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A thrilling narrative of scientific triumph—and the unimaginable, world-ending peril it brought us.
Fearing that the Germans would be the first to weaponize the atom, the United States marshaled brilliant minds and seemingly inexhaustible bodies to find a way to create a nuclear chain reaction with unimaginable explosive power.
It would begin with plutonium, the first element ever manufactured by humans. In a matter of months, a city designed to produce this dangerous material arose from the desert of eastern Washington State. Plutonium powered the bomb that dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945 (a target selected in almost arbitrary fashion). And the work of Glenn Seaborg, Enrico Fermi, and hundreds of thousands of others—the physicists, engineers, laborers, and support staff of the Hanford Nuclear Facility—would remain the basis of the entire US nuclear arsenal during the Cold War and into the present.
With his characteristic blend of scientific clarity and human stories, Steve Olson offers this dramatic story of human achievement—and hubris—to a new generation.
About the Author: Steve Olson is the author of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens (winner of a Washington State Book Award), Mapping Human History (a finalist for the National Book Award), and other books. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
“In this compulsively readable blend of science and storytelling, Steve Olson explains the birth and burden of Hanford, the vast, leaky workshop of nuclear death that squats beside the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. As chilling as it is succinct, The Apocalypse Factory is a carefully researched tale of inventive genius, state-authorized mass murder, and the super-toxic legacy of a federal bomb-making mess that will never be cleaned up.” - Blaine Harden, author of "Escape from Camp 14" and "A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia"
“A gripping story of a time when the fate of the world lay on the line as the United States and Germany raced to translate scientific discoveries into decisive weapons of war. Anyone who has questioned whether investment in science matters must read this book. Anyone who hasn't will want to.” - Marcia McNutt, President of the National Academy of Sciences