Plutonium is an exemplary case of fine science writing, combining scientific expertise and smooth narrative, enlivened by a personal touch. A physicist and former staff writer for The New Yorker, Jeremy Bernstein has a deep well of experience from which he can draw, and he has a gift for bringing even the most obscure technical points into the clear light of day. Readers will come away with an enhanced understanding of the scientific strangeness of plutonium, an appreciation of the periodic table of elements, and a fresh store of interesting anecdotes about Einstein, Bohr, Meitner, Fermi, and others less well-known.
As a history, however, Plutonium suffers from its brevity: there are serious omissions in the book and some important issues receive superficial treatment.
[This is the start of my review of Jeremy Bernstein’s Plutonium: A History of the World’s Most Dangerous Element (Cornell, 2009). For the whole review, published in Technology & Culture, click here.]