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Book Name: Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda

Author: John Mueller

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Overall Rating: (4.02/5) View all reviews (total 44 reviews)
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"His witty and unmerciful intellectual attack on the doomsayers, who have been arguing for the past 50 years that rapid proliferation is just around the corner, that we stand on the brink of a new nuclear age, or that it is a few minutes to midnight, is a refreshing one."--Survival"The narrative is liberally seasoned with striking facts and a dash of wry humour."--Times Literary Supplement"This is both a well written book and an important scholarly contribution...Policy makers and their staffs could benefit from this piece." --Choice"With his rare combination of wit and meticulous scholarship, John Mueller diagnoses that America is paralyzed by atomaphobia and prescribes a fifteen-chapter treatment to help us recognize that we have blown reasonable concerns about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism out of proportion and that many of our policy responses actually make things worse.Atomic Obsessionis recommended bed-time reading for nervous Nellies both inside and outside of government."--Michael C. Desch, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, and author ofPower and Military Effectiveness"John Mueller's argument will almost certainly change your interpretation of some significant events of the past half-century, and likely of some expected in the next. It did with mine."--Thomas C. Schelling, 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, and author ofArms and Influence"With clear-eyed logic and characteristic wit, John Mueller provides an antidote for the fear-mongering delusions that have shaped nuclear weapons policy for over fifty years.Atomic Obsessioncasts a skeptical eye on the nuclear mythology purveyed by hawks, doves, realists, and alarmists alike, and shows why nuclear weapons deserve a minor role in national security policymaking and virtually no role in our nightmares. It is the most reassuring book ever written about nuclear weapons, and one of the most enjoyable to read."--Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, and author ofTaming American Power"How much should we worry about nuclear terrorism? How far should we go to stop Iran (or North Korea) from acquiring nuclear weapons? In this fascinating and provocative book, John Mueller addresses such questions. Policymakers, scholars, students--indeed all Americans who are concerned about threats and the allocation of scarce resources--must read this volume, ponder its conclusions, and debate what now needs to be done."--Melvyn P. Leffler, Professor of History, University of Virginia, and author ofFor the Soul of Mankind"...the book will certainly make you think. Added bonus: It's immensely fun to read." --Stephen M. Walt, ForeignPolicy.com"Mueller's achievement deserves admiration even by those inclined to resist his central thesis. The book is meticulously researched and punctuated with a dry wit that seems the perfect riposte to the pomposity of security experts who have so far tyrannized debate. Although by no means the last word on nuclear weapons, Mueller deserves praise for having the guts to shout that the atomic emperor has no clothes... the book should nevertheless be packaged up and sent to Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a simple message: 'Please calm down.'" --ArmsControl Today"There is much to agree with in the book. Mueller performs an important service in puncturing some of the inflated rhetoric about nuclear weapons...Mueller providesan unusual and fruitful perspective on nuclear history." --Science Magazine"...this book is lively and provocative and a useful corrective to much of the mainstream consensus."--Foreign Affairs

Reviews

A clear headed approach

by Aceto "All Knowledge is Sorrow"
(5/5)

