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4.3 out of 5 stars27
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 21 November 2010
I only recently saw a rerun of the BBC television series on 'Atom' which was presented by Jim Al-Khalili. I have seen his other series on Chemistry and I thought both were excellent. I cannot understand why the BBC has not released Atom as a DVD.

On the book Atom, it is worth pointing out that this is written by the science writer Piers Bizony, with Jim Al-Khalili simply providing a Forward and being a sounding board for the author.

That said, this is a very readable and informative introduction to a number of issues (but not all) presented in the television series. If you want to study details about the physics of atoms, radiation and its associated theories, then pick up a text book on the subject. Neither the television series nor this book are trying to go into that level of depth. Instead, they offer an historical overview about how human understanding of the atom has developed through time, complete with an insight into most of the key personalities along the way.

The prose is not so simplistic as to become superficial about the science. My sense is that this book is best described as a history of scientific ideas, where the ideas are explained in an understandable manner for the non-scientist. The key characters in this story play out their roles against the evolving backdrop of political change: the relative innocence of the Edwardian era is replaced by a growing realisation that after 1932 the atom truly holds the kind of power spoken about by Einstein in his famous equation e=mc2. The rise of the Nazis in Germany and fascism in Italy sees a host of scientists leave Europe's shores for the USA, where their knowledge is put to work on the Manhatten Project. The arms race is on to build the atom bomb before the Nazis. At this point in the story the book focuses more on the political situation than the specific science, but its shared reflections from scientists on both sides show that memories are selective, especially when political expediency is at work.

The political dimension continues as the book takes us into the paranoia of the Cold War between the West and Soviet Union with nuclear physicists becoming valuable pawns in the high-stakes game. Again, reflections by scientists from this period and their treatment by the various political system is interesting. As the clouds of McCarthy's witch-hunts are destroyed by the journalist's Ed Murrow's exposure of the man on television to a naive American audience the book returns more to the science.
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on 13 October 2007
I was hooked on the T.V series, which this book accompanies, and enthralled by the book, which I could not put down.My only disappointment was that the book did not cover the latter parts of the the T.V progamme in its foray into string theory and the cutting edge of contempoary physics. Having an interest in quantum physics, and the philosophy of science, (but not an education in physics to support it)I found that this book offers a coherent and comprehensible history of the development of ideas about the nature of the atom, which serves as an invaluable set of building blocks,from which to fashion a foundation of a better grasp of contemporary theory.I will certainly be buying the book by the same author on Quantum Theory.
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on 25 January 2010
Picked this book up after watching the TV series, wasn't expecting much to be honest but I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Entertaining read, gripping in parts, really brings the drama and the science alive and creates a foundational knowledge of atomic theory to build from.

good book!
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on 7 July 2015
This rather short book attempts to tell the story of man's discovery of the atom and all that pertains to it in simplistic terms. By and large it succeeds, but the field is so vast and complex that any 200 page book can be nothing more than a summary. The people we meet are cardboard cut-outs, with little or no personality expressed and the ideas are stripped to the bare minimum. Nonetheless it is well written and easy to follow and to understand. In a subject as complex as this there is room for a range of books, from 'Atom' through to Stephen Hawking's 'Brief History'. I suspect that rather more people will actually read 'Atom', so that has to be a plus for the book. Recommended but with reservations.
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on 13 April 2011
This book is truly a superb work of art, crafted by an author whose grasp of, and ability to convey, complex scientific fact is matched by a story-telling style of prose which rivals the most gripping work of fiction. Written in beautiful English, it carries the reader along from start to finish, seamlessly blending the scientific and the biographical within their historical context. Giving enough but never too much of anything, including a peppering of the humorous and anecdotal, the story of mankind's quest to understand the atom is told with a simplicity which, however, never underestimates the intelligence of the reader. I cannot praise this work highly enough. I could hardly put it down.
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on 18 September 2015
Fortunately I only paid one new penny for this book - OK postage was £2.80, but hey, it could have been worse. I was very disappointed, as Al-Kalili is usually pretty good on TV. However when I saw this volume was originally an accompaniament to a TV series, my heart sank. It has very few diagrams, no equations and nothing much in the way of science. It's all people and personalities, and it went in the bin.
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on 29 January 2008
It can be difficult for a layman to find material on Atomic physics which is entertaining, stimulating and which also has enough depth to enable you to walk away and say 'Oh - now I understand!'. Al-Khalili's book is deep enough to enable you to understand the gradual build-up of theory and how everything fit into everything that went before it. The biographies of the lead scientists enable the reader to see how a theory was part of a place and time and how new propositions were made on the basis of the thinking at the time. More importantly there is that sense of wonder, good humour and genuine reflective insight that make the best science books highly accessible but also highly informative. Certainly an excellent choice for the layman (me) and I would expect for those students who feel their lecturers suppose everyone to have walked in the door with ten years previous research experience!
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on 27 March 2008
For a layperson like myself who has no knowledge of the subject of Atomic physics (or any other science subject) and yet was gripped by the BBC series 'Atom', this book was the perfect partner to the series. Piers Bizony has made this mind-boggling subject understandable (almost) and very, very enjoyable.A wonderful book which I read at one sitting and I'm now eager for more.
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on 14 August 2014
Fabulous and easy to understand series dealing with a difficult subject in a manner that I was well able to understand. This Book is even better. I have read it from cover to cover several times. I just wish I had teachers like Jim Al-Khalili when I was at Grammar school.great book and Heartily Recommended.
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on 25 July 2011
Fantastic read, really easy as well.

All the tricky bits are explained really well.

It's a shame he didn't go on about the car that much.

I would recomend the programmes too, really interesting to watch.

But you need a big TV. It's not so good on a small TV. Ipods won't do, even big ones.
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