The first book in Richard Rhodes’s nuclear trilogy, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, was an early favorite at Politics and Prose, and it was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in nonfiction. When the Cold War ended, nine nations together possessed a staggering 60,000 nuclear weapons. And today? THE TWILIGHT OF THE BOMBS (Knopf, $27.95), the final book in the series, states that since the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the arsenals of the superpowers have diminished. Although the current threat of nuclear war lies with the smaller and less stable nations like India and Pakistan, Rhodes believes that the possibility of a world without nuclear weapons is now within our reach. But how that is going to be accomplished is what Rhodes wants to explore, and he does so by reviewing the past 65 years of successes and failures, both political and diplomatic, in nuclear-arms negotiations.
Ramo is an economist who has ruminated through many think tanks and is now the managing director of Kissinger Associates, a geostrategic advisory firm. Quite in keeping with the subject of his alarmingly-titled book, Ramo is also a competitive aerobatic pilot. What begins as the foreboding argument that destabilization is inevitable, and even necessary, becomes a case for radical new ways of thinking—new ways of “thinking” that are ambiguously “unthinkable.” Such innovative thought processes involve phenomena like power physics and mashups, a kind of perspective shared by artists, such as Picasso’s concept of Cubism or Anselm Kiefer’s painting, Deutchslands Geisteshelden; or the science of Danish physicist Per Bak. The latter struggled with the limits of language to describe the states of “organized instability” he encountered in his work; he was confronting nonlinear science, which moves from the unthinkable to the indescribable. Baffling? Yes. Incomprehensible? No.
A first-rate history of how the Cold War was conducted. As World War II ended, the two former allies immediately began to look upon each other with suspicion. Many events converged that pushed the U.S. and the USSR apart. Truman had little patience with Russia; he did not understand the effect of the terrible losses the Soviets had incurred during the War. (For every American killed, there were 27 Russian deaths—almost 12 million.) In any case, Stalin was a paranoid maniac. What Sheehan has done is to concentrate on one aspect of containment: building the anti-ballistic missile shield as a defense against the Soviet bomb. He focuses on some of the brilliant characters involved in the decision to build and man missiles, such as the lead scientists, Johnny Von Neuman, a Hungarian refugee, fiercely anti-Soviet and a brilliant physicist; and Werner von Braun, a completely amoral, former rocket-builder for Hitler. The center of the book is Bernard Schriever, who immigrated from Germany as a child, became a brilliant golfer, and a flier in the Air Force. This thoroughly decent man, a protégé of Hap Arnold, fought Curtis LeMay to build a defense rather than bank on an offensive program.