It is difficult enough to argue against the dangers of anything called a nuclear weapon. It is more difficult still to argue against those who insist that spending three to six times to defend against a minor threat than we are already spending on health care is patriotic and prudent. Why is that? Because obsessions always disallow the rules of argument.For those who are concerned but not obsessed, "Atomic Obsession" is a fact based book. I respect and admire Mr. Mueller's habitual method of quantifying each argument and claim, then properly noting all sources. Actually, such objectivity creates a bias in me towards his humble and plainly stated arguments because I am so weary of and worn by the ceaseless screaming blather of most who address this grave subject.The recent transition from the old Soviet Super Power to the more costly and even more oppressive "endless war against terror" deserves at least a little scrutiny, which has been so far disallowed by those who imagine or distract us with the tale of an infinitely fragmented yet infinitely powerful conspiracy of mass destruction whose existence is conjured solely by their "hatred of American Freedom (sic)". Perhaps an hour or two of consideration is due for each unbudgeted trillion dollars appropriated for this war without end, amen.We have been waiting for Condy Rice's mushroom cloud for nine years now. It is bad enough that the Evil Empire could not sustain their threats, with their superbly armed, if poorly operated Rocket Force. True, they did give us excuse to outspend and out-waste them three or four to one in order to force stalemate. True, they tossed aside the mug's game in order to chase the wealth they always chided us for. But it could have been really bad, a true catastrophe. Just read Neil Sheehan's new book on those days. Or wait a bit for me to publish my review on his "A Fiery Peace in a Cold War".Now a days, we have dozens of little groups that we waste far more money on than the good old days when China was a yellow peril rather than a consumer of millions of American jobs. On this point, Mr. Mueller asserts that only AQ seems and acts interested in attacking the US. I can name another baker's dozen of terrorists, but I had to admit none of consequence.Mr. Mueller's distinction between a bomb and a device is important because of logistics and because of effects. Read his discussions of radius and altitude vs. blast damage and fallout volume. They are reciprocal.This book makes me wonder why these WMDs have not been used by the thousands. The best explanation we have is that we have done far more damage to our empire and our people by letting our government go rogue. Starting an illegal war has brought us down to an economic, social and political cesspool than all of our combined enemies and adversaries could ever hope to do. Stop for a moment and think. Why ever risk the world finding out about how ineffective dirty bombs are? Better to watch Fox, as the best friend of terror, dance their dance of danger. Boogie, boogie boogie! In both senses!Evidently, the chief benefit of exciting this obsessive hysteria in the public is in the distraction afforded from holding government accountable. As a bonus, because nothing happens, the government can claim to have prevented an infinite series of cataclysm that never happenes. Look ma, no mushroom cloud! Are we not the greatest? Believe us because those liberals will throw your children to the wolves. The way they always do, sorta, well at least... maybe. Well, just be afraid.Obsessive hysteria is that most perfect of environments for that time honored and most favorite of government games - corruption.I myself confess to being taken in by the campaigns of overstatement. As Mr. Mueller points out, "the casualties of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were quite a bit lower than those already inflicted in earlier bombing raids. Furthermore, the relentless exaggeration of threat actually serves to make things worse, increasing the probability of nuclear disaster by exciting the Arms Race.This fine book brings back to me the telephone conversation between two former adversaries, told by a now retired Air Force four star general and his Soviet counterpart, the head of the Rocket Force. Working on his memoirs, the American recounted to his erstwhile adversary the antics of Nixon, who, one of many drunken nights was stirred to push the red button. Pandemonium in seconds there was. Kissinger flew to the secure phone to the Pentagon to countermand. Now, realize you, that there is no such protocol NSA, DOD or otherwise to allow this "Head `im off at the pass Henry" maneuver. Anyway, back at the ranch, the Soviet commander said that they pretty much knew that Reagan was madman enough to launch.The Soviet General was ambivalent about Reagan because Gorbachev was doing so much to socialize the USSR away from the right wing. Reagan, he thought, would stimulate the fear in the Soviets to continue to fund him in the style to which he had become accustomed. At the end, the Soviet Officer said, we were in the same boat with the American Generals. We knew the Kremlin was crazy, so we disconnected their buttons. We were not about to let those fuggers start WWIII.We ought understand Mr. Mueller. He gives us information, all documented. He poses questions that matter right now with Pakistan and Iran and North Korea. Well done.


Good read, dispels a lot of popular alarmist drivel

by Alberto Vargas
(4/5)

It is very refreshing to find an author willing to buck the trend in alarmist reporting these days, with the sole purpose of putting your mind at ease. Turns out that nuclear weapons are not as destructive as you may think, and the risk of terrorists using them in the US is rather low.The book is written in "investigative journalist" style, which means it is easy to read. Since it is so approachable to a general audience, it lacks enough hard facts, numbers, etc that I would have liked to see. Instead, it is a narrative including quotations and anecdotes. There are a bunch of endnotes to further reading at the end, and I don't doubt the author has done his research, but still, I would have preferred a bit more hard data directly in this book.The book consists of three major parts which can be read separately from each other (as even the author sugests):1. Impact of Nuclear Weapons - Here the author explains that individual bombs are not as destructive as post-1945 hyperbole has made us think. It turns out that a single Hiroshima-style bomb cannot take out a million-person city; it is estimated that it can't damage more than 1% of New York's buildings, for example. Nuclear weapons are powerful, but not almighty.2. Spread of nuclear weapons - basically, how countries acquired them, and how many countries discovered that nuclear weapons are way too expensive and militarily useless.3. Atomic terrorism - discussion of what it would take for terrorists to carry out a nuclear attack on the US. The author goes through multiple scenarios, breaks down the steps that need to be succesfully overcome to achieve such a goal, and concludes that there is a vanishingly small chance of success, so low as to be negligible. Of course, this assumes that US law enforcement as well as international intelligence and military are continuously working to keep track of nuclear material and suspicious activity, which they are doing.I do not agree with all of the author's points. For example, he seems to conclude that nuclear weapons are not something to think much about, which ignores the need for basic preparedness against them and other disasters. Also, he seems to believe that Russia and Pakistan are in good control of their nuclear weapons; however, when a country undergoes radical social and economic turmoil as Russia did, chaos cannot be underestimated. Ultimately, the author's larger themes are valid, and the thought exercise is compelling.The book is very well written, and highly recommended to anyone interested in current affairs.


