With all the hoopla and grinding axes around the nuclear issue, it's unusual to find a good readable summary of the historical background--like this product of two U. of Missouri historians. Drawing on secondary sources, the book surveys the initial research on atomic physics, its rapid development as a military technology during WW II, and the trail of debate that it's left behind in the past 40 years. Sticking to the main stories, in clear, concise chapters, Clarfield and Wiecek tell of the efforts by physicists Neils Bohr and Leo Szilard to internationalize atomic research, aware as they were of the newness of the atomic age, and of the ""real world"" response from political leaders. They describe the Baruch Plan with its built-in features that insured Soviet rejection of international supervision of atomic development; Truman's inability to deny the military its appropriations; Eisenhower's opting for nuclear defenses as a cheap alternative to conventional forces; the Cuban Missile Crisis and the subsequent partial test ban treaty with the Soviets; and so on up to the politically disastrous SALT II Treaty and Three Mile Island. The emphasis is on the military side, consistent with today's trends, and that story is more complete than the nuclear-plant history. But in both cases Clarfield and Wiecek lament the self-interested actions of state and private bureaucracies that contribute to the pursuit of frivolous and dangerous policies. Analysis, however, is secondary to the judicious interpretation that guides their narrative without intruding. For an introduction, that's enough to ask; and as an introduction, this history is very welcome.