Praise for The Wretched Atom: America’s Global Gamble with Peaceful Nuclear Technology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021)

“In The Wretched Atom, historian Jacob Darwin Hamblin seeks to remind readers of the misguided 20th-century effort launched by the United States, its allies, and international agencies to expand nuclear energy around the world. The compelling narrative should lead readers to realize the importance of preventing a repeat of the follies that marked the early decades of the atomic age. Hamblin covers a vast amount.” — M. V. Ramana, Science Magazine

“Essential to the arguments against nuclear power is its history. This is where a new book titled The Wretched Atom…comes in… Jacob Darwin Hamblin… describes how the concept of peaceful nuclear energy was conceived, developed and sold. The tale he narrates includes government and industry manipulation of the truth, scientists and bureaucrats religious-like proselytizing to sell nuclear energy, and the neocolonialist nature of the decision-making by the powers involved in exporting this energy to other nations. It is a story fraught with racism, hubris and imperial arrogance. Conversely, it is also a narrative in which nuclear weapons became symbols of sovereignty and strength to governments of formerly colonized states.” — Ron Jacobs, CounterPunch

The Wretched Atom is institutional history that reads like an adventure story. Rather than focusing on the notable failures of Atoms for Peace, Jake Hamblin asks how it was deployed. He finds that the implementation of peaceful energy has rarely been peaceful. Embedding this history in the context of the nuclear arms race, colonialism and decolonization, and geo-political struggles to take control over natural resources such as uranium and oil, Hamblin’s study offers a rewarding re-examination of the long game behind the promotion of aspirational nuclear technology.” — Kate Brown, author of Manual for Survival

“Jacob Darwin Hamblin’s The Wretched Atom provocatively tells the story of global Realpolitik and unintended consequences in the pursuit and promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear technology, adding a fresh perspective to thinking about the role of science in the modern Game of Nations.” — Timothy Naftali, co-author of Khrushchev’s Cold War

“Arising from the ashes of World War II, the peaceful atom has been evergreen: bountiful energy, water, crops, and medicines to lift the world to an environmentally sustainable future. Hamblin’s The Wretched Atom deftly shows how those perpetual promises were sustained by exploitative geopolitics and oftentimes outright cynicism. A sobering and engaging counternarrative of the dream of a utopian nuclear future.” — Michael D. Gordin, Princeton University

Arming Mother Nature

Praise for Arming Mother Nature: the Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)

Winner, 2014 Paul Birdsall Prize for best book in military or strategic history, American Historical Association

Winner, 2016 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize for best book for general readers, History of Science Society

“Reading Arming Mother Nature… is like stepping into the most terrifying nightmares of Dr. Strangelove.” -–Paolo Mastrolilli,  La Stampa

“Literary lovechild of Richard Rhodes’ Making of the Atomic Bomb and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.” —Slate

“In Arming Mother Nature, Jacob Hamblin offers a far-reaching and provocative account of just how dependent narratives of global climate change are upon the military support, apocalyptic scenarios, and political ideology that shaped the growth of the modern environmental sciences during the Cold War.” -–Gregg Mitman, Science

“Jacob Hamblin’s new book is a clearly and calmly told tale of the American effort to conscript nature — from the seafloor to the stratosphere — for potential active duty during the Cold War… It sheds new light on the old adage that it is a miracle anyone survived the Cold War.” –-J.R. McNeill, Georgetown University

A carefully crafted, powerfully articulated study of one of the most important dimensions of today’s environmental policy debate…. The book is a weighty example of the importance of environmental history research in relation to the public realm.” –Richard P. Tucker, Environmental History

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Praise for Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age (Rutgers, 2008)

“This impressively researched and judiciously argued book challenges readers to think in new ways about what happens when science, politics, and the environment intersect.”
—Peter Thorsheim in the American Historical Review

“Hamblin’s examination of radioactive waste dumping in Europe and America is an important and valuable study, particularly for those interested in the role of science, technology, and environment in modern life.”
—Ronald Rainger, Professor of History, Texas Tech University

“A fascinating account of the role of health physicists and marine scientists in the international politics and public relations of dumping radioactive waste at sea.”
—John Krige, author of American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe

