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Publisher's Summary

It began with plutonium, the first element ever manufactured in quantity by humans. Fearing that the Germans would be the first to weaponize the atom, the United States marshaled brilliant minds and seemingly inexhaustible bodies to find a way to create a nuclear chain reaction of inconceivable explosive power. In a matter of months, the Hanford nuclear facility was built to produce and weaponize the enigmatic and deadly new material that would fuel atomic bombs. In the desert of Eastern Washington State, far from prying eyes, scientists Glenn Seaborg, Enrico Fermi, and many thousands of others manufactured plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki and for the bombs in the current American nuclear arsenal, enabling the construction of weapons with the potential to end human civilization.  

With his characteristic blend of scientific clarity and storytelling, Steve Olson asks why Hanford has been largely overlooked in histories of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Olson recounts how a small Washington town played host to some of the most influential scientists and engineers in American history as they sought to create the substance at the core of the most destructive weapons ever created. The Apocalypse Factory offers a new generation this dramatic story of human achievement and, ultimately, of lethal hubris.

©2020 Steve Olson (P)2020 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

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Profile Image for Etienne
  • Etienne
  • 27-08-2020

Lacking in many aspects

As someone with a Master's degree in Chemistry with a keen interest in nuclear physics and radio-chemistry, I am probably not the author's target audience. The fact that the author chose to introduce every reader to the very basic concepts of chemistry (explaining what an atom is) could be acceptable if it weren't for the fact that the concepts, explanations and examples chosen are often shaky, sometimes incorrectly stated, badly explained and a few times factually incorrect. It seems to me that the author probably does not have a good grasp of the science involved in this incredibly fascinating story. However interesting the subject may be, one cannot write about the Manhattan project if one cannot nail the science and tell it well. There are many, many good books on the subject (however not that many on the specific case Hanford, more on that later). Frankly, after having read Richard Rhodes' masterpiece "The Making of the Atomic Bomb", anyone interested on the subject should have covered pretty much all the bases. Except Hanford. Enter Steve Olson's The Apocalypse Factory. I have stopped reading after having completed about 60% of the book. Where is the new material promised by the author? Besides interesting but sparse details concerning the day-to-day life at the Hanford plant, there isn't much that wasn't already written in Richard Rhodes' book. Maybe there is more in the last 40% of the book, but at that point one should feel some kind of reward for time invested reading this book. Instead of what this book promised but failed to deliver, the author struggles to cover the complete history of the Manhattan project, omitting many of its important chapters, summarizing complex issues down to a few sentences, and mostly leaving Hanford out in the far periphery. Finally I noticed that, on a number of occasions, the same ideas, details or anecdotes were told the same way in Richard Rhodes' book, sometimes down to the same wording. On more than one occasion the author chose to emphasize on the same specific aspect of one character or place for purely descriptive purposes than Rhodes did in his book. This can hardly be a coincidence, nor do I think it reasonable to conclude that the lack of historical and factual data concerning certain scenes forced both authors to write about it in exactly the same way. That constant echo of Rhodes' words in The Apocalypse Factory was what finally decided me to stop listening to this audiobook.

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Profile Image for HL Atkins
  • HL Atkins
  • 25-09-2020

Nice read

Starts well and gives a nice introduction to nuclear weapons development and Hanford. Some portions devoted to Nagaski victims were tiresome and seemingly a bit outside of what the title led me to expect.

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  • Jonathan Kelman
  • 23-09-2020

Some interesting details, but oddly incomplete

This book is sort of about Hanford, sort of about the Manhattan Project, and sort of about the follies of nuclear armament in general, but unsatisfyingly incomplete on all three. The details of Nagasaki were quite interesting, however.

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