitler transformed America from a nation that created light bulbs into one that split atoms; Alfred Nobel’s dream of global peace; and how, in our time, emergency workers and utility employees fought to contain life-threatening nuclear reactors. By tracing our complicated relationship with the dangerous energy we unleashed, Nelson discusses how atomic power and radiation are indivisible from our everyday lives.

Brilliantly told and masterfully crafted, The Age of Radiance provides a new understanding of a misunderstood epoch in history and restores to prominence the forgotten heroes and heroines who have changed all of our lives for better and for worse. “This is the kind of book that doesn’t just inform you but leaves you feeling smarter.” (The Dallas Morning News).

About The Author

Photograph by Beth Mickalonis

Craig Nelson is the author of Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness and the New York Times bestseller, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, as well as several previous books, including The Age of Radiance (a PEN Award Finalist chosen as one of the year’s best books by NBC News, the American Institute of Physics, Kirkus Reviews, and FlavorWire), The First HeroesThomas Paine (winner of the Henry Adams Prize), and Let’s Get Lost (shortlisted for W.H. Smith’s Book of the Year). His writing has appeared in Vanity FairThe Wall Street JournalSalonNational GeographicThe New England ReviewPopular ScienceReader’s Digest, and a host of other publications.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (March 25, 2014)
  • Length: 448 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451660456

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Raves and Reviews

"A book that moves at a thrilling pace through the while history of the atomic age... this ambitious book does achieve is goal, presenting a grand and very readable overview of the nuclear era."

– Wall Street Journal

"Rich with powerful images ... fraught with drama ... and moments of great pathos ... a thrilling, intense, and disturbing account of the scientific and sociopolitical history of the atomic era."

– Christian Science Monitor

“A page-turning history... Historian Craig Nelson tells the tale with exceptional panache… an example of top-notch storytelling… Nelson’s version is one of the best, an ideal balance of detail, character, conflict and information.”

– Salon

“A fascinating, information-rich new work… Filled with drama, vivid anecdotes, and breathtaking scientific breakthroughs, this book is an engrossing, comprehensive history of the atomic age.”

– Philadelphia Inquirer

“Nelson writes a wonderfully detailed, anecdote-filled account of atomic energy.… Other authors have covered the myriad ways this invisible power impacts our lives, but Nelson brilliantly weaves a plethora of material into one noteworthy volume.”

– Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

"This is the kind of book that doesn’t just inform you but leaves you feeling smarter."

– Dallas Morning News

"A highly readable history of humanity’s embrace of nuclear energy and radiation."

– Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“An engaging history that raises provocative questions about the future of nuclear science.”

– Kirkus (starred review)

“A sweeping panorama of the nuclear age, paying particular attention to the colorful scientists whose brilliance and diligence unlocked the secrets of the atom.… Nelson tells their stories vividly, with a journalist’s eye for symmetry and irony.”

– Booklist

"Nelson's vivid reconstructions...shine. They make this book fun to read and sometimes hard to put down.'"

– On the Seawall

"A comprehensive and fascinating look at the invention of atomic energy...The pleasure of reading this book comes from the many, many insights and facts that are brought to light through Nelson’s smart voice."

– Flavorwire

"Nelson is especially good with a 'you are there' approach in describing Curie’s work and her late-night visits to the backyard lab with husband Pierre to look at the glow from her experiments stored in jars."

– Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Wow! Craig Nelson’s The Age of Radiance is like the best of John McPhee mixed with the page-turning glory of a science-fiction thriller. A magnificent storyteller, Nelson takes even the most atomized of details and spins a dazzling history of the Atomic Age. This book gives you x-ray glasses: After reading it you literally can’t walk down the street without seeing everything in our world anew.”

– Doug Stanton, author of Horse Soldiers and In Harm’s Way

“As he did with the space program in Rocket Men, in The Age of Radiance Craig Nelson has brought an era and an ethos to life. At the same time, he’s performed an even more difficult task: he’s made both the scientific and political complexities of the atomic era comprehensible and transparent.”

– Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call

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