Steve Olson — The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age

Steve Olson presents in person at Third Place Books – Lake Forest Park!

Third Place Books welcomes Steve Olson—the Washington State Book Award–winning author of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens—to celebrate the paperback release of his new book, The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Agea history of the nuclear era told from the perspective of the Hanford nuclear site. This event is free and open to the public. Registration is required in advance.

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Copies of The Apocalypse Factory will be available for purchase on site. This event will include a public signing and time for audience Q&A. Sustain our author series by purchasing a copy of the featured book!

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About The Apocalypse Factory. . .

A thrilling narrative of scientific triumph, decades of secrecy, and the unimaginable destruction wrought by the creation of the atomic bomb.

It began with plutonium, the first element ever manufactured in quantity by humans. Fearing that the Germans would be the first to weaponize the atom, the United States marshaled brilliant minds and seemingly inexhaustible bodies to find a way to create a nuclear chain reaction of inconceivable explosive power. In a matter of months, the Hanford nuclear facility was built to produce and weaponize the enigmatic and deadly new material that would fuel atomic bombs. In the desert of eastern Washington State, far from prying eyes, scientists Glenn Seaborg, Enrico Fermi, and many thousands of others—the physicists, engineers, laborers, and support staff at the facility—manufactured plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, and for the bombs in the current American nuclear arsenal, enabling the construction of weapons with the potential to end human civilization.

With his characteristic blend of scientific clarity and storytelling, Steve Olson asks why Hanford has been largely overlooked in histories of the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Olson, who grew up just twenty miles from Hanford’s B Reactor, recounts how a small Washington town played host to some of the most influential scientists and engineers in American history as they sought to create the substance at the core of the most destructive weapons ever created. The Apocalypse Factory offers a new generation this dramatic story of human achievement and, ultimately, of lethal hubris.


Praise for The Apocalypse Factory. . .

"Olson is a crisp writer who brings clarity to complex subject matter...[he offers] hope based on his faith in human brilliance, tenacity and ingenuity to meet our challenges — the kind of traits and talents that made the Manhattan Project possible in the first place."
The New York Times

"Olson writes lucidly, making even the most recondite details of the science involved clear to a nonscientist. And he’s eloquent in his chronicling of the lives affected — and sometimes destroyed — by the invention and use of the world’s most deadly weapon… [A] deft, informative, sometimes terrifying book."
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times

"Hanford, the vast complex that bred plutonium for the first atomic bombs on the banks of the mighty Columbia River in eastern Washington, has never had its full story told. Steve Olson now meets that challenge in a lively, dramatic, thrilling narrative of wartime crisis and scientific brilliance."
Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Steve Olson is the author of the book The Apocalypse Factory: Plutonium and the Making of the Atomic Age, a new history of the nuclear era told from the perspective of the Hanford nuclear reservation. His previous book, Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens, won the Washington State Book Award. He also is the author of Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins, which was nominated for the National Book Award, and other books, and he has written for the Atlantic Monthly, Science, the Smithsonian, and many other magazines. Since 1979, he has been a consultant writer for the National Academy of Sciences, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and other national scientific organizations. A native of Eastern Washington, he now lives in Seattle.

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