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From the author the classic The Wizards of Armageddon and Pulitzer Prize finalist comes the definitive history of American policy on nuclear war—and Presidents’ actions in nuclear crises—from Truman to Trump. Fred Kaplan, hailed by The New York Times as “a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter,” takes us into the White House Situation Room, the Jo From the author the classic The Wizards of Armageddon and Pulitzer Prize finalist comes the definitive history of American policy on nuclear war—and Presidents’ actions in nuclear crises—from Truman to Trump. Fred Kaplan, hailed by The New York Times as “a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter,” takes us into the White House Situation Room, the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s “Tank” in the Pentagon, and the vast chambers of Strategic Command to bring us the untold stories—based on exclusive interviews and previously classified documents—of how America’s presidents and generals have thought about, threatened, broached, and just barely avoided nuclear war from the dawn of the atomic age until today. Kaplan’s historical research and deep reporting will stand as the permanent record of politics. Discussing theories that have dominated nightmare scenarios from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kaplan presents the unthinkable in terms of mass destruction and demonstrates how the nuclear war reality will not go away, regardless of the dire consequences.


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From the author the classic The Wizards of Armageddon and Pulitzer Prize finalist comes the definitive history of American policy on nuclear war—and Presidents’ actions in nuclear crises—from Truman to Trump. Fred Kaplan, hailed by The New York Times as “a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter,” takes us into the White House Situation Room, the Jo From the author the classic The Wizards of Armageddon and Pulitzer Prize finalist comes the definitive history of American policy on nuclear war—and Presidents’ actions in nuclear crises—from Truman to Trump. Fred Kaplan, hailed by The New York Times as “a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter,” takes us into the White House Situation Room, the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s “Tank” in the Pentagon, and the vast chambers of Strategic Command to bring us the untold stories—based on exclusive interviews and previously classified documents—of how America’s presidents and generals have thought about, threatened, broached, and just barely avoided nuclear war from the dawn of the atomic age until today. Kaplan’s historical research and deep reporting will stand as the permanent record of politics. Discussing theories that have dominated nightmare scenarios from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kaplan presents the unthinkable in terms of mass destruction and demonstrates how the nuclear war reality will not go away, regardless of the dire consequences.

30 review for The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    I read Kaplan's Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War and discovered it to be a very lucid explanation of the technological challenges faced by the security departments around the world. So naturally, I was anxious to check out his most recent book, courtesy Net Galley, for which I am grateful. It's an immensely enjoyable, if a bit scary, book about the political infighting and territoriality of the armed services and policy development of nuclear weapons. There was a lot of jockeying b I read Kaplan's Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War and discovered it to be a very lucid explanation of the technological challenges faced by the security departments around the world. So naturally, I was anxious to check out his most recent book, courtesy Net Galley, for which I am grateful. It's an immensely enjoyable, if a bit scary, book about the political infighting and territoriality of the armed services and policy development of nuclear weapons. There was a lot of jockeying between the Navy, Army, and Air Force as to who would control "the bomb". and unfortunately much of that in-fighting controlled policy. Curtis LeMay, a brilliant leader in the organization and implementation of the bombing campaigns (read fire-bombing) in Europe and then Japan, as head of the Strategic Air Command was all in favor of a virtual first strike with everything as the SAC bombers were quite vulnerable. (His philosophy was simply to bomb everything.) The Navy, meanwhile, was eager to get funds for the development of large numbers of ballistic missile equipped Polaris submarines, arguing that if the Russians never knew where you were the deterrent effect was far greater and more valuable. The Army, on the other hand, promoted the use of smaller tactical nukes on the battlefield suggesting that a nuclear counterattack to defend Europe against Russian aggression would lead to a Russian withdrawal and peace discussions. The casual manner in which civilian casualties (not to mention military) were discussed was a bit disheartening. The man who replaced LeMay at SAC was Thomas Power. Even LeMay thought he was excessive: "There was a cruelty to Power’s zest for bombing cities. Even LeMay privately referred to his protégé as a “sadist.” When Bill Kaufmann briefed him on the Counterforce strategy at SAC headquarters, Power reacted with fury. “Why do you want us to restrain ourselves?” he screamed. “Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards!” After a bit more of this tirade, Power said, “Look. At the end of the war, if there are two Americans and one Russian, we win!” Kaufmann snapped back, “You’d better make sure that they’re a man and a woman.” Power stormed out of the room. " One surprising and note-worthy section was on how Cheney, of all people, was instrumental in reducing the huge number of weapons by half. All of the president's since have failed to reject the no-first-strike policy. Trump, himself, in his on-again, off-again relationship with North Korea didn't hesitate to wave the arsenal and threaten its use. Kaplan describes the abyss that policy makers then and since have become trapped in. The mere idea of how many times cities (people) need to be nuked in order to assure our victory, even as we ourselves are annihilated, inevitably leads to comparisons with Alice in Wonderland. That about sums up the insanity faced by all the presidents since Hiroshima. The importance of policy discussions and analysis worries me when I read that our current president disdains not just the briefing books, but the idea of analysis, preferring to rely on his "gut feeling" no doubt the most attuned gut in the history of the world. But then he's such a self-described "stable genius." A good companion book to McNamara's memoir, "In Retrospect" and Ellsberg's "Secrets." Each is ostensibly more about Vietnam but each reveals much a bout how decisions are made in government. Other titles I will have to read are Kaplan's "Wizards of Armaggedon", Ellsberg's "The Doomsday Machine," and Bruce Kuklick's "Kennan to Kissinger" and I'm sure many others, but we only live so long.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    WSJ review: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-bomb... (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers) Excerpt: "An amazing chapter, tantalizingly called “Pulling Back the Curtain,” tells of how, in 1989, a relatively young Defense aide named Franklin Miller persuaded his boss, Dick Cheney, to allow a quiet investigation of the actual targeting details of the military’s famous Single Integrated Operational Plan. These sites hitherto had been kept a closed secret at Strategic Ai WSJ review: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-bomb... (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers) Excerpt: "An amazing chapter, tantalizingly called “Pulling Back the Curtain,” tells of how, in 1989, a relatively young Defense aide named Franklin Miller persuaded his boss, Dick Cheney, to allow a quiet investigation of the actual targeting details of the military’s famous Single Integrated Operational Plan. These sites hitherto had been kept a closed secret at Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Neb.—which is to say that, until that time, no civilian, no secretary of defense, certainly no president, had seen any of this information. Mr. Kaplan’s account of what Mr. Miller and his subordinate, Gil Klinger, discovered has a fantastical “Dr. Strangelove”-like quality to it, partly hilarious, partly outrageous. There was really only one targeting strategy at SAC, it seems, and it was completely at odds with all the all the sophisticated study being done at the time in universities and think tanks, based on such concepts as “calibrated signaling,” “stages of escalation” or “command and control of nuclear weapons.” SAC had, instead, a simple equation: If there were, say, 10,000 nuclear warheads at the disposal of the aptly named Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, there simply had to be 10,000 named targets in the Soviet Union destined to receive them—it didn’t matter if they were empty Arctic air bases, places that were termed “political-relocation sites,” railway bridges (but not the important nearby road bridges). In some instances, a place was set to receive not one large nuclear bomb but many. Moscow and its environs alone would be hit by 689 rockets, each capable of releasing “more than a megaton of explosive power”—a supreme act of nuclear overkill."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sajith Kumar

