John Gribbin

Half-Life Stories

Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation

By Timothy J Jorgensen

Princeton University Press 490pp £24.95 order from our bookshop

I approached this book with low expectations. Ho-hum, I thought, a book about radiation written by a professor of radiation medicine. Probably some dull memoir by a retired old boy. How wrong I was. Strange Glow is a cracking good read, filled with fascinating stories about the people behind the science and covering vastly more of that science than I anticipated, in an accessible style.

The first delight is that Timothy Jorgensen deals with radiation in all its forms, starting with light and putting other kinds of electromagnetic radiation (such as X-rays) in context, as well as explaining the nature of particulate forms of radiation, such as the particle beams used to treat cancers. He starts with, as he puts it, ‘the basics’, a historical overview from Newton to nuclear fusion via X-rays and radium. Just occasionally the American view of the world seems slightly out of tune with my version of reality – as in ‘the British love their plum pudding’ – but this is a small price to pay for a friendly, jargon-free narrative.

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