The best books to read when contemplating the risks of nuclear technology

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always had a passion to engage with the deepest questions of existence, from the interpretation of quantum mechanics to string theory and cosmology. My desire to understand is driven purely by curiosity, and my aim in writing about these topics is to make the wonders of the universe as widely accessible as possible. But scientific knowledge and the advance of technology also has a potentially darker side. It is vital for the future of humanity that science is widely understood so that democratic informed decisions can be made to safeguard against its misuse, and this was the motivation for recommending my list of books.


I wrote...

Gravity: From Falling Apples to Supermassive Black Holes

By Nicholas Mee,

Book cover of Gravity: From Falling Apples to Supermassive Black Holes

What is my book about?

Gravity: From Falling Apples to Supermassive Black Holes tells the captivating story of how we arrived at our current understanding of gravity and the role that it plays in shaping the universe. From the earliest cosmologies to the mind-bending ideas of Einstein and Hawking, we are taken on a fascinating journey through the cosmos. The book provides an engaging guide to the breakthroughs in gravitational physics of recent years and the insights we have gained into distant cosmic dramas; we feel the ripples in space created by cataclysmic collisions of black holes and neutron stars, and see the vast gluttonous supermassive black holes churning around in the hearts of distant galaxies.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Nicholas Mee Why did I love this book?

Richard Rhodes has crafted a very readable account of how the world’s leading physicists were recruited to the Manhattan Project during World War 2, and how the industrial might of the United States was employed to transform their ideas into weapons of unprecedented destructive power.

Rhodes succeeds in presenting a historical account of the politics behind the race to create nuclear weapons and the personal stories of the people involved, whilst providing clear explanations of the nuclear physics where necessary.

I first read the book several decades ago and it came as a revelation. Although I had studied physics for many years I knew almost nothing about nuclear weapons and how they were developed. This is one of the best books about science ever written.

By Richard Rhodes,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Making of the Atomic Bomb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With a brand new introduction from the author, this is the complete story of how the bomb was developed. It is told in rich, human, political, and scientific detail, from the turn-of-the-century discovery of the vast energy locked inside the atom to the dropping of the first bombs on Japan. Few great discoveries have evolved so swiftly -- or have been so misunderstood. From the theoretical discussions of nuclear energy to the bright glare of Trinity there was a span of hardly more than twenty-five years. What began as merely an interesting speculative problem in physics grew into the Manhattan…


Book cover of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Nicholas Mee Why did I love this book?

Few topics are more important than the survival of humanity.

Daniel Ellsberg was a strategic military analyst and presidential advisor who worked for the RAND Corporation and later the Pentagon. His book The Doomsday Machine focuses on how the United States planned for nuclear war in the 1950s and 1960s and offers his first-hand account of the Cold War arms race and how the world teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It is a stark reminder that for the foreseeable future we are condemned to live in a world where a small number of individuals wield the power to effectively end human civilization. There is no better account of how lucky we are to be here.

By Daniel Ellsberg,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Doomsday Machine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction

From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, the first insider expose of the awful dangers of America's hidden, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that is chillingly still extant

At the same time former presidential advisor Daniel Ellsberg famously took the top-secret Pentagon Papers, he also took with him a chilling cache of top-secret documents related to America's nuclear program in the 1960s. Here for the first time he reveals the contents of those now-declassified documents and makes clear their shocking relevance for today.

The Doomsday Machine is Ellsberg's hair-raising…


Book cover of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

Nicholas Mee Why did I love this book?

Command and Control is the gripping story of an accident at an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile silo in Arkansas in 1980 that resulted in the explosion of a Titan II missile.

The explosion blew the concrete lid off the silo and sent the missile’s nine-megaton thermonuclear warhead hurtling one hundred metres through the air. Fortunately, the warhead, which had 500 times the explosive power of the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, did not explode.

Interwoven with the minute-by-minute account of this accident, Schlosser gives a riveting history of the development of nuclear weapons by the U.S. military and discusses the mechanisms that have been devised to ensure that they are not detonated unintentionally. He also describes numerous other alarming nuclear mishaps that have occurred over the years.

