Oregon State University history professor and author Jacob Darwin Hamblin has been awarded the 2021 Oregon Book Award in general nonfiction for his book “The Wretched Atom: America’s Global Gamble with Peaceful Nuclear Technology.”
Hamblin accepted the award April 25 at Literary Arts’ first in-person ceremony since 2019.
Hamblin’s book, published by Oxford University Press, is a historical examination of the United States’ pattern of promoting nuclear “solutions” in developing nations across the world, and how these proposals are inextricably linked to race, the environment, colonialism, the arms trade and nuclear weapons.
Hamblin is one of several OSU faculty members to win an Oregon Book Award in the last decade. Most recently, Elena Passarello, director of the Master in Fine Arts program, won for nonfiction in 2018, while Tracy Daugherty, writing professor emeritus, won for his biography of Joan Didion in 2017. Writing instructor George Estreich won in 2012 for creative nonfiction, and OSU’s poet-in-residence David Biespiel won for nonfiction in 2016 and for poetry in 2011.
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Hamblin teaches courses on the history of science and technology, along with environmental history, in OSU’s School of History, Philosophy, and Religion within the College of Liberal Arts.
His research for “The Wretched Atom” took him to archives across Europe to uncover stories of different campaigns to bring nuclear energy projects to the developing world over the past seven decades.
He wrote about how both the U.S. and Great Britain promised nuclear-based solutions for a wide variety of problems, such as grain disinfection using radiation, crop fertilizers, medical uses with nuclear isotopes and nuclear power plants connected to water desalination plants used to irrigate deserts.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has reignited interest in and concern about nuclear issues across the world, and Hamblin is among many nuclear scholars who have received press inquiries seeking to better understand current risks of nuclear war or contamination.
The climate crisis has also heightened discussion of nuclear power. Hamblin said his book aims to highlight the ways political rhetoric is used to link environmental problems to nuclear solutions.
Hamblin is co-editing a book of essays with OSU history instructor Linda Richards about contested histories of radiation contamination and exposure at locations around the world.
“The Wretched Atom” is available through Oxford University Press and all major booksellers.