“Much as Marcel Proust spun out a lifetime of memories from the taste of a madeleine, The Uranium Club spins out the history of Nazi Germany’s failed World War II atomic-bomb project by tracing the whereabouts of a small, blackened cube of Nazi uranium. It’s a riveting tale of competing German ambitions and arrogant mistakes, a nonfiction thriller tracking teams of American scientists as they race to prevent Hitler from beating the United States to the atomic bomb.” —Richard Rhodes, author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Tim Koeth peered into the crumpled brown paper lunch bag; inside was a surprisingly heavy black metal cube.
He recognized the mysterious object instantly—he had one just like it sitting on his desk at home. It was uranium metal, taken from the nuclear reactor that Nazi scientists had tried—and failed—to build at the end of World War II. This unexpected gift, wrapped in a piece of paper inscribed with a few cryptic but crucial lines, would launch Koeth, a nuclear physicist and professor, and his colleague Miriam Hiebert, a cultural heritage scientist, on an odyssey to trace the tale of these cubes—two of the original 664 on which the Third Reich had pinned their nuclear ambitions.
Part treasure hunt, part historical narrative, The Uranium Club winds its way through the back doors of World War II and Manhattan Project histories to recount the contributions of the men and women at the forefront of the race for nuclear power. From Werner Heisenberg and Germany’s nuclear program to the Curies, the first family of nuclear physics, to the Allied Alsos Mission’s infiltration of Germany to capture Nazi science to the renegade geologists of Murray Hill scouring the globe for uranium, the cubes are lodestars that illuminate a little-known—and hugely consequential—chapter of history.
The cubes are physical testimony to the stories of the German failure, and the successful American program that launched the world into the modern nuclear age, and the lessons for modern science that the contrast in these two programs has to offer.
About the Author
Miriam E. Hiebert, PhD, was first introduced to cultural heritage science at the University of Richmond. While completing her BS in chemistry, she participated in the conservation of an Egyptian mummy, Ti Ameny Net. During her graduate work in materials science and engineering at the University of Maryland, she met Tim Koeth and became interested in nuclear history. Hiebert currently works as a researcher at the Smithsonian on a multiyear survey of glass collections. She works as a conservation scientist in the DC area. Timothy W. Koeth, PhD, completed his BS and PhD in Physics at Rutgers University in New Jersey and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. In 2019 Koeth joined the faculty in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering as an assistant professor.
“The Uranium Club reads like a detective story with outsized characters and a compelling plot. The book unravels the mystery of how a five-inch uranium cube used by Nazi scientists in World War II ended up in a physics lab at the University of Maryland. What happened to the thousand uranium cubes used by Werner Heisenberg and his German colleagues? Why did the German effort fail, and the Manhattan Project succeed? This well written and thoughtful book considers these questions and the importance of scientific collaboration today, leaving readers much to ponder.” —Cynthia C. Kelly, president, Atomic Heritage Foundation
“Dr. Hiebert weaves a vivid picture of ego, scientific hope, nuclear physics, and discoveries paralyzed by antisemitism and mistrust in a world the Nazis hoped to dominate, if they could succeed. Her work unravels the political and scientific dilemma of World War II in Europe and the United States as our government braced for the prospect of Hitler obtaining the atomic bomb.” —Jim Walther, former executive director, National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
“Even after eighty years, the nuclear history of World War II still holds surprises. This engaging, fast-paced book relates the fascinating story of some unique artifacts of the time: cubes of uranium metal used in German reactor experiments. Only a few of these cubes still exist, and Miriam Hiebert leads readers through the compelling detective story of their origin and fates. This book should be in the collection of anyone interested in nuclear research.” —Bruce Cameron Reed, author of Manhattan Project
“The Uranium Club provides an exciting fast-paced tour through twentieth-century nuclear history, while simultaneously taking the reader along on a modern-day quest to find the uranium cubes on which Nazi scientists had once pinned their hopes for an atomic bomb. Surprising and sometimes shocking, Hiebert’s narrative merges history and science into an enthralling tale of adventure.” —Timothy J. Jorgensen, author of Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation
"An important and timely history" — Booklist
"This original and engaging take on military history will fascinate readers of popular science" — Library Journal