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Adventures in the Atomic Age: From Watts to Washington    by Glenn Seaborg & Eric Seaborg order for
Adventures in the Atomic Age
by Glenn Seaborg
Order:  USA  Can
Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2001 (2001)

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* * *   Reviewed by Marian Powell

When we hear the word adventure we think of Indiana Jones or Luke Skywalker, but there are other ways to be an adventurer. Adventures in the Atomic Age is the autobiography of one of America's greatest scientists, a man who lived a dozen lives in one lifetime. Born in Michigan to poverty-stricken Swedish immigrants, Glenn Seaborg was raised in Los Angeles. Through hard work, luck and high intelligence, he managed to attend UCLA. Here his talent for chemistry was recognized and he eventually worked his way up to assistant professor. That would have been career enough for most people. For Seaborg, it was only the beginning.

He became involved in the 1930's in research that led straight into the development of the atom bomb during World War II, and to the Nobel Prize in 1951. He became Chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley, and held this post until Kennedy appointed him Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1961. Seaborg comments that of the two jobs, the latter was easier because he only had one boss, The President of the United States, whereas as university Chancellor, his bosses were the faculty, students, students' parents, special interest groups, etc.. Glenn Seaborg served on the Atomic Energy Commission under Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. He paints a vivid picture of each of these Presidents and their different styles of governing. In 1971 he retired to work full-time as a professor at Berkeley, where he worked on the discovery of new elements, including one that was named Seaborgium. He continued an incredibly active life until his death in early 1999.

The scientist's son, Eric Seaborg, a free-lance writer, finished the book for his father so it is not clear who actually wrote the sentences. Nor does it matter. Adventures in the Atomic Age is written in an easy style that gives great detail on science matters in a way that can be understood by non-scientists. The step-by-step description of the discoveries that led to the ability to create the atom bomb, are clear and exciting. Another aspect that makes the book interesting is that Seaborg gives his opinion on every moral and political question involving nuclear power. His views are thoughtful and thought provoking. One example of many is 'Was it right to develop the atom bomb?' Seaborg's answer is that during World War II, the only question was whether America could develop it before Germany, and that during the war he daily expected to hear that Germany had the bomb. In the final chapters, he talks about all of the peaceful uses of nuclear power that seem possible.

I highly recommend Adventures in the Atomic Age for anyone who wants an overview of fifty years of nuclear science, an argument on every important question about the uses of nuclear power, or simply the life story of a decent, brilliant and interesting man.

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