Poison in the Well tells how British and American nuclear scientists have handled radioactive wastes since World War II, despite uncertainty about long-term genetic and somatic effects, creating a legacy that will last for thousands of years. Interdisciplinary turf battles, government secrecy, and technological hubris all play a role in this well-constructed narrative.”
—Robert W. Seidel, Professor of History of Science and Technology, University of Minnesota

Description: In the early 1990s, Russian President Boris Yeltsin revealed that for the previous thirty years the Soviet Union had dumped vast amounts of dangerous radioactive waste into rivers and seas in blatant violation of international agreements. The disclosure caused outrage throughout the Western world, particularly since officials from the Soviet Union had denounced environmental pollution by the United States and Britain throughout the cold war.

Poison in the Well provides a balanced look at the policy decisions, scientific conflicts, public relations strategies, and the myriad mishaps and subsequent cover-ups that were born out of the dilemma of where to house deadly nuclear materials. Why did scientists and politicians choose the sea for waste disposal? How did negotiations about the uses of the sea change the way scientists, government officials, and ultimately the lay public envisioned the oceans? Jacob Darwin Hamblin traces the development of the issue in Western countries from the end of World War II to the blossoming of the environmental movement in the early 1970s.

This is an important book for students and scholars in the history of science who want to explore a striking case study of the conflicts that so often occur at the intersection of science, politics, and international diplomacy.

This book was first published by Rutgers University Press in 2008.

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Praise for Oceanographers and the Cold War: Disciples of Marine Science (University of Washington Press, 2005):

“Jacob Hamblin’s study is a bombshell that shows the great extent to which U.S. military and diplomatic interests molded the attitudes and actions of American scientists.”

–Lawrence Badash, author of Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons

“In clear, frequently entertaining, prose, Jacob Hamblin expertly demonstrates how oceanographers maneuvered through the political minefields of the Cold War while working to define and develop their field.”

–Kurkpatrick Dorsey, author of The Dawn of Conservation Diplomacy

“Hamblin covers a wider perspective than just that of the U.S., clarifying the importance, and distinctive perspective, of small, maritime-oriented nations such as Britain and Norway, and explaining distinctions between their interests, those of the superpowers, and those of developing nations.”

–Helen M. Rozwadowski, author of The Sea Knows No Boundaries

“Hamblin has written about the decades just after WWII when American oceanography blossomed and new marine science institutions emerged. Read this to see how much our work today has been influenced by these events of the not-so-distant past.”

–Warren S. Wooster, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington School of Marine Affairs


Why did Americans, Soviets, and their allies call science the “common language of mankind” in the 1950s?  And why did the scientists who helped their armed services in the vast oceans gain notoriety as internationally-minded citizens of the world?  Some of the most ambitious cooperative ventures in science took place amidst the grim backdrop of the Cold War.  Why?

Oceanographers and the Cold War is about patronage, politics, and the community of scientists. It is the first book to examine the study of the oceans during the Cold War era and explore the international focus of American oceanographers, taking into account the roles of the U.S. Navy, United States foreign policy, and scientists throughout the world. Jacob Hamblin demonstrates that to understand the history of American oceanography, one must consider its role in both conflict and cooperation with other nations.

Paradoxically, American oceanography after World War II was enmeshed in the military-industrial complex while characterized by close international cooperation. The military dimension of marine science – with its involvement in submarine acoustics, fleet operations, and sea-launched nuclear missiles – coexisted with data exchange programs with the Soviet Union and global operations in seas without borders.

From an uneasy cooperation with the Soviet bloc in the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58, to the NATO Science Committee in the late 1960s, which excluded the Soviet Union, to the U.S. Marine Sciences Council, which served as an important national link between scientists and the government, Oceanographers and the Cold War reveals the military and foreign policy goals served by U.S. government involvement in cooperative activities between scientists, such as joint cruises and expeditions. It demonstrates as well the extent to which oceanographers used international cooperation as a vehicle to pursue patronage from military, government, and commercial sponsors during the Cold War, as they sought support for their work by creating “disciples of marine science” wherever they could.