Recommended: A Shadow Falls

Scientific American recommendations on nuclear proliferation and ancient alcohol

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A Shadow Falls
by Nick Brandt. Abrams, 2009
Wildlife photographer Nick Brandt’s stunning images of African animals reveal such familiar creatures as lions, zebras, giraffes and elephants in a remarkable new light. Here a lion faces an oncoming storm in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve.
> Slideshow: Selection of photographs from A Shadow Falls

Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly
by Michael D. Gordin. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
Science historian Michael D. Gordin recounts the events leading up to August 29, 1949, when the Soviets detonated an atomic bomb in the deserts of Kazakhstan—a test explosion that brought the U.S. monopoly on nuclear weapons to a close. Here he describes how, four years earlier, the U.S. prepared to test the first atomic bomb in Alamogordo, N.M.

“The world’s first nuclear explosion, the Trinity test, was actually the second test conducted by Los Alamos scientists. Since none of the participants in the [Manhattan Project] had ever experienced an explosion of the anticipated size of Trinity (radically underestimated in advance as the equivalent of four thousand to five thousand tons of TNT), Kenneth Bainbridge, to whom [J. Robert] Oppenheimer had delegated the testing procedure, opted to conduct a scale model of the forthcoming atomic test by detonating one hundred tons of TNT off a thirty-eight-foot-high tower.... The test, which also served as a dry run of the wiring and instrumentation, was conducted on May 7, 1945. Some fission products were placed in the explosive so that radioactive traces could be measured. This was as close to a practice run as the Americans had.

“In retrospect, many American scientists understandably considered the Trinity test of July 16, 1945, as the watershed of their involvement in weapons design. Yet during the preceding months, it was by no means clear that the explosion would work, and [General Leslie] Groves authorized the construction of a twenty-five-by-ten-foot, two hundred-ton vessel (code-named ‘Jumbo’) to contain the explosion in case of a misfire, so as to recover the valuable plutonium. It was eventually decided to proceed without Jumbo, but the very consideration of it reveals how uncertain the Manhattan Project seemed even at that late date.”

Also Notable
Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages
by Patrick McGovern. University of California Press, 2009

Hybrid: The History and Science of Plant Breeding
by Noel Kingsbury. University of Chicago Press, 2009

Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection between Sex, Evolution  and Monogamy
by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton. Bellevue Literary Press, 2009

The Rising Sea
by Orrin Pilkey and Rob Young. Island Press, 2009

Heaven’s Touch: From Killer Stars to the the Seeds of Life, How We Are Connected to the Universe
by James B. Kaler. Princeton University Press, 2009

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