Harold C. Urey (1893–1981) was one of the most famous American scientists of the twentieth century. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1934 for his discovery of deuterium and heavy water, Urey later participated in the Manhattan Project and NASA’s lunar exploration program. In this, the first ever biography of the chemist, Matthew Shindell shines new light on Urey’s achievements and efforts to shape his public and private lives.
Shindell follows Urey through his orthodox religious upbringing, the scientific work that won him the Nobel, and his subsequent efforts to use his fame to intervene in political, social, and scientific matters. At times, Urey succeeded, including when he helped create the fields of isotope geochemistry and cosmochemistry. But other endeavors, such as his promotion of world governance of atomic weapons, failed. By exploring those efforts, as well as Urey’s evolution from farm boy to scientific celebrity, we can discern broader changes in the social and intellectual landscape of twentieth-century America. More than a life story, this book immerses readers in the struggles and triumphs of not only an extraordinary man, but also his extraordinary times.
Matthew Shindell is curator of planetary science and exploration at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
"Harold Urey was simultaneously a towering figure in American science yet never quite fit into the categories imposed on him. Shindell vibrantly revives Urey’s story of science, politics, religion, and humanity across the American century."
— Michael D. Gordin, Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, Princeton University