...revealed with bracing clarity ... [a] rich and surprisingly entertaining history of how nuclear weapons have shaped the United States military and the country’s foreign policy ... In less skillful hands, this could be a slog. But Kaplan has a gift for elucidating abstract concepts, cutting through national security jargon and showing how leaders confront (or avoid) dilemmas.
Pick up Fred Kaplan’s The Bomb with caution, and as a cautionary tale. The caution is required because of the fear this book will relieve. The cautionary tale is the effect this book should have ... It is astonishing today to learn how much planning went into first strike options, how gratuitously Chinese targets were included in Pentagon plans to react to a crisis in Berlin, how quickly escalation of a military confrontation could reach a critical stage ... By the end of The Bomb the reader will be glad we are all around to discuss this history, which Kaplan put together with newly available documents. The reader also will say that we are damn lucky the nuclear genie remains in its fragile bottle.
In The Bomb, his excellent history of nuclear war and its long shadow, Fred Kaplan...uses more recently released classified documents to focus on the actual policymakers, describing with lucidity and a healthy dose of dark irony their trips down the rabbit hole ... Kaplan’s book is a timely reminder of the need to take a deep breath before thinking the unthinkable.
[Kaplan] distinguishes himself with tight, journalistic accounts of what one might term the 'high nuclear politics' of D.C. policy makers, military men, public intellectuals and government officials, especially as they quarreled behind closed doors. Mr. Kaplan pulls together tales from candid interviews with participants, while also drawing on declassified (and often eye-popping) documents from presidential libraries, Department of Defense files and State Department records. His notes on sources—there is, alas, no bibliography—pay little attention to scholarly monographs on U.S. foreign and nuclear policy. Mr. Kaplan’s forte is with the primary stuff, not the secondary literature ... The author is a punchy and sometimes even graceful stylist, and very strong on recreated dialogue ... thus unfolds at a speedy pace, and includes rather little on the Truman-Eisenhower period, as if the author is keen to get forward ... Mr. Kaplan’s account is particularly good, if not original, in its treatment of President Kennedy’s determination to control the military hawks, and very good indeed on JFK’s willingness to cut a secret compromise deal with Nikita Khrushchev ... A reliance on self-interested witnesses is the peril of any history based on them, and there is no doubt the early chapters of The Bomb read as more solid, and more authoritative, than the later ones ... a work that should make thoughtful readers even more thoughtful. But it is not a book for the faint of heart.
However disturbing Kaplan’s revelations about the Cold War might be, the horrors are blunted by the simple fact of belonging to the past. The most chilling chapter of this book concerns President Donald Trump. When he was briefed on the success of reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal in recent decades, he demanded to know why he couldn’t have more nuclear weapons ... At times, The Bomb is as tiring as it is terrifying. Kaplan is a talented writer and historian, but his subject is one that at times defies comprehension. Numbers...are so large as to be meaningless. And even a careful reader is likely to get lost in the various acronyms and terms used by generals and military analysts ... Kaplan packs a lot of information – too much, at times – into The Bomb. But his salient point is all too clear. It’s been almost 75 years since Hiroshima, and humanity has managed to avoid destroying itself. It could still happen.
Kaplan, a US foreign affairs journalist, is a maverick sniping at the flanks of the US politico-military establishment ... The Bomb brings the story up to date. Now that so much information is available, it is not for the most part a new story, but he tells it well. And some things are unchanged ... The 'mutual' in MAD means that Russian perceptions are as important as US ones. Kaplan devotes too little attention to them ... Just keeping our fingers crossed is not much comfort. But that, plus whatever shrewdness we can muster, may be the best we can do.
This an authoritative and highly readable history of the Damocles Sword that has hung over humanity for some 70 years and shows no signs of being sheathed or turned into plowshares ... Kaplan’s book is nothing if not alarming. The plans concocted in Washington and probably in Moscow often verged on madness—complete neglect of morality as well as practicality ... The Bomb excels at conveying the thinking of America’s strategic planners since 1945, but it lacks perspective on the processes of action and reaction—how the United States and its rivals interacted to fuel the arms race and its dangers.
This balanced recounting of American nuclear strategizing, by the knowledgable author of The Wizards of Armageddon (1983), is chillingly matter-of-fact in its recounting of political leaders discussing millions of deaths, destruction of cities, and, frankly, the unthinkable ... A frightening but necessary treatment of nuclear policy
... a taut, detailed history ... Readers will find much to like (or dislike) in Kaplan’s analysis and characterizations of key American decision-makers, notably generals, defense personnel, and presidents ... Kaplan’s work is supported by a variety of government documents and research interviews, and while this is a strength of the work, Kaplan has a tendency to recite some documents, when summarizing might suffice ... Overall, a well-written and compulsively readable account that will keep military history and Cold War buffs up past their bedtime.
The book is rich in detail, perhaps too much so — accounts of conversations decades ago occasionally bog down a meticulous and frightening rendering of how the United States and Russia remain on alert to launch enough nuclear weapons to make global warming seem like a minor annoyance.
... a detailed, incisive picture of how U.S. presidents have thought about their most troubling responsibility ... A well-written, exhaustively researched history of American leaders’ efforts to manage their nuclear arsenal.
... frequently terrifying ... Kaplan synthesizes a wealth of material into lucid, easy-to-follow anecdotes that reveal the complex nature of planning for nuclear war. Readers with the stomach for pondering Armageddon will find this well-written history to be full of insights.