Interesting, but not convincing

by Alyssa A. Lappen
(1/5)

This book is based entirely on projection of the author's ideas onto a set of admittedly well-researched historical facts concerning the development and effects of nuclear weaponry. But John Mueller takes a rather irresponsible gamble in insisting that all reports of terrorists' efforts to obtain, coveting or having obtained, components of nuclear weaponry, are based on flimsy accounts and hearsay from liars.Neither does Mueller discuss recent Taliban advances in Pakistan. Should the Taliban terrorist renegades overtake that government, a very real possibility, they'd naturally have immediate access to nuclear weapons.Whether Mueller likes it or not, nuclear weapons have proliferated, and continue to do so. Their acquisition by terrorist states and organizations is a known, stated goal. And in the case of Iran that goal is clearly progressing rapidly. Al Qaeda is (as noted above) not the only terrorist group (or state) that seeks (or already possesses) nuclear weapons.Of course, some analysts insist that Al Qaeda's nuclear efforts are nothing much more than a theory or pipe dream.But many more counter-terror analysts than those few on whom Mueller rests his entire case --- analysts possessing a great deal more information and credibility on Al Qaeda than Mueller's "sources" --- present more convincing evidence that Al Qaeda has acquired and hidden nuclear components and weapons already, and are poised to use them.Mueller's biggest problem, however, is his failure to take into account thinking far outside that of the Western realm.Mueller evidently has zero understanding of the logic or drive of Islamic terrorists. On that weakness the entire book crumbles. All Mueller really says, in the end, is that he thinks the possibility of nuclear attack is highly unlikely and improbable. Well, bully for Mueller.Overall, this book is therefore ridiculous.To say that the "obsession" with this fact is "alarmist" is itself dangerous and absurd. Nuclear weapons in the hands of evil minded organizations and regimes is a much greater concern than it has ever been before, as well it should be.Mueller's text amounts to foolhardy whistling in the dark.---Alyssa A. Lappen


A thoroughly referenced fresh look at atomic proliferation

by Angela M. Hey
(5/5)

John Mueller has a comprehensive, well-organized, diligently argued book on why he thinks the threat of nuclear warfare has been over-hyped, resulting in costly government policies and unnecessary political threats.Not only has the threat of nuclear attacks frightened countries, I believe it has frightened individuals. Deep down, the Soviet nuclear arsenal probably was a factor in my leaving the UK to come to the US that seemed further away. As a child I remember caravanning near Windscale, the UK's first atomic power station, where my mother told me how milk had been contaminated in 1957. I was sure nuclear rain would fall on us soon and all mankind would be dead. Then we met someone who worked at Windscale only to be told a few years later he was dying of leukemia. When I arrived in the US as a student in the 70s and visited a police station, I was shocked to see signs of nuclear fallout shelters under the building that made me tense. If you have fears like this then you might feel relief after reading this book.Mueller starts with a historical perspective on the effects of various nuclear weapons, citing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He then argues that current wars have used deadly weapons, but non-nuclear ones. He also minimizes the threat of terrorists doing vast damage with a nuclear bomb.Therefore any potential enemy with a bomb would probably be a country. If it is a country - are terrorists capable of stealing nuclear devices and setting them off and doing untold damage? Mueller argues its highly unlikely they would do this.Arguments for nuclear weapons are demolished one by one throughout the book.For me it was a slow read, as there are many references, long sentences, formal words and in-depth discussions. The style veers toward the academic, even though I am sure the author has tried hard to write as an expert for a general audience.If the author had coopted a journalist or editor as co-author to choose slightly less abstract words and make slicker sentences it would have been easier to digest. The book could be half the length without losing effect. Maybe it needs a few charts and pictures for less verbally-oriented readers.It's an American-centric book, with plenty of references to foreign politics and other countries nuclear programs. It's possible that the threat from US weapons is greater than the book thinks. History shows that those with the most weapons are the most likely to use them. I particularly liked the analysis of non-proliferation treaties, their history and their effects.After reading the first few chapters on The Impact of Nuclear Weapons, one may be convinced that the threat of a bomb on a US city in the next few years is slight. What about the US dropping a bomb on foreign soil? I would have liked more discussion about risks from US-initiated attacks - which is probably the most serious risk.I was glad I persisted to the end as it attempts to assess the threat from al-Qaeda. The book would make good background material for journalists who sensationalize atomic threats from terrorists. It should be recommended reading for policy makers and politicians too.Despite being a tough read, I absorbed the content in 20 page doses over two months, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the news and nukes.


