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Reviews for Nuclear War

by Annie Jacobsen

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A scarifying, play-by-play exercise in gaming an apocalyptic war. When the Cold War ended, military tacticians pronounced nuclear warfare a thing of the past. Instead, writes Jacobsen, author of The Pentagon’s Brain, Area 51, and Operation Paperclip, the threat of nuclear holocaust is ever with us. Her scenario—based, she notes, on facts that will lead readers “to the razor’s edge of what can legally be known”—begins with a single thermonuclear missile landing on the Pentagon, atomizing millions of Washingtonians far out into the distant suburbs. That scenario hinges on the gamed-out supposition that it will be a rogue North Korea that fires a single offending missile, one hard to detect given that the existing technology can track the heat signature of a “hot” missile and perhaps shoot it down if given a time frame of five minutes, after which, as one technician says, “they cannot see the rocket after the rocket motor stops.” Still worse is to come, for in a counterlaunch that would surely vaporize North Korea with overwhelming force, Russia, fearing that some of those American rockets are heading its way, might launch a retaliatory strike that would unleash every available resource in the arsenal of both nations—collectively capable of destroying humankind hundreds of times over. Updating Orville Schell’s groundbreaking (and better written) 1982 book The Fate of the Earth, Jacobsen then outlines the very rapid collapse of civilization and the erasure of all our technologies—no more electricity grid, no more industrially farmed food, certainly no more internet—all leading to a world in which “only the ruthless survive” and in which “everyone loses. Everyone.” It’s a cheerless prognosis; however, by Jacobsen’s account, it’s altogether plausible. An urgent warning guaranteed to cause nightmares—and frustrating, since we’re all powerless in the face of nuclear weapons. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.