The Curve of Binding Energy A Journey into the Awesome and Alarming World of Theodore B. Taylor

John McPhee

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

236 Pages



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With his customary reportorial brilliance, John McPhee has written the story of the life and career of Theodore B. Taylor, a theoretical physicist who has been one of the most inventive nuclear scientists of our time. He miniaturized the atomic bomb, and also designed the largest-yield fission bomb that has ever been exploded. Subsequently, he led a scientific effort to build a nuclear-powered spaceship. But he later became convinced that weapons-grade uranium and plutonium are alarmingly available to anyone who might wish to build a homemade bomb, and that such an undertaking would not be impossible, as some think. Taylor for many years has tried to effect improvements in the protection of nuclear materials, in the hope of averting their catastrophic use. McPhee's exploration of Taylor's world provides a timely look at a central aspect of the history of nuclear energy, and the assessment of one of its risks.


Praise for The Curve of Binding Energy

A book holding, with pretty good authority, that tens of thousands of people know enough about the bomb and are close enough to what they don't know to produce a bomb at home . . . The report's art at its difficult best."—Alvin Beam, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

"Though dwellers in the nuclear age should ponder this book, as much for its intellectual excitement as for its warning."—Edmund Fuller, The Wall Street Journal

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Curve of Binding Energy, The
TO many people who have participated professionally in the advancement of the nuclear age, it seems not just possible but more and more apparent that nuclear explosions will again take place in cities. It seems to them likely, almost beyond quibbling, that more nations now have nuclear bombs than the six that have tested them, for it is hardly necessary to test a bomb in order to make one. There is also no particular reason the maker need be a nation. Smaller units could do it--groups of people with a common purpose or a common enemy. Just how few people could achieve
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  • John McPhee

  • John McPhee is the author of more than 25 books, including Annals of the Former World, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction in 1999. He has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1965 and lives in Princeton, New Jersey. McPhee's Encounters with the Archdruid and The Curve of Binding Energy were both nominated for National Book Awards in the category of science.
  • John McPhee Peter Cook