A well-written, exhaustively researched history of American leaders’ efforts to manage their nuclear arsenal.

THE BOMB

PRESIDENTS, GENERALS, AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF NUCLEAR WAR

A comprehensive review of American nuclear policy from the Truman administration to the present.

Slate national-security columnist Kaplan (Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, 2016, etc.) draws on original documents, many only recently declassified, to build a detailed, incisive picture of how U.S. presidents have thought about their most troubling responsibility: pushing “the button” that could end civilization. Equally important players are the top brass in the military who desire more and bigger bombs and the vehicles to deliver them. One theme becomes clear: For the most part, presidents are uncomfortable with nuclear warfare while the military is eager to amass the weapons. Regardless, as soon as a rival power has gained access to nuclear weapons, every administration has had to consider the circumstances under which they might need to be employed. For most of the early history of the bomb, the key strategic decisions were orchestrated by Air Force Gen. Curtis Lemay, whose Strategic Air Command controlled most of the bombers and missiles. But in almost every administration, there were those who dared to oppose him, usually by pointing to the Soviet arsenal and exaggerating the threat it posed. Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense under John F. Kennedy, brought in his “Whiz Kids,” who tried—with limited success—to rein in the Pentagon budget. Richard Nixon, on the other hand, tried to bluff the North Vietnamese into making concessions on the theory that if they thought he was crazy enough to use the weapons, they might back down. Jimmy Carter, firmly convinced of the immorality of nuclear war, also tried—with even less success. Surprisingly, it was Ronald Reagan who took advantage of the Soviet Union’s internal troubles to achieve the first big cut in nuclear weapons. Further gains were made by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, although the Pentagon and congressional hawks kept both from paring back the arsenal. In the last chapter, the Pulitzer-winning journalist covers Donald Trump’s posturing about the issue.

A well-written, exhaustively researched history of American leaders’ efforts to manage their nuclear arsenal.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0729-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

more