CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 7 . . . . December 1, 2000
In 1942 a three-man suicide squad sat atop a pile of radioactive uranium, ready to take drastic measures in case the experiment - the world's fist nuclear chain reaction - went horribly wrong. The three physicists were ready to put their lives on the line to advance the frontiers of science.Larry Verstraete begins with this gripping introduction and never lets up as he introduces readers to the courageous men and women who, through their efforts and tenacity, have helped to add to the knowledge of our world or to the creature comforts that we take for granted. The writing is taut, and the breadth of Verstraete's research staggering as he recounts these "scientific heroes" from the medieval times up to the present. Many familiar names crop up: Benjamin Franklin, the Wright brothers, Madame Curie. But so, too, do many new ones: Russian astronauts making courageous first voyages, ocean explorers coming across volcanic eruptions hours after they had occurred, the inventor of Vaseline who, to test the salve's curative qualities, cut himself and applied it all over his body. Explorers, soldiers, inventors and scientists of a more conventional nature are all fit subjects. Reading it, I was reminded of the "Ripley Believe It or Not" series I devoured as a kid. Verstraete's stories are all the more amazing for being absolutely true. Did you know, for example, that even today the note pages of Marie and Pierre Curie give off powerful doses of radiation?
The chapters are short enough to be accessible to young readers, with more "extreme facts" listed afterwards, many which will inspire further research. An index is included to facilitate research projects while an impressive list of Web sites of interest adds to the book's topicality.
An excellent book for any school or home library.
Alberta's Liz Greenaway is a former bookseller who has never risked her life in the name of science.
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