    Opening of the nuclear age with the ruthless bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought in a new dimension in warfare. The unacceptable level of devastation in infrastructure and human lives at first presented a scenario to presidents and generals that immensely favoured those who possessed the weapons. However, the nuclear gap between the US and its arch enemy, the Soviet Union, closed in just one decade thanks in most part to espionage by politically motivated scientists and technicians who wor Opening of the nuclear age with the ruthless bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought in a new dimension in warfare. The unacceptable level of devastation in infrastructure and human lives at first presented a scenario to presidents and generals that immensely favoured those who possessed the weapons. However, the nuclear gap between the US and its arch enemy, the Soviet Union, closed in just one decade thanks in most part to espionage by politically motivated scientists and technicians who worked in the American nuclear effort. With Russia acquiring the nuclear capability, stalemate returned in international policy. Both sides tried hard to be one step ahead of their rival by devising grand plans for a nuclear first strike which would cripple the enemy’s atomic stockpile. The other side then matched the challenge by diversifying its weapon launch capacity to land, undersea and air. While all this was going on, the nuclear weapons were multiplying. Any skirmish between the two superpowers or between their proxies quickened the pulse of the world as each side boasted of an arsenal that had the potential to destroy the planet many times over. With the demise of communism and collapse of the Soviet Union, the nuclear standoff cooled considerably and the number of weapons greatly reduced. But with the rise of rogue states like Pakistan and North Korea attaining nuclear capability and a resurgent Russia under Putin, they once again begin to assume greater significance. This book is a snapshot of how American politicians and military men handled them for seven decades after World War II. Fred Kaplan is an American author and journalist who has six books to his credit and handles a weekly column ‘War Stories’ for the ‘Slate’ magazine. Kaplan presents the calm confidence of the US establishment immediately after the world war when Russia did not possess nuclear weapons. This enabled them to casually examine the stakes if nuclear weapons were launched in response to conventional warfare such as in Korea. But the situation didn't stay stagnant for long. The US resolve was tested when Khrushchev tried to deploy Soviet missiles in Cuba. The US posture was belligerent but Kaplan provides details from classified documents that reveal its climb down. President Kennedy reached a secret deal with his Soviet counterpart to dismantle American missiles deployed in Turkey in response to Soviet withdrawal of its own weapons from Cuba. The unquestioned premise of Cold War nuclear policy was that deterrence required persuading the Soviets that the American president would use nuclear weapons first, in response to aggression against it or its allies in Europe or elsewhere. The NATO member states basked under the nuclear umbrella unfolded by the US. This was essentially an American guarantee to launch nuclear weapons at the Soviet Union in response to a Soviet invasion of Western Europe even by conventional means. This made the nuclear weapons the centrepiece of Trans-Atlantic security. But the actual fact was that there was no scenario in which using nuclear weapons would give the US or any country an advantage because of the extreme damage caused by a nuclear strike. However tightly they guarded their skies, it was still possible that many of the enemy’s nuclear warheads would hit the homeland. This was the conclusion that every president of the nuclear age and most high level political officials had reached. Yet those presidents and officials also realised that they had to act as if they would use nuclear weapons or else their threats might not be credible in a crisis. On the one hand they wanted the Soviets to think these things would actually be used to ensure deterrence. On the other, they did not want to make a weapon too easy or tempting to use if war broke out. The book also points out efforts to stem the tide of brinkmanship. Way back in 1963 itself, the US, USSR and UK signed a treaty outlawing tests of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, under the ocean or in outer space. Contrary to the popular image they had cultivated, we see many truculent presidents adopting a very sane outlook on nuclear issues. Reagan entered the White House with an entourage bent not merely on deterring and containing the Soviet Union but on weakening and rolling back its empire. But once he was assured of the earnestness of Gorbachev, he scaled down his plans and offered drastic cuts in the arsenal. The Soviet Empire was in tatters at the time. Gorbachev realised that the Soviet Union was in shambles, its ideology moribund and its economy dysfunctional. Its military budget consumed nearly all of the government’s resources. People would normally presume that nuclear weapons being highly destructive, its uses and deployment are most meticulously planned. Kaplan provides stunning details of sloppy preparedness. Each arm of the US military such as the Army, Navy and Air Force fixed their targets in isolation and two targets which may physically be very near so as to suffer lethal damage as the result of a nuclear strike on the other, were given no attention to the offensive redundancy. In 1991, a critical review to weed out redundancy and an imaginative selection of targets was undertaken. As a result, the requirement of nuclear weapons came down from 12,000 to 5,888. This reduction stemmed not from an arms control treaty or relaxation of international tensions, but rather from a purely technical, deep dive analysis of how many weapons US policy required. We see that at the height of the nuclear standoff, the city of Moscow was targeted by 689 nuclear weapons, many releasing more than a megaton of explosive power. By comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the power of only fifteen kilotons. The book is easy to read, but too many acronyms and too many characters from the US bureaucracy prove to be a spoilsport. After a while, readers lose track of who’s who with the long line of secretaries, deputy and deputy assistant secretaries dancing before their eyes in the text. The book presents only the American perspective. It includes many references that express doubt on the sanity of decisions taken by the current President, Donald Trump. The book is recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Daryll

