Short but impeccably detailed look at the history, science and politics of the atomic bomb.
Former nuclear-weapons researcher Younger (Endangered Species: How We Can Avoid Mass Destruction and Build a Lasting Peace, 2007) offers an ambitious text that strives to be many different books at once: a history of the worldwide development of nuclear weaponry; a primer on the science of atomic fission; a policy brief on how nuclear weapons fit into today’s global politics; a spur to debate on American nuclear strategy going forward—and all this in a relatively brisk 236 pages (including the index). The impressive thing is that he largely succeeds, thanks to his solid writing skills and his unique all-around perspective on the subject. Until recently, Younger directed the research and development of nuclear weaponry at Los Alamos National Laboratory; he also helped develop nuclear strategy for the Department of Defense. He effectively sketches nuclear-research history, explains nuclear-physics concepts and delves into minutiae of international diplomacy. Even readers with little knowledge of the field will come away with a more-than-serviceable understanding of the many interrelated issues surrounding nuclear weaponry. Political positions on nuclear proliferation, always a highly charged subject, are presented relatively neutrally and evenhandedly. In fact, the book’s matter-of-fact tone is one of its strengths; when Younger deviates from this dispassionate stance, as in an understandably horrific two-page passage about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it seems forced. The author is at his best describing high-level nuclear policy, particularly in a historical context. He so vividly conveys the texture and substance of various meetings that it seems he must have been standing in those conference rooms with presidents and premiers.
A fast-moving, comprehensive overview of nuclear weaponry and how it has changed the world.