An examination of ""general paths to a major nuclear war, factors that affect the likelihood of war along each path, and actions that could be taken to diminish them."" After a warmed-over Jonathan Schell intro, these three Harvard deans present plausible--and frightening--scenarios on how a nuclear war could start--surprise attack and preemption, accident, escalation, catalytic (where a third party draws in the other two.) But the suggestions for avoiding nuclear conflict, while sensible enough when they recommend regular meetings with the Soviet leadership or vigorously pursuing arms negotiations, often are either highly questionable (don't freeze nuclear weapons), very obvious (install bilateral hotlines, don't engage Soviet forces in direct combat), or simply unrealistic (do plan for ending a war if it begins). What's obviously lacking here is any serious look at the political dimensions of the nuclear arms race. Virtually no attention, for example, is given to United States' domestic policies or the Reagan Administration's nuclear fundamentalism. Nor is their taxonomic creation of the owl really anything new. Forget ""hawks and doves,"" for ""owls"" represent those pragmatic factors that can also lead to nuclear war--loss of control and nonrational factors that arise from ""organizational routines, malfunctions of machines or of minds, misperceptions, misunderstandings and mistakes."" No surprise, that. The solution? The authors want ""balanced deterrence,"" but their prescriptions don't offer any solid advance toward real security. Instead they bomb out with such pretentious social-science jargon as ""canonical scenarios"" of nuclear war; that just confirms the growing suspicion that high-technology solutions, conceived as they are in narrow corridors of ""expert-think,"" lead only deeper into the problems, not the solutions. In sum, worth consulting only as a rehashing of the perils of ""strategic thinking"" and the dreadful permutations it has evolved. No real wisdom or deep understanding of the real contours of the nuclear dilemma.