Books, Articles, and Chapters

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

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

A groundbreaking narrative of how the United States offered the promise of nuclear technology to the developing world and its gamble that other nations would use it for peaceful purposes.

After the Second World War, the United States offered a new kind of atom that differed from the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This atom would cure diseases, produce new foods, make deserts bloom, and provide abundant energy for all. It was an atom destined for the formerly colonized, recently occupied, and mostly non-white parts of the world that were dubbed the “wretched of the earth” by Frantz Fanon.

The “peaceful atom” had so much propaganda potential that President Dwight Eisenhower used it to distract the world from his plan to test even bigger thermonuclear weapons. His scientists said the peaceful atom would quicken the pulse of nature, speeding nations along the path of economic development and helping them to escape the clutches of disease, famine, and energy shortfalls. That promise became one of the most misunderstood political weapons of the twentieth century. It was adopted by every subsequent US president to exert leverage over other nations’ weapons programs, to corner world markets of uranium and thorium, and to secure petroleum supplies. Other countries embraced it, building reactors and training experts. Atomic promises were embedded in Japan’s postwar recovery, Ghana’s pan-Africanism, Israel’s quest for survival, Pakistan’s brinksmanship with India, and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear independence.

As The Wretched Atom shows, promoting civilian atomic energy was an immense gamble, and it was never truly peaceful. American promises ended up exporting violence and peace in equal measure. While the United States promised peace and plenty, it planted the seeds of dependency and set in motion the creation of today’s expanded nuclear club.

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.

Selected Articles and Chapters

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Aligning Missions: Nuclear Technical Assistance, the IAEA, and National Ambitions in Pakistan,” History and Technology 36:34 (2020), 437-451.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “An American Miracle in the Desert: Environmental Crisis and Nuclear-Powered Desalination in the Middle East,” in Nature and the Iron Curtain: Environmental Policy and Social Movements in Communist and Capitalist Countries, 1945-1990, edited by Astrid Mignon Kirchhoff and J. R. McNeill (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), 205-218.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Access Denied: The Continuing Challenge to Environmental Sciences in the Trump Era,” Environmental History 23:1 (2018), 1-8.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “‘A Glaring Defect in the System’: Nuclear Safeguards and the Invisibility of Technology,” in Roland Popp, Liviu Horovitz, and Andreas Wenger, eds., Negotiating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Origins of the Nuclear Order (New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 203-219.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin and Linda M. Richards, “Beyond the Lucky Dragon: Japanese Scientists and Fallout Discourse in the 1950s,” Historia Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan 25:1 (2015), 36-56.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Quickening Nature’s Pulse: Atomic Agriculture at the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Dynamis 35:2 (2015), 389-408.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Reagan’s Environmental Legacy,” in Andrew L. Johns, ed., A Companion to Ronald Reagan (Malden, Mass.: Wiley, 2015), pp. 257-275.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Seeing the Oceans in the Shadow of Bergen Values,” Isis 105:2 (2014), 352-363.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “The Nuclearization of Iran in the 1970s,” Diplomatic History 38:5 (2014), 1114-1135.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “The Vulnerability of Nations: Food Security in the Aftermath of World War II,” Global Environment 10 (2012) [actually published in July 2013], 42-65

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Environmental Dimensions of World War II,” in Thomas W. Zeiler, ed., with Daniel M. DuBois, A Companion to World War II (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 698-716.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Fukushima and the Motifs of Nuclear History,” Environmental History 17:2 (2012), 285-299.

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “A Global Contamination Zone: Early Cold War Planning for Environmental Warfare,” in J. R. McNeill and Corinna R. Unger, ed., Environmental Histories of the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 85-114

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Environmentalism for the Atlantic Alliance: NATO’s Experiment with the ‘Challenges of Modern Society,’” Environmental History 15:1 (2010), 54-75

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Let there be Light… and Bread: the United Nations, the Developing World, and Atomic Energy’s Green Revolution,” History and Technology 25 (2009), 25-48

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Gods and Devils in the Details: Marine Pollution, Radioactive Waste, and an Environmental Regime circa 1972,” Diplomatic History 32 (2008), 539-560

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Les Politiques de Coopération Scientifique Internationale, ou L’Abandon du ‘S’ dans le Sigle UNESCO,” in 60 Ans d’Histoire de L’UNESCO (Paris: UNESCO, 2007), 379-387

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Mastery of Landscapes and Seascapes: Science at the Strategic Poles during the International Geophysical Year,” in Keith R. Benson and Helen M. Rozwadowski, ed., Extremes: Oceanography’s Adventures at the Poles. Sagamore Beach: Science History Publications, 2007, 201-225

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “‘A Dispassionate and Objective Effort:’ Negotiating the First Study on the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation,” Journal of the History of Biology 40 (2007), 147-177

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Exorcising Ghosts in the Age of Automation: United Nations Experts and Atoms for Peace,” Technology and Culture 47 (2006), 734–756

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Hallowed Lords of the Sea: Scientific Authority and Radioactive Waste in the United States, Britain, and France,” Osiris 21 (2006), 209–228

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Environmental Diplomacy in the Cold War: the Disposal of Radioactive Waste at Sea during the 1960s,” International History Review 24:2 (2002), 348–375

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “The Navy’s ‘Sophisticated’ Pursuit of Science: Undersea Warfare, the Limits of Internationalism, and the Utility of Basic Research, 1945–1956,” Isis 93:1 (2002), 1–27

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Visions of International Scientific Cooperation: the Case of Oceanic Science, 1920–1955,” Minerva: A Review of Science, Learning and Policy 38:4 (2000), 393–423

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, “Science in Isolation: American Marine Geophysics Research, 1950–1968,” Physics in Perspective 2:3 (2000), 293–312