Witty nuclear iconoclasm

by Arthur Digbee
(4/5)

In this book, John Mueller, holder of the delightfully-named Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies at The Ohio State University, wants to convince you that everything you think you know about nuclear weapons is wrong. Well, at least most things.Mueller argues that nukes are not as damaging as you think, and are militarily useless. They were not necessary to end World War II, nor to deter the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Trying to limit them in arms control agreements, or controlling the spread of nuclear weapons through non-proliferation treaties, is essentially irrelevant. Most countries don't want nuclear weapons because they're expensive and useless. Terrorists may not want nuclear weapons and certainly don't have the infrastructure to develop them.There are a lot of good points in there, and they will force you to rethink the conventional wisdom. Even so, Mueller is not (and cannot be) right on all points. At times his desire to take a position at odds with convention runs ahead of what he can defend.Despite that, the book is well worth reading. Mueller has written a number of iconclastic books, each one both witty and thought-provoking. This one is no exception.


Nuclear Alarmism and its Impact

by B. Breen "Canuckster1127"
(4/5)

John Mueller is a professor of Political Science at Ohio State and has a long list of credentials including previous books, grants from National Endowment organizations and editorial columns featured in a variety of venues including on some issues in the Wall Street Journal, which incidental isn't all that impressed with this particular book. With these credentials you would expect that Mueller has some things to say that are worth listening to, even if you are not coming from his particular point of view.You'd be right in that expectation.Mueller systematically addresses many of the underpinning issues that appear to contribute to the current national fear of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue organizations and nations. Beginning from the advent of the nuclear era in 1945 Japan Mueller suggests that in terms of professional national intelligence standards and risk assessment that nuclear weapons, while horrific and possessing greater destructive power than conventional weapons are grossly over-rated in terms of their strategic value.He addresses such issues as the logistics involved in developing a nuclear device, the logistics of maintaining a nuclear device, the cooperation in terms of knowledge, materials and maintaining secrecy required for it to even be acquired let alone deployed.In addition to these logistical concerns, Mueller examines the international political environment and domestic political environment in terms of the impact of what the fear of a weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands or worse yet, deployed has brought about. He notes especially the all too human tendency to judge the danger of something, not by the actually likelihood of it happening but rather by the perceived magnitude of its impact should it occur.In view of all these factors, Mueller illustrates that nuclear weapon have never been as big a threat as they have been perceived to be, are not likely to occur and further the fear present in our society of things nuclear has contributed to policies and pre-emptive overreactions that themselves are more dangerous and of more likely impact than the thing feared itself.What you have in this book is basically an extension of Roosevelt's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" adapted for the 21st century and our very different circumstances.Regardless of whether you agree with the basic premise of the book itself, or not, there is no question that after reading this book, you will not look at nuclear weapons and their potential impact the same as before. I found that element of the book by itself worth the read.It's impossible to write a book like this without taking a strong stance on one side of the issue or the other, because there is very little middle ground. I'm not entirely convinced that things are as non-threatening as what Mueller appears to believe, but I am convinced that the issue has been overblown and leveraged by political forces who find it more effective to trade in fear to manipulate the populace for their own purposes than to be provide calm, rationale and fair assessments of what is truly needful to address this particular threat.4 stars.bart breen


Interesting and counter-intuitive

by Brad Teare
(5/5)

