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BOOK REVIEWS TL· Dragon's Tail. By Barton C. Hacker. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987. Pp. 258. $25.00. My immediate reaction to the rather smooth and catchy title of this book was that it must be like other titles of that ilk that one might presume to take some unbalanced view of its own subtitle, "Radiation Safety in the Manhattan Project, 1942-1946," and I may have read no further. However, this is emphatically not the case. In fact, the book describes exactly what its subtitle states. The author explains the choice of title in the introduction. The book did not arise de novo but was produced at the behest of the Department of Energy's Nevada Operations Office (as the foreword makes clear). They wanted a book that would (1) document the development of radiological safety in the nuclear weapons testing program, (2) be easy enough for the layman to understand yet contain enough specific information for technical purposes, and (3) capture the reader's interest. In broad terms, Mr. Hacker—a historian, not a scientist—has succeeded in all three of these aims. The details of the production of the text are important. Mr. Hacker undertook the assignment, interviewed some 80 prominent scientists (who are listed with date of interview) before writing, and then had the chapter manuscripts reviewed by some 80 others who are also listed. Such a careful approach should ensure technical accuracy, and, indeed, there are virtually no technical errors to be found. One has to be carping a little to complain that Edith Quimby, one of the most noted of the early medical physicists, is described as a radiologist or to complain about "the new figure (for the tolerance dose) was 0.02 roentgen" when it should be 0.02 roentgen per day. Another, more important error, however , is the failure, after a careful account of the rep, the reb, and the rem, to mention the rad or to mention the International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements (ICRU) who defined it. Commenting on errors gives me an opportunity to amend one perpetuated but not initiated here. The H. L. Wyckoff of the book by Glasstone is really H. O. Wyckoff, until recently chairman of the ICRU. This volume covers the period 1942-1946. As such, it is the first of two volumes. The organization is chronological, an introduction is followed by chapters on "Foundations of Manhattan Project Radiation Safety," "Role of the Chicago Health Division" (whence came the term "health physics"), "Radiation Safety at Los Alamos," "Trinity," "From Japan to Bikini," and finally "CrossPermission to reprint a book review printed in this section may be obtained only from the author. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 31, 3 ¦ Spring 1988 \ 461 roads." This is a book to be read in its entirety, however, not by chapter, because the author seems to like the practice ofbeginning each chapter before the end of the previous one. For example, "Forming the Health Division" is a four-page section of the chapter preceding the chapter on the "Role of the Chicago Health Division." This early lead-in strategy is followed throughout the book. There can be little doubt about the source material used by the author. Virtually every second sentence has a reference number to a source, and the 160 pages of text have 53 additional pages of small-print reference notes. These are to be distinguished from actual published references, which are also listed fully. Here one can criticize some of the sources, however. For example, a primary reference on radiation standards is a Ph.D. thesis (at Princeton, 1977) by Daniel Paul Serwer, which the author describes as the best study of its subject he has seen, which may well be so. But it is clearly not a primary or a generally available reference, nor is it by an authority in the field. Again, when general references to radioactivity are cited (e.g., n. 39, p. 168) the choice is for relatively popular texts on the subject rather than classical textbooks used in the classroom. This may, of course, be deliberate to attract the general reader but is less satisfying to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 461-463
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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