    Interesting, fearsome, and a full on anxiety creator.

  5. 5 out of 5

    William

    An important book on the history of US nuclear strategy. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak it took a lot longer to read this. Kaplan, the defense writer for Slate, does a really good job of recounting the history of nuclear strategy but dives into the details of how it was formulated and implemented (not always the same). While reading the accounts of how Presidents like Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, both Bush's and Obama dealt with their responsibility of being able to single-handedly An important book on the history of US nuclear strategy. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak it took a lot longer to read this. Kaplan, the defense writer for Slate, does a really good job of recounting the history of nuclear strategy but dives into the details of how it was formulated and implemented (not always the same). While reading the accounts of how Presidents like Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, both Bush's and Obama dealt with their responsibility of being able to single-handedly initiate world war III, it's a terrifying contrast to the current occupant of the White House, Mr Trump. As Kaplan writes: "The presidents who fell deep into this hole, who faced the abyss where the logic led, avoided its end point--avoided war--by scrambling out of the hole, snapping out of the logic, like snapping out of a bad dream". "Trump, a man who believed he knew a lot but in fact knew very little and who lacked the impulse or curiosity to learn more, was more susceptible to the wiles of a clever briefer than any of his predecessors...."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Well crafted and comprehensive. Kaplan moves from the archival past of the 1940s and 1950s to the present day smoothly and effectively. He overturns many myths about the US nuclear posture and shows that presidents have rarely controlled the strategic arsenal as well as they thought.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    This was a diappointing book. I wanted to enjoy it and I thought it would be an interesting addition to my "75th Anniversary of the Bomb Reads". This book talks about the history of the Bomb after the bomb was dropped. I couldn't get into it. I didn't quite finish it before it was auto-returned... but I'm not going to bother checking it out again. This was a diappointing book. I wanted to enjoy it and I thought it would be an interesting addition to my "75th Anniversary of the Bomb Reads". This book talks about the history of the Bomb after the bomb was dropped. I couldn't get into it. I didn't quite finish it before it was auto-returned... but I'm not going to bother checking it out again.