This book challenges many assumptions of the war on terror and is a useful intellectual counter-weight as our country continues to funnel billions of dollars into national security.The author cites many interesting points, such as all nuclear weapons not being created equal. For example, a North Korean nuclear weapon is a bomb of such inferior quality that if detonated in Central Park it wouldn't kill anyone on the surrounding perimeter. Also noted is that many countries, such as South Africa, dismantled their nuclear arsenals because they were not a viable military alternative. Nuclear arsenals are more a weapon of terror than an efficient tactical weapon. The nuclear attacks on Japan in WWll were analogous to chemical warfare in germany. The atomic bombs killed people an a on a massive and horrible scale but ultimately were not weapons that could be used strategically. In other words, nuclear armaments remain a threat rather than a useful tool of war. And once nuclear weapons are possessed by all parties the likelihood of using them drops to nearly zero, like germ warfare did in WWl.Additionally the author provides evidence that nuclear arsenals are so costly to produce and maintain that in reality they are beyond the technical and economic grasp of most terror states. Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons capability could be a national folly that could destabilize the government allowing for the election of a more rational administration. In light of such facts I think many US policies should be reexamined.If widely reviewed this book could provide an important countervailing argument for the current foreign policy of the United States.


Learn to love the bomb?

by brian d foy
(3/5)

This book can be hard reading for someone who grew up during the Cold War. The author takes to task many of the things we were taught or told about the threat of nuclear war, both in terms of the effective of nuclear bombs and the political will to use them. He tends to discount the power of atomic weapons since conventional ones have done so much more damage: sure, the firebombing of Dresden did much more damage, but also with much more effort. It doesn't really make the atom bomb any less scary.I found the ideas interesting, but the support dodgy at times. It's easy to see things in hindsight and talk about what world leaders should have done, but none of that is very clear in moment. He relies on quite a bit of public information, but I suspect that what's public is also what people tend to manufacture to cover their rears and rationalize other intentions.However, it's good to see a counterargument to nuclear hysteria. While this book might go to the other extreme, it's still an interesting read that might leave you somewhere between overwhelming fear and apathy. The truth is in the middle somewhere.


Thought-provoking but not quite convincing enough

by CGScammell
(4/5)

John Mueller's "Atomic Obsession" is thought-provoking. We are indeed an atomic-obsessed world. But being obsessed with something isn't always a good or effective thing, and Mueller convinces the reader that obsession is not always synonymous with realistic. As a professor of Political Science National Security studies at Ohio State Univeristy, he has the credentials and the eloquence for this topic.This book is divided into three parts. In "The Impact of Nuclear Weapons" Mueller proves that the use of nuclear weapons--and any of the intimidating weapons of our military past--have not had the desired effect militarily: these scary weapons did not annihilate civilization. His many examples prove him right.The second part, "The Spread of Nuclear Weapons" aims to prove how the many pacts, agreements and policies with other countries have controlled the spread of nuclear weapons. Or have they? I am not entirely convinced in this part that expensive treaties and their enforcements have kept us safe from proliferation, as many of the policies are classified and not open to public scrutiny.The last part, "The Atomic Terrorist" is perhaps the most intriguing part of Mueller's book. AL-Qaeda simply does not have the ability to procure, develop or build a nuclear bomb, dirty bomb or any weapon of mass destruction. All that hyperbole by Pakistanis, Osama bin Laden and even our own politicians, is mere scare tactic.Mueller is a good writer and his book is a fine read that more people should read just for mental stimulation. His wit shines through from time to time, allowing one's mind to relax before the next scientifically-laden example of nuclear obsession comes forward. Yes, countries have spent sinful amounts of money on nuclear weapons, testing, and security. Yes, countries have used scare tactics to convince its citizenry (and to scare its adversaries) that nuclear weapons are deadly and its use is inevitable.The one flaw in this book is that Mueller does not take the chance of another nuclear stand-down as possible. The world is full of examples of surprise attacks. September 11th happened without the use of nuclear weapons, proving that using airplanes full of human cargo and jet fuel is just as effective of a massively-destructive bomb as a nuclear bomb. All it will take is one successful employment of a dirty bomb in a crowded city street and governments will be in an uproar again. Or, perhaps that is the point of Mueller's book: that we are obsessed with anything involving nuclear weapons.


Finally, we can come out from under our desk

by Charles M. Nobles
(5/5)

This is a book I wish had been published twenty years ago. It would surely have generated a good deal of discussion and perhaps altered U.S. foreign and domestic policy, saved billions of dollars and, as importantly, helped U.S. and foreign policy makers, politicians, and the general public get over what the author persuasively argues is a seven decade "excessive anxiety about nuclear weapons."In a very readable style, leavened with wit and subtlety, the author makes a case that the U.S. in particular, and the world generally, has since the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, had an obsession with nuclear weapons that has no basis of support in history, logic, or scientific fact. The book is divided into three parts: Part one examines the effects of nuclear weapons and their impