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The Life and Science of Harold C. Urey

Matthew Shindell

The Life and Science of Harold C. Urey

Matthew Shindell

248 pages | 12 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2020
Cloth $27.50 ISBN: 9780226662084 Published December 2019
E-book $10.00 to $27.50 About E-books ISBN: 9780226662114 Will Publish December 2019
Harold C. Urey (1893–1981), whose discoveries lie at the foundation of modern science, was one of the most famous American scientists of the twentieth century. Born in rural Indiana, his evolution from small-town farm boy to scientific celebrity made him a symbol and spokesman for American scientific authority. Because he rose to fame alongside the prestige of American science, the story of his life reflects broader changes in the social and intellectual landscape of twentieth-century America. In this, the first ever biography of the chemist, Matthew Shindell shines new light on Urey’s struggles and achievements in a thoughtful exploration of the science, politics, and society of the Cold War era.
 
From Urey’s orthodox religious upbringing to his death in 1981, Shindell follows the scientist through nearly a century of American history: his discovery of deuterium and heavy water earned him the Nobel Prize in 1934, his work on the Manhattan Project helped usher in the atomic age, he initiated a generation of American scientists into the world of quantum physics and chemistry, and he took on the origin of the Moon in NASA’s lunar exploration program. Despite his success, however, Urey had difficulty navigating the nuclear age. In later years he lived in the shadow of the bomb he helped create, plagued by the uncertainties unleashed by the rise of American science and unable to reconcile the consequences of scientific progress with the morality of religion.
 
Tracing Urey’s life through two world wars and the Cold War not only conveys the complex historical relationship between science and religion in the twentieth century, but it also illustrates how these complexities spilled over into the early days of space science. More than a life story, this book immerses readers in the trials and triumphs of an extraordinary man and his extraordinary times.
Contents
Introduction       The Making and Remaking of an American Chemist

One       From Farm Boy to Wartime Chemist

Two       From Industrial Chemistry to Copenhagen

Three    From Novice in Europe to Expert in America

Four       From Nobel Laureate to Manhattan Project Burnout

Five        A Separation Man No More

Six          A Return to Science

Seven   To Hell with the Moon!

Epilogue               A Life in Science

Acknowledgments

Notes

List of Archives

List of Oral History Interviews

Bibliography

Index
Review Quotes
Nature
"The absorbing biography . . . uses the researcher’s life to show how a conscientious chemist navigated the cold war. . . . This fine biography wonderfully shows how Urey’s scientific contributions led chemistry in new directions, including to the Moon — and, in depicting the life of a leading scientist, Shindell probes the complex interplay of faith, values and politics in the United States."
David Grinspoon, author of Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto
"One cannot understand the origins of nuclear power and weaponry, of planetary exploration, or of our modern ideas about earth history and climate change without knowing the contributions of Harold Urey. Shindell’s meticulously researched and riveting account of Urey’s life and work traces the intellectual, political, and spiritual struggles of a man whose career binds together many of the major scientific and political events of the twentieth century."
Michael D. Gordin, Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Princeton University
"Harold Urey was simultaneously a towering figure in American science yet never quite fit into the categories imposed on him. Shindell vibrantly revives Urey’s story of science, politics, religion, and humanity across the American century."
Matthew Stanley, author of Einstein’s War: How Relativity Triumphed amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I
"This is an elegantly written and smartly researched biography of a major figure whose contributions to twentieth-century science have been inexplicably understudied. As with the best of this sort of biographical exploration, Shindell here crafts a rich historical narrative in which the individual subject provides an opportunity to investigate and understand large-scale social and cultural developments in a fine-grained way. The book is a serious contribution to the field, as well as paradigmatic of how the history of chemistry can appeal to a wide audience."
For more information, or to order this book, please visit https://www.press.uchicago.edu
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