  8. 5 out of 5

    J.w. Larrick

    Very biased information. It was neutral until the Obama and Trump references. Obama was portrayed as an omniscient and worldly leader that had an answer for everything whereas Trump is a buffoon that is threatening the world with Armageddon. How naïve and aloof can an author be. The most biased and slanted book on nuclear weaponry I have read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Ambrose

    This book is well-written and engaging, but there's very little new here...Ronald Reagan was an aggressive maniac who would've eagerly ignited WWIII had it not been for the peace-loving MikhailGorbachev, and whose "obsession" with SDI was the the real obstance to peace...Donald Trump is mentally ill and needs to be removed from office immediately...blah blah blah. This book is well-written and engaging, but there's very little new here...Ronald Reagan was an aggressive maniac who would've eagerly ignited WWIII had it not been for the peace-loving MikhailGorbachev, and whose "obsession" with SDI was the the real obstance to peace...Donald Trump is mentally ill and needs to be removed from office immediately...blah blah blah.

  10. 4 out of 5

    CHAD FOSTER

    This book is an astonishing examination of US nuclear weapons strategy from the inception of “the bomb” through today. Despite the triumphalism of most post-Cold War historical interpretations, the threat of nuclear war is far from vanquished. After reading this, you will be surprised that we were able to survive. The cast of characters includes presidents, policy makers, analysts, and military leaders. The figure of Curtis LeMay looms large, and his impact was felt long after his retirement. Per This book is an astonishing examination of US nuclear weapons strategy from the inception of “the bomb” through today. Despite the triumphalism of most post-Cold War historical interpretations, the threat of nuclear war is far from vanquished. After reading this, you will be surprised that we were able to survive. The cast of characters includes presidents, policy makers, analysts, and military leaders. The figure of Curtis LeMay looms large, and his impact was felt long after his retirement. Perhaps the most fascinating thing found in these pages is the stubborn resistance (and outright insubordination) of the Strategic Air Command and its cabal of war planners as they repeatedly ignored presidential directives over the course of multiple administrations. The author points out that nuclear war planning was driven for many years by the supply of nuclear weapons, not by strategic requirements. This mentality justified a grotesquely bloated number of missiles and warheads, even as sitting presidents ordered revisions to the war plans that would realign those plans with reality. The absurdity of the US Air Force’s insatiable thirst for more and more nukes (and the close calls caused by the Cuban Missile Crisis and Operation Able Archer) reinforces the necessity for civilian control of the military. The specter of nuclear war still haunts us today but in a way that is arguably more troubling than during the height of the Cold War. Today the strategic problems posed by nuclear weapons are largely ignored by the public and even most policy makers. Nukes are an inconvenient reality that will not go away - regardless of how much we wish they would.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    An amazing history of our nuclear weapons program and how every President, from Truman to Trump, has had to grapple with the question of when and how to use them. This story really starts with the Eisenhower Administration, where the military actually promoted the nightmare scenario where the US can launch a first strike nuclear attack upon the Soviet Union, and survive the counterattack. Luckily, every President since then has looked into that abyss and when given an opportunity to use nukes, s An amazing history of our nuclear weapons program and how every President, from Truman to Trump, has had to grapple with the question of when and how to use them. This story really starts with the Eisenhower Administration, where the military actually promoted the nightmare scenario where the US can launch a first strike nuclear attack upon the Soviet Union, and survive the counterattack. Luckily, every President since then has looked into that abyss and when given an opportunity to use nukes, stepped back from the edge. But the most disturbing chapter was the chapter on Trump. Not having any knowledge of nuclear weapons history and diplomacy, it is clear that he is the least knowledgeable about this topic. And yet the most erratic. The author makes the strong case that over the years the threat of nuclear war has diminished. But now it has reared its ugly head again. This was an extremely well written book, despite the technical details of nuclear weaponry. Kaplan makes use of many recently declassified documents and recordings from every Administration, especially the Kennedy Administration, with its involvement with the Berlin Wall crisis and the Cuban middle crisis. I thoroughly enjoyed this behind the scenes look at the decisions made, and not made, that affect us to this day.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    Fascinating. Horrifying. The bomb has not gone away, though those who remember the horror of its destructive power are aging and dying. One hopes a book like this not only recounts the history (and near misses) but informs today's citizenry to keep nuclear arms use/proliferation from falling off the collective radar. What today is considered "low yield" is as powerful as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.... Let that sink in... Fascinating. Horrifying. The bomb has not gone away, though those who remember the horror of its destructive power are aging and dying. One hopes a book like this not only recounts the history (and near misses) but informs today's citizenry to keep nuclear arms use/proliferation from falling off the collective radar. What today is considered "low yield" is as powerful as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.... Let that sink in...

