Jane VaynmanBomb Scare, good bedtime reading

A friend recently asked me about putting together a nonproliferation reading list. I was about to start one of those massive, far too much information emails. Then I had a much better idea. I told him to go get Bomb Scare.

Joe Cirincione’s new book, Bomb Scare: The History & Future of Nuclear Weapons is the first book I am going to recommend for anyone who asks me anything nukes, and all questions along the lines of: “Nonproliferation… like bombs and stuff?” or “Are North Korea and Iran really bad?” or “Are we all going to die?” or my all time favorite, “So, what is it that you do exactly?”

Why? Well for full disclosure, I worked on the book so I know it’s awesome. But a better reason is that it was written exactly for this purpose: to give people a comprehensive and thoughtful place to start understanding nuclear issues. It’s the history, theory and policy in a way that makes sense and is compelling to read.

The book is probably not for uber-wonks (you know who you are). Yet even if you think you know everything, but can’t quite remember where you read that one little something, I am pretty confident in saying that Bomb Scare footnotes, while of course not exhaustive, are quite a good literature list.

Since there may be some indication that I am biased, here is a more objective review. The New York Review of Books also said ‘awesome.’

Cirincione, who has served as director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee, writes as a seasoned Washington observer alert to the hazards of overstatement. His sobriety is both a virtue and a problem for his book, which ought to be read by everyone as a matter of life and death, is not one of those glib, one-theory-fits-all exercises that reside for months on best-seller lists but a tightly reasoned attempt to avert an avoidable apocalypse.

Joe Cirincione is going to be talking about the book at Politics and Prose bookstore in D.C. at 6pm on Saturday March 31st.


  1. Lee Dunbar (History)

    What do you think of it as a intro text for undergrads? I help a friend make his reading list for some nonproliferation related classes.

  2. mark F (History)

    I have heard Mr. Cirincione on the “Ed Schultz show” Please get him on there again.


  3. Alex W.

    Bomb Scare looks pretty interesting, I’ll have to check it it out! Love the cover — it’s nice to so some good graphic design related to nukes for a change (usually they are so predictable: the same old Operation Castle mushroom clouds).

    My recommended read lately on nuclear matters is Lynn Eden’s Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge, and Nuclear Weapons Devastation (2004). Definitely worth a glance by people interested in nuclear weapons and their larger bureaucratic contexts; she makes a provocative argument about systematic underestimation of the effects of nuclear weapons on cities (due to a lack of inclusion of fire damage, primarily) by policy wonks during the Cold War and gives some interesting sociologically-motivated suggestions as to why it happened.

  4. Muskrat (History)

    I just got back from the presentation at P&P. The crowd was small, probably due to the Georgetown NCAA game that started at the same time. But Cirincione gave a nice talk about the need to re-energize the non-proliferation regime and recommit the world to the path of disarmament and control of nuclear materials. He was optimistic that the world can manage this “tipping point” the right way, however hard the effort.

  5. hass (History)

    If you really want a scare, instead of this nonsense about “loose nukes” and whether “terrorists” can build nukes in a farmhouse, why not pay attention to things like this:

    Inspector Lists Computers With Atomic Secrets as Missing NY Times Apr 1 2007

  6. Jane (History)

    I think Bomb Scare would be a great intro text for undergrads. When starting work on this book, we looked at a number of syllabi from both graduate and undergrad classes in order to both fill in gaps and to incorporate resources that are often used in these classes. I think the book reads well as whole, but chapters can also be assigned separately and still all make sense, which would give a professor flexibility on what else to assign and in which order. For example, a Bomb Scare chapter plus a few more in-depth or primary source historical documents may be a good way to structure reading assignments for undergrads.