Cook was born in 1911 in Garden City, Utah, on the shores of Bear Lake. He studied at the University of Utah and earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale in 1937. He then went to work for the DuPont Co., moving to New Jersey, where he met and worked with well-known LDS scientist Henry Eyring.
During World War II, Cook developed and published his "Theory of Detonation," which is still considered one of the major developments in the history of explosives. He incorporated it into his "Science of High Explosives," published by the American Chemical Society in 1958. He was also a member of the "Brain Trust" during World War II, along with 25 of the leading US Scientists in the physical scientists, including Eyring, Einstein, Bethe, Gamow and Kistiakowsky, working primarily on explosives and detonation.