  13. 5 out of 5

    John Munro

    The author reviews the history of nuclear weapons strategy and its evolution from the Truman administration to current times. He describes the key participants in the process, including military commanders and their staff, civilian contractors, academic advisors , and Presidents and legislators. Every nuclear-age President faced strategic military and diplomatic issues that arose from the Cold War and subsequent conflicts that involved the question of whether to use nuclear weapons. These includ The author reviews the history of nuclear weapons strategy and its evolution from the Truman administration to current times. He describes the key participants in the process, including military commanders and their staff, civilian contractors, academic advisors , and Presidents and legislators. Every nuclear-age President faced strategic military and diplomatic issues that arose from the Cold War and subsequent conflicts that involved the question of whether to use nuclear weapons. These included the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USSR's occupation of Eastern Europe, and the Korean, Vietnamese and Gulf wars. Not surprisingly, the U.S. military argued for maintaining high levels of nuclear weapons in the Triad of land, sea and air platforms throughout this era as a deterrent to our enemies, and , in some cases favoring a first strike strategy. General Curtis LeMay took this view ,and had he prevailed we would have dropped atom bombs on the USSR and Warsaw Pact countries in the Cold War. Fortunately, every President who received first-strike recommendations from his advisors declined the advice and there has been no nuclear weapons used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The author reviews the various philosophies that have been developed regarding the use of the Bomb over the years such as mutual assured destruction, counter-force strategy, escalation spectrum, and treaties to reduce the number and proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world. I found two sections of the book to be particularly interesting. The first was the review in the late 80's by Franklin Miller of the U.S. nuclear policy. He found huge discrepancies between the written policies developed over the years, and the military's actual plans for delivering weapons to the adversary. The SAC command, then in charge of the delivery systems, had grossly over-estimated the numbers of weapons required to fulfill its mission, with the actual number being less than half of that. The second section of interest relates to our current President. Early in his administration, in a review of the nation's nuclear policy , Trump wondered why we only had 2,500 nuclear weapons, when the number had reached 32,000 at its peak in 1969, Why couldn't he have that many? Despite the efforts of his staff to convince him that the 2,500 number had been judged to be adequate for deterrence and compliance with treaties in force, he continued to ask why he couldn't have what previous presidents had. His threats against North Korea in response to their testing of bombs and ICBM's prompted a legislative review of the decision-making process for first-strikes, and whether the military commanders could override a presidential decision that was clearly irrational. Scary stuff. This is a well-written book that provides a level of detail adequate for the reader to understand the various issues that are involved with nuclear strategy.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Wes F

    Goodness--sometimes I think it's better that you don't know what you don't know, or haven't been told. The Bomb--nuclear/hydrogen/atomic--has been around for 70+ years now, and it's really a miracle that it hasn't been used since its first two uses over Hiroshima & Nagasaki, which brought WWII to an end. There have been plenty of opportunities for it to be deployed again--and, for sure, after reading this insightful & truly, in some ways, frightening book--plenty of back door nuclear weapons dis Goodness--sometimes I think it's better that you don't know what you don't know, or haven't been told. The Bomb--nuclear/hydrogen/atomic--has been around for 70+ years now, and it's really a miracle that it hasn't been used since its first two uses over Hiroshima & Nagasaki, which brought WWII to an end. There have been plenty of opportunities for it to be deployed again--and, for sure, after reading this insightful & truly, in some ways, frightening book--plenty of back door nuclear weapons discussions & strategy plans devised/revised for its use. One's mind is boggled by the actual plans that the US government has had over these years for deploying these weapons of mass destruction. As if these generals and political figures could even comprehend the devastation their deployment--in the numbers they planned for--would have caused; horrific, unspeakable. Yet, they seem to have routinely tossed these numbers of missiles and plans for mass destruction around like talking about dropping off newspapers on a doorstep. This account of the secret history of nuclear war goes right up into the Trump administration of recent days--and the sabre-rattling between the US/Trump & N. Korea/Jonu-un. And it's scary; it's maddening. It's inhumane. It's downright frightening. The latest high-level US government/military discussions were regarding updating/upgrading the deployment & use of "low yield" Trident II nuclear missiles aboard US subs. These missiles **each** carry a nuclear payload of 8 kilotons...OK, what does that mean? "The conventional bombs that leveled buildings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the first two decades of the twenty-first century had the explosive power of 2,000 pounds of TNT. The low-yield Trident II warhead would explode with the blast power of 8 kilotons—meaning 8,000 tons, or 16,000,000 pounds—plus the heat, smoke, and radiation that would spread like toxic wildfire." Yes, one of them would release the power/destruction of 16 million pounds of TNT. Unimaginable. That conversations about these kinds of destructive powers have been *routine* up till today--and over the past 75 years--is simply incomprehensible in many ways. Madness and madmen, methinks. The consequences of what President Eisenhower warned would would result from the "military-industrial complex." Each service fighting for its share and influence; each congressman/woman & senator fighting for their part of the pie... Borrowed from the library; read on my iPad.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    I enjoy Fred Kaplan's short form writing for Slate, and I thought his previous book on cyberwarfare gave a great overview of how that field of conflict has come into being in the last generation. The Bomb originally started as an update of Kaplan's 1983 The Wizards of Armaggeddon, which covered the development of nuclear strategy by the Strategic Air Command and various think tanks during the early nuclear age. It eventually evolved into a focus on the policy-making side of nuclear strategy: how I enjoy Fred Kaplan's short form writing for Slate, and I thought his previous book on cyberwarfare gave a great overview of how that field of conflict has come into being in the last generation. The Bomb originally started as an update of Kaplan's 1983 The Wizards of Armaggeddon, which covered the development of nuclear strategy by the Strategic Air Command and various think tanks during the early nuclear age. It eventually evolved into a focus on the policy-making side of nuclear strategy: how do political leaders grapple with the awesome responsibility of nuclear weapons strategy? Unfortunately, Kaplan never lays out any kind of broad thesis. The first chapter plunges right into decisions around the use of nuclear weapons in the aftermath of WWII, and the rest of the book lays out the litany of government, military, and academic types who have argued over when and how the US should use nuclear weapons. It's a comprehensive history, but without a larger contextual framework, the significance of the facts isn't immediately clear. It's not until the final chapter that Kaplan finally explains what he sees as the recurring conflict of nuclear strategic thinking, that the type of nuclear posture that deters a nuclear war is not the kind of nuclear posture that would most effectively fight a nuclear war. So all the history just feels like a tug-of-war between those who think massive overkill is the right solution, versus those who think a smaller number of weapons (maybe none) is the only sane alternative. It's a shame. The book is full of facts, but I don't know if I gained any new insights from reading it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rasmus Stoltzenberg

