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Taking on Technocracy: Nuclear Power in Germany, 1945 to the Present

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Volume 24

Protest, Culture & Society

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Taking on Technocracy

Nuclear Power in Germany, 1945 to the Present

Dolores L. Augustine

304 pages, 7 illus., 2 figures, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-645-4 $135.00/£99.00 / Hb / Published (May 2018)

ISBN  978-1-80073-198-1 $34.95/£27.95 / Pb / Published (September 2021)

eISBN 978-1-78533-904-2 eBook

View CartYour country: - edit Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format)Recommend to your LibraryAvailable in GOBI®



“Augustine’s broad coverage of the scientific and emotional stakes of nuclear power in both German states amid the Cold War make this a vital read for historians interested in environmentalism and new social movements. Engagingly written, it is accessible to advanced undergraduates as well.” • American Historical Review

“Augustine’s book provides probably the best overview of the history of nuclear energy and society in Germany.” • NTM Journal of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

“Augustine’s thoughtful history contains useful chapter introductions and conclusions… [It offers an] engaging and important story at the heart of the book. As Augustine reminds readers, the story she tells has an open ending. In the era of climate change, as governments struggle to lower greenhouse gas emissions, the future of nuclear power in Germany remains undecided.” • German History

Taking on Technocracy covers a broad range of developments in the domains of technology, policy, and protest, analyzing them with nuance in the different contexts of East and West Germany. For those wanting to understand why the issue of nuclear power has remained such an important factor in German politics for half a century or more, Dolores Augustine has delivered an excellent study of the long-running debates on the topic and their many twists and turns.” • German Studies Review

“Augustine makes a major contribution to our understanding of Germany’s path to the abandonment of nuclear power. She reveals not only the ability of citizens to participate in high-level scientific debates, but also how their interventions can cause dramatic political change. Such success stories are in short supply—and high demand—in the climate-change era.” • History: Reviews of New Books

“Augustine conveys how Germans on both sides of the Iron Curtain related to the “Atomic Age” in the 1950s and 1960s….[and] offers a fascinating discussion of safety regimes and nuclear accidents in both German states, showing each side as being closely tied to their respective Cold War superpower.” • Environmental History

“All in all, Augustine does not only provide a fascinating, well-written and insightful integrated history of Germany's variegated engagement with nuclear power. She also makes important contributions to cultural history, the transnational history of (counter-)expertise, the history of (new) social movements as well as the history of science and "public technology.”…the book deserves a wide readership.” • Sehepunkte

“In her combined analyses of social history, popular culture, social movement theory, and the history of science and technology, Dolores L. Augustine offers an outstanding and extremely recommendable narrative of a key episode in recent history—not only German, but by definition, also European.” • Technology and Culture

“Her book is the result of in-depth archival research, especially in newspaper and TV archives. It thus looks at changing public opinion through the lens of published opinions (including editorials), while also reviewing the developing discourse on nuclear safety among activists and scientists…[Her] book will hopefully help spur a renewed discussion about nuclear power.” • German Politics & Society

“An exceptionally well-written and comprehensive book on the history of nuclear power in Germany in the second half of the twentieth century. Scholars of antinuclear activism and citizen science, regardless of regional specialty, would find it especially interesting, as Augustine digs into what makes the German case unique but also considers what it has in common with other movements in Europe and the United States. This would also be a useful text for classroom use, as it provides good coverage of a number of aspects of nuclear power controversies.” • Isis Journal

“Impressively up-to-date, this volume’s attention to media and public opinion makes it a valuable analysis of the interrelationship between science and social protest.” • Timothy Scott Brown, Northeastern University

“This study of utopian visions, scientific expertise, state power, and public protest is a crucial contribution to the history of nuclear power – and public concerns about science generally. Focusing on a divided Germany after the war until unification and the present, Augustine explores surprising similarities in the embrace of nuclear power in capitalism and socialism, including transnational aspects of the two German programs under American and Soviet influence, and unquestioned state support. If at first state- and industry-supported notions of technological progress and a higher standard of living prevailed, then criticism burst forth over worries of catastrophic accidents, even before Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. In West Germany, many citizens rejected the nuclear alliance between the political authorities, the nuclear industry, and technical-scientific experts un-democratic and even authoritarian. They insisted that safety issues were not only technical but normative. Eventually, violent protest shook the nation. Even in the East, brave citizens also came to worry about nuclear power. Ultimately, Germany has rejected nuclear power, and readers will understand why.” • Paul Josephson, Colby College


The German abandonment of nuclear power represents one of the most successful popular revolts against technocratic thinking in modern times—the triumph of a dynamic social movement, encompassing a broad swath of West Germans as well as East German dissident circles, over political, economic, and scientific elites. Taking on Technocracy gives a brisk account of this dramatic historical moment, showing how the popularization of scientific knowledge fostered new understandings of technological risk. Combining analyses of social history, popular culture, social movement theory, and histories of science and technology, it offers a compelling narrative of a key episode in the recent history of popular resistance.

Dolores L. Augustine was until her retirement a Professor of History at St. John’s University, New York. She received her doctorate from the Free University of Berlin. Her publications include Patricians and Parvenus: Wealth and High Society in Wilhelmine Germany and Red Prometheus: Engineering and Dictatorship in East Germany, 1945-1990.

An interview with the author (CNN, 2023)

Subject: History: 20th Century to PresentEnvironmental Studies (General)
Area: Germany


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