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Tom Zoellner: Uranium

Thursday, March 19

By Scott Renshaw
Posted // March 18,2009 -

Tom Zoellner: Uranium

You may not expect a fascinating, complex piece of history from a book about a mineral.

Tom Zoellner, however, is making a career of just that. In 2006, Zoellner—a one-time Salt Lake Tribune reporter—explored the politics and economics of the international diamond trade in The Heartless Stone. His new book Uranium similarly uses the quest for a precious product of the earth as a way to study the ruthlessness of such pursuits, and how they can change history.

His tale spans centuries, from the earliest discoveries of “pitchblende” as a by-product of silver mining in Bohemia to the “intelligence” about Iraq’s pursuit of uranium and the current push for increased nuclear power. Along the way, he relates the discoveries that changed the perception of uranium from useless slag to potential miracle cure and, eventually, as a key to both abundant energy and previously unimaginable destruction.

But the most compelling human angle for locals comes when Zoellner revisits the “uranium rush” of the 1950-70s, as the United States and Soviet Union both raced to stockpile the element that was the key to nuclear weapons. Part of that story involves the rich deposits found in southern Utah, including the one that turned prospector Charlie Steen into a millionaire. Moab emerges as just one of the many places changed forever by the quest for the radioactive material, and Zoellner makes the sprawling narrative fascinating—and more than a little bit scary. Join him this week for a local reading and signing event.

Tom Zoellner: Uranium @ Sam Weller’s Bookstore, 254 S. Main, 801-328-2586, Thursday, March 19, 7 p.m.

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