    Fascinating, gripping, chilly. Excellent read. This is the behind the scenes of the unthinkable. Scene after scene unfolds and the secret history of how the last cards would have been played is revealed. The last chapter (Trump's presidency), while entertaining, is a pace changer where it becomes more of a commentary of current events. Then again it isn't history yet... Kaplan's book is a stark reminder that for almost 50 years the only real plan available was to bring the hammer down - meaning t Fascinating, gripping, chilly. Excellent read. This is the behind the scenes of the unthinkable. Scene after scene unfolds and the secret history of how the last cards would have been played is revealed. The last chapter (Trump's presidency), while entertaining, is a pace changer where it becomes more of a commentary of current events. Then again it isn't history yet... Kaplan's book is a stark reminder that for almost 50 years the only real plan available was to bring the hammer down - meaning the near instant death of nearly 300 million people and the likely end of civilization. The details of this planning and the options of escalating, the deliberate overkill, the mindset of acquiring more, more, more - scary and thrilling. And then, out of the blue, Reagan's second term. Detente. End of the cold war. Collapse of the Soviet Union. And the few decades of eased tension until we see the cycle start again. All in all this is a great book that focuses on the moments where we've figuratively stared into the abyss and had it stare back - and we've stepped back where lesser minds would have slipped off.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Madeleine Elise

    In many ways, this book is extremely valuable. The history it provides is detailed, documented, and thorough like any historian would wish it to be. I could see, if you were to read this for a class, paper, or how much of an invaluable research tool this could be-- but that's really all I see it as. Honestly, reading this was a drag, and I'm not even a lay-person. I have a Masters in Poli-Sci International Relations, having taken many credits in Nuclear Non-Proliferation (needless to say, I'm in In many ways, this book is extremely valuable. The history it provides is detailed, documented, and thorough like any historian would wish it to be. I could see, if you were to read this for a class, paper, or how much of an invaluable research tool this could be-- but that's really all I see it as. Honestly, reading this was a drag, and I'm not even a lay-person. I have a Masters in Poli-Sci International Relations, having taken many credits in Nuclear Non-Proliferation (needless to say, I'm interested and informed in the topic). The author provides almost no analysis, and gleans no insights. Not for more than a handful of sentences does he decide to even ponder what all this history he's talking about may imply. Ultimately, this is an amazing policy review, which is incredible but-- not sure why you would want to read this book front to back unless you needed or had to.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Wood

