Of the current proliferation of anti-nuclear books, none is as passionate as Jonathan Schell's (currently running in The New...



Of the current proliferation of anti-nuclear books, none is as passionate as Jonathan Schell's (currently running in The New Yorker). He has listened to the scientists and read the documents that shore up the chilling tolls of death and destruction that give a new meaning to ""holocaust."" Part I sums up the discovery of fission and the invention of the bomb. Included is a helpful layperson's description of the complex fission and fusion reactions inside a hydrogen bomb. Schell then details the five stages of destruction accompanying any atom burst: the initial nuclear radiation; an electromagnetic pulse that can disrupt power transmission and communications; the thermal pulse or fireball with its blinding light and heat; the blast waves; and local fallout. Secondary effects include firestorms, global radiation, and ultimately ozone depletion and disruptions in the food chain--in short, the devastating upheaval of the life of the individual, of society, and of the environment. All this is conveyed in straightforward prose and numbers with telling emotional effect. In Part II, however, Schell lets his emotions come to the fore as he tackles the theme of extinction--the second death of all mankind, indeed of the planet itself. Schell argues at length the importance of mankind's debt to the unborn, quoting poets and thinkers from Christ and Kant to Rilke, Hannah Arendt, Lewis Thomas, and George Kennan. He also points his finger at scientists for unleashing the threat, and his facile remarks on the nature of doing science and scientific responsibility will not endear him to that community. In Part III, Schell reveals a heartfelt idealism with pleas for total disarmament (of both nuclear and conventional weapons) and passage from national sovereignty to a new internationalism. He offers no proposals on how to bring that about. On the other hand, he does pinpoint the internal errors of logic that have led to the current strategy of using massive nuclear arms buildups to deter nuclear war. Predictably, Schell's stance will be dismissed by think-tankers arguing that the world, if anything, faces increasing nationalism, not to mention insane terrorist groups. Schell's maximal pacifism may serve a point, however, in providing an extreme position that gives more practical strategists space to argue from. In any case, he has well publicized the terrifying dilemma the world faces--and that information is vital to convey.

Pub Date: April 26, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1982