McPhee is an excellent writer. I realized this when I couldn’t put this one down — a book on U-235, Plutonium-240 and the nuclear fuel cycle. Written in 1973, when the AEC was still pursuing “peaceful uses” of nuclear energy, this book comes before the advent of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, and God help us, 9-11. Yet, the story of Ted Taylor’s life’s work from building the smallest atomic bomb in the 1940s to becoming an advocate for nuclear materials safeguards later in his life is chilling in its prophecies. I came to realize as I read that much of Taylor’s advocacy work for nuclear materials safeguards, and McPhee’s documentation of it through this book, may well have prevented terrorists — then and now — from obtaining the nuclear materials necessary for a dirty bomb. Obviously, it may be a more important work than anyone initially realized.
Now, if we could only employ Taylor’s brains and McPhee’s pen to figure out how to regulate pressure cookers and fertilizer.