Atomic energy and its uses is [sic], of course, the most important question in the minds of all thinking people. Since the final answers to the questions surrounding this subject will have a vital effect on the future lives of everybody, it is importa that we should know as much as possible about atomic energy, its dangers, and its future.
Dr. Asimov has a great talent for presenting difficult material in a thoroughly understandable way, using homely, everyday, familiar objects as examples and comparisons.
Starting at the very beginning, he explains that everything is made up of atoms, and then goes on to discuss atomic arrangements, atomic twins, atomic breakdowns, atomic lifetimes, atomic bullets, atomic newcomers, and atomic energy. Then, we have a chapter on the dangers of fission, and, finally, a chapter on the future, discussing the good things that can and should result from atomic research.
This is a difficult subject, full of technical phraseology and Dr. Asimov has succeeded in making it not only clear, but also exciting and thoroughly interesting. All technical words are carefully explained.
This book has particular meaning for me—it is one of the first two Asimov non-fiction books I ever read (the other is Environments Out There). I don’t know the order I read them in (although this one is probably second). I do, however, remember reading them—and enjoying them—long before I knew anything about who the author was. It was only when I was several years older that I started deliberately looking for and reading books by Asimov on the sole basis of the author’s name.
This is also Asimov’s second solo non-fiction book, and it holds up rather better than the first (The Chemicals of Life). Nuclear physics has, of course, advanced somewhat over the last forty years—Asimov doesn’t mention quarks and has a rather more enthusiastic attitude towards nuclear power than most would share today. (On the other hand, it’s interesting to see the just-around-the-corner attitude towards controlled nuclear fusion. It’s still just-around-the-corner, a generation later.) On the other hand, the discussion of protons, electrons, neutrons and their pals is just as true and important now as it was in the 1950’s.
Asimov’s writing has also improved. He is not here condensing another book, and the result is happier than The Chemicals of Life as a result. With easy grace, he takes us from the observation that everything is made of atoms through the promises and dangers of nuclear power and makes it all seem easy and transparent.
This, then, is a much better model for what is to follow than The Chemicals of Life—and yet it stands on its on, even now, as an interesting, relevant, and fun introduction to basic nuclear physics for the young.