By Eric Schlosser,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Command and Control as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Oscar-shortlisted documentary Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner, finds its origins in Eric Schlosser's book and continues to explore the little-known history of the management and safety concerns of America's nuclear aresenal.

"A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. Fascinating." -Lev Grossman, TIME Magazine

"Perilous and gripping . . . Schlosser skillfully weaves together an engrossing account of both the science and the politics of nuclear weapons safety." -San Francisco Chronicle

A myth-shattering expose of America's nuclear weapons

Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of…


Book cover of Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima

Nicholas Mee Why did I love this book?

James Mahaffey is an American physicist who worked in the nuclear industry for many years.

Atomic Accidents is his engaging account of what happens when something goes badly wrong. What I particularly like is that it is written from the perspective of someone who completely understands the science and who is also well informed by his first-hand experience of working with nuclear technology.

Although Mahaffey is clearly a supporter of nuclear research and the nuclear industry, the book presents an objective balanced picture, acknowledging the risks of nuclear technology, but placing the scale of those risks into context. The book is full of interesting stories and offers some reassurance that the nuclear industry is able to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Book cover of Chernobyl 01:23:40: The Incredible True Story of the World's Worst Nuclear Disaster

Nicholas Mee Why did I love this book?

The world’s worst nuclear accident took place at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986.

This short well-researched book is about what really happened before, during, and after the explosion and melt-down of the Unit 4 nuclear reactor. The author Andrew Leatherbarrow successfully interweaves his account of the accident with descriptions of his own visit to the abandoned city of Pripyat close to the power plant.

I like the book’s engaging style; it is informative and very readable without resorting to sensationalism or wild speculation. As Leatherbarrow explains, much is known about the causes of the Chernobyl accident but even some of the important details remain a mystery. 

By Andrew Leatherbarrow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chernobyl 01 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At 01:23:40 on April 26th 1986, Alexander Akimov pressed the emergency shutdown button at Chernobyl’s fourth nuclear reactor. It was an act that forced the permanent evacuation of a city, killed thousands and crippled the Soviet Union. The event spawned decades of conflicting, exaggerated and inaccurate stories.

This book, the result of five years of research, presents an accessible but comprehensive account of what really happened. From the desperate fight to prevent a burning reactor core from irradiating eastern Europe, to the self-sacrifice of the heroic men who entered fields of radiation so strong that machines wouldn’t work, to the…


You might also like...

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

Book cover of Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

Helena P. Schrader Author Of Cold Peace: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift, Part I

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I first went to Berlin after college, determined to write a novel about the German Resistance; I stayed a quarter of a century. Initially, the Berlin Airlift, something remembered with pride and affection, helped create common ground between me as an American and the Berliners. Later, I was commissioned to write a book about the Airlift and studied the topic in depth. My research included interviews with many participants including Gail Halvorsen. These encounters with eyewitnesses inspired me to write my current three-part fiction project, Bridge to Tomorrow. With Russian aggression again threatening Europe, the story of the airlift that defeated Soviet state terrorism has never been more topical. 

Helena's book list on the Russian blockade of Berlin and the Allied Airlift

What is my book about?

Stopping Russian Aggression with milk, coal, and candy bars….

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians will starve unless they receive food, medicine, and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour, and children’s shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in the West. Until General Winter deploys on the side of Russia...

Based on historical events, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader delivers an…

Cold War: A Novel of the Berlin Airlift

By Helena P. Schrader,

What is this book about?

Fighting a war with milk, coal and candy bars....

In the second book of the Bridge to Tomorrow Series, the story continues where "Cold Peace" left off.

Berlin is under siege. More than two million civilians in Hitler's former capital will starve unless they receive food, medicine and more by air.

USAF Captain J.B. Baronowsky and RAF Flight Lieutenant Kit Moran once risked their lives to drop high explosives on Berlin. They are about to deliver milk, flour and children's shoes instead. Meanwhile, two women pilots are flying an air ambulance that carries malnourished and abandoned children to freedom in…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in nuclear weapons, the Manhattan Project, and the Ozarks?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about nuclear weapons, the Manhattan Project, and the Ozarks.

Nuclear Weapons Explore 68 books about nuclear weapons
The Manhattan Project Explore 19 books about the Manhattan Project
The Ozarks Explore 18 books about the Ozarks