In this novel by a nuclear weapons expert with the Stanford University Center for Security and International Cooperation, President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jon-un have crossed the line from making nuclear threats to launching nuclear war, killing 1.4 million U.S. citizens, a tragedy narrated in the style of a government report.
Jeffrey Lewis’s new novel...is the gut punch everyone needs ... Reading the entirely believable language of bureaucracy unnerved me and, at points, left me physically ill ... As someone who has covered devastation, albeit natural ones such as earthquake disasters, I found Lewis’s descriptions jarringly recognizable ... His accounts also recall John Hersey’s stories in Hiroshima, and that is deliberate ... This is fiction, but it is grounded in wonky detail ... What Lewis does so well is show the geopolitical impact of human judgment and error, made by men who just happened to end up in the offices of national decision-makers ... This is a book as much about nuclear disaster as it is about the temperament of President Trump. Lewis’s commentary is unsparing on the latter ... As mercurial as President Trump is, he is also oddly predictable, and Lewis builds a believable man with his ego, irritability, and carelessness ... This book is a warning for us, in a climate where life too frequently imitates art.
The commission, interviewing survivors and poring over the official records in a Virginia bunker in the aftermath of the 2020 cataclysm, describes the relentless unravelling of the situation ... As the events accelerate, Lewis deftly relaxes the constraints he has imposed on his story by telling it through the words of an official report, allowing the narrative to take on the pace of a thriller without breaking with the form. He transposes eyewitness accounts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, putting them in the mouths of the survivors from New York and the Washington suburbs who come to tell their story to the commission ... In its efforts to tug at the sleeve of a blithe nation, Lewis’s book follows in the post-apocalyptic footsteps of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach or the 1983 film The Day After. In its black comedy, which surfaces in the deadpan prose of the report, it is a Dr Strangelove for our time. Trump is as flamboyantly grotesque a character as any cooked up by Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers ... It is a measure of the insanity of the past 18 months that this seems entirely believable.
A string of poorly calculated decisions—some made to appease a stubborn leader, some made with good intentions, and some made out of fear, a desire for self-preservation, or lack of accurate information—is a theme throughout the book ... Lewis deftly intertwines real-world reports with a fictional narrative that extends some of the president’s worst flaws to logical conclusions ... The threat of nuclear war is real, the book warns, and the palace intrigue and power struggles and policy jargon shouldn’t keep us from remembering that.