Olson writes lucidly, making even the most recondite details of the science involved clear to a nonscientist. And he’s eloquent in his chronicling of the lives affected — and sometimes destroyed — by the invention and use of the world’s most deadly weapon ... [a] deft, informative, sometimes terrifying book.
Olson buttresses his argument for Hanford’s significance with historic facts such as these, but also with personal anecdotes and present-day insights ... For readers coming fresh to the history, or diving more deeply into it for the first time, Olson provides enough back story of the key players to give a flavor of the disparate — and sometimes clashing — personalities that made the project tick. And though the book is perhaps not for the scientifically faint-of-heart, Olson is a crisp writer who brings clarity to complex subject matter ... Though the author could have provided the story greater intimacy by describing more of his own experience growing up in the area, the book still offers the personal insights of individuals whose lives were impacted, for good or ill, by the Hanford site. Olson includes not just those on the receiving end of accolades and Nobel Prizes, but individuals from more anonymous walks of life, to provide a relatable and often heartbreaking layer to the narrative ... By training his lens on Hanford, Olson offers the biography of a town ... Before moving forward and shaping our nuclear future, we must first seek to understand its past, to shine light into all of its dark corners. Olson scapegoats no one, but proffers uncomfortable truths and poses challenging — if open-ended — questions ... Though [Olson] does not always offer answers to the questions he poses, he does offer hope based on his faith in human brilliance, tenacity and ingenuity to meet our challenges — the kind of traits and talents that made the Manhattan Project possible in the first place.
I wish that Mr. Olson had spent some time discussing the problems that the Los Alamos people had working with plutonium ... [Olson] devotes some chapters to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but I didn’t find anything much new in them. Nor did I find that they contributed anything to the real story of the book, which is about the fabrication of plutonium ... After the war there was a period when plutonium production at Hanford was increased. There was even a new reactor. This came about because the Soviet Union had begun to test nuclear weapons that, at least in some quarters of the United States, created a frenzy. But by the 1980s it was all over. All the plutonium that was ever going to be needed by us had been made, and the real problem was what to do with the detritus of the plant. This part of The Apocalypse Factory is the best. Mr. Olson has clearly been there and studied it ... The whole place is a tribute to human ingenuity and human folly. This book is a witness to both.