    This book is proof that there is a god because, if there wasn't, we would all have been blown up by now. Kaplan gives an amazing look into the "Nuclear Age", "the Cold War", all the negotiations, thought processes, suppositions, knowledge, disputes, conversations, arguments, biases, misconceptions and complete ignorance of all the players on the US side of the "Bomb" and how scarily close we have been and are to nuclear annihilation. The arrogance of many generals, the outdated thinking, the inp This book is proof that there is a god because, if there wasn't, we would all have been blown up by now. Kaplan gives an amazing look into the "Nuclear Age", "the Cold War", all the negotiations, thought processes, suppositions, knowledge, disputes, conversations, arguments, biases, misconceptions and complete ignorance of all the players on the US side of the "Bomb" and how scarily close we have been and are to nuclear annihilation. The arrogance of many generals, the outdated thinking, the input and policies of all of the administrations up through the Trump White House are covered. As I suspected, it is a volatile, and precarious situation. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is the opposite of reassuring. So, if you are interested in the history of the "Cold War", definitely read this book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    Kaplan reviews the strategies to wage a nuclear war the US developed and revisited since the first bombs were detonated over Japan. He looks at how each President, starting with Eisenhower and ending with Trump, dealt with the reality of nuclear weapons. Through all of those years the nuclear weapons are a conundrum: they are certainly powerful but are difficult to control. There really is no limited nuclear exchange: once a bomb explodes, the only response seems to be a full exchange. This is w Kaplan reviews the strategies to wage a nuclear war the US developed and revisited since the first bombs were detonated over Japan. He looks at how each President, starting with Eisenhower and ending with Trump, dealt with the reality of nuclear weapons. Through all of those years the nuclear weapons are a conundrum: they are certainly powerful but are difficult to control. There really is no limited nuclear exchange: once a bomb explodes, the only response seems to be a full exchange. This is why most Presidents tried to limit or reduce our arsenal but hawks, the military and world events always get in the way. Most disturbing is the immense power the President has to end the world. Fascinating look at how our government, universities and military debate and formulate strategy.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Just a fantastic book, reviewing the nuclear plans and decisions of just about each administration from Eisenhower to Trump. Would strongly recommend this as a great one-stop shopping resource for anyone teaching a class on nuclear weapons. Also some relatively new material, or at least good review of it, on Nixon’s madman strategy plus how the SIOP developed and stayed, including the role of inter service rivalry, the role of tensions contributing to the KAL shoot down at the end of the Cold Wa Just a fantastic book, reviewing the nuclear plans and decisions of just about each administration from Eisenhower to Trump. Would strongly recommend this as a great one-stop shopping resource for anyone teaching a class on nuclear weapons. Also some relatively new material, or at least good review of it, on Nixon’s madman strategy plus how the SIOP developed and stayed, including the role of inter service rivalry, the role of tensions contributing to the KAL shoot down at the end of the Cold War, Frank Miller’s unique role as a civil servant in changing it and recent administrations. Great, succinct, well-written resource.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Zulugoat

    Very disappointing Gradually becomes partisan, gossipy and useless. Level of detail for some useless, irrelevant mundane side-stories is mind-boggling, to the point where one almost wonders if the author will soon tell us the color of the protagonists' underwear as well. It's essentially a ton of (mostly irrelevant) info/details on how the relationships between the various US Armed services and the White House function, it doesn't provide much new. Approximately 99.5% of it is focused on the US/US Very disappointing Gradually becomes partisan, gossipy and useless. Level of detail for some useless, irrelevant mundane side-stories is mind-boggling, to the point where one almost wonders if the author will soon tell us the color of the protagonists' underwear as well. It's essentially a ton of (mostly irrelevant) info/details on how the relationships between the various US Armed services and the White House function, it doesn't provide much new. Approximately 99.5% of it is focused on the US/US-view of the world Not too sure who this book intends to satisfy and even less sure that it has successfully done so

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike Glaser

    Some very good points but the author’s biases come through which detract from what could have been a very good book. Two important points that come out: - Any Democratic administration but especially a Biden administration will be a de facto “no first use of nukes”. In other words, no nuclear umbrella for allies. This could very well lead to a PRC invasion of Taiwan and renewed nuclear proliferation in East Asia. - The author does not understand the relationship between a strong conventional forc Some very good points but the author’s biases come through which detract from what could have been a very good book. Two important points that come out: - Any Democratic administration but especially a Biden administration will be a de facto “no first use of nukes”. In other words, no nuclear umbrella for allies. This could very well lead to a PRC invasion of Taiwan and renewed nuclear proliferation in East Asia. - The author does not understand the relationship between a strong conventional force and how that supports a nuclear deterrent. The author also seems clueless as to how fragile a strong conventional force really is and how quickly it can go south.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Updegrove

    Thoroughly researched Kaplan does a skillful job of laying out the initial quandary of nuclear capability and the push-pull between military and civilian interests that followed. Since the same Faustian dilemma faced every successive president since FDR, the story is necessarily repetitive, but Kaplan does as good a job as can be expected keeping the rest moving all night through this essentially fractal evolution. Sadly, at the end, we find ourselves as a nuclear society pretty much where we sta Thoroughly researched Kaplan does a skillful job of laying out the initial quandary of nuclear capability and the push-pull between military and civilian interests that followed. Since the same Faustian dilemma faced every successive president since FDR, the story is necessarily repetitive, but Kaplan does as good a job as can be expected keeping the rest moving all night through this essentially fractal evolution. Sadly, at the end, we find ourselves as a nuclear society pretty much where we started.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Mcwalter

    I actually finished this a bit ago but forget to check it off here and briefly discuss it. This was quite interesting and had some very enjoyable parts to it. I found it very intriguing how every incoming president, secretary of defense and others all had ideas and plans on how to limit or scale down nuclear weapon production UNTIL they officially got into office and had the chance to review all the information. I definitely recommend this book purely for the inside information on multiple scena I actually finished this a bit ago but forget to check it off here and briefly discuss it. This was quite interesting and had some very enjoyable parts to it. I found it very intriguing how every incoming president, secretary of defense and others all had ideas and plans on how to limit or scale down nuclear weapon production UNTIL they officially got into office and had the chance to review all the information. I definitely recommend this book purely for the inside information on multiple scenarios in our country’s history with nuclear weapons.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    This si a wonderfully clearly written narrative history of the greatest nightmare that has haunted my generation--the existence of nuclear weapons. The author explores how the arms race came to be, points out various times when it nearly ended in disaster and then traces the shrinking of nuclear arsenals beginning with the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Ominously, he ends with details of how untrustworthy the man-child currently holding that office is to actually have his finger on the nuclear tri This si a wonderfully clearly written narrative history of the greatest nightmare that has haunted my generation--the existence of nuclear weapons. The author explores how the arms race came to be, points out various times when it nearly ended in disaster and then traces the shrinking of nuclear arsenals beginning with the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Ominously, he ends with details of how untrustworthy the man-child currently holding that office is to actually have his finger on the nuclear trigger.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    A significantly (and thankfully) condensed version of his 1983 book The Wizards of Armageddon that focuses more on policy then the planners and is updated through the present time. The book was on par with Wizards up until he got past Carter when he then transparently lambasted every conservative president while praising every liberal one. The sentiment about our current president is understandable in relation to nuclear arms, but his language made him sound like so many people screaming bloody m A significantly (and thankfully) condensed version of his 1983 book The Wizards of Armageddon that focuses more on policy then the planners and is updated through the present time. The book was on par with Wizards up until he got past Carter when he then transparently lambasted every conservative president while praising every liberal one. The sentiment about our current president is understandable in relation to nuclear arms, but his language made him sound like so many people screaming bloody murder about anything and everything he does. It was disappointing to end the book on such a note.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Steven Voorhees

    An informative but VERY technical survey of America’s nuclear history as viewed by the White House. The narrative’s outlined by each presidential administration that’s dealt (and continues to deal) with this weapon and its far reaching (pun unintended) geopolitical and scientific ramifications. In informative but occasionally dry prose, Kaplan chronicles the United States’s atomic journey from Truman to Trump. Every president’s “moment of thermonuclear truth” is detailed here. Worthwhile but req An informative but VERY technical survey of America’s nuclear history as viewed by the White House. The narrative’s outlined by each presidential administration that’s dealt (and continues to deal) with this weapon and its far reaching (pun unintended) geopolitical and scientific ramifications. In informative but occasionally dry prose, Kaplan chronicles the United States’s atomic journey from Truman to Trump. Every president’s “moment of thermonuclear truth” is detailed here. Worthwhile but requires patience.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brian Olinger

    Excellent historical analysis of US nuclear policy from the WWII through the previous Trump administration. The author straddles the fine line between enough complex detail to help the reader firmly grasp the gravity of the issues, but still accessible enough for most readers. This is a sobering, troubling read as many of us (or at least I did not) realize how close we have been the last 60 years to nuclear catastrophe. At the same time, it reads like a top notch piece of investigative journalism Excellent historical analysis of US nuclear policy from the WWII through the previous Trump administration. The author straddles the fine line between enough complex detail to help the reader firmly grasp the gravity of the issues, but still accessible enough for most readers. This is a sobering, troubling read as many of us (or at least I did not) realize how close we have been the last 60 years to nuclear catastrophe. At the same time, it reads like a top notch piece of investigative journalism (which it is).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    An amazing introduction to nuclear arms policy as described through the historical perspective. By describing the chain of events and people involved in shaping our thinking about nuclear war, the read is able to build up their own understanding of the problem argument by argument. What's more, the reader is exposed to the full spectrum of humanity's reaction to arriving in the age of the bomb: from irrational fear-mongering and cries for war to unexpected bouts of good will and moral courage. An amazing introduction to nuclear arms policy as described through the historical perspective. By describing the chain of events and people involved in shaping our thinking about nuclear war, the read is able to build up their own understanding of the problem argument by argument. What's more, the reader is exposed to the full spectrum of humanity's reaction to arriving in the age of the bomb: from irrational fear-mongering and cries for war to unexpected bouts of good will and moral courage.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    It's rather top-heavy with bureaucratic military jargon...and acronyms galore. But once you dig through all the meeting-heavy text, you have yourself a thoroughly interesting and incredibly detailed account of American nuclear policy since 1945. Full of revelations and facts that I wasn't aware of, this makes for reading that is, by turns, infuriating, hilarious, and frightening. A must for anyone who inhales Cold War history & politics. It's rather top-heavy with bureaucratic military jargon...and acronyms galore. But once you dig through all the meeting-heavy text, you have yourself a thoroughly interesting and incredibly detailed account of American nuclear policy since 1945. Full of revelations and facts that I wasn't aware of, this makes for reading that is, by turns, infuriating, hilarious, and frightening. A must for anyone who inhales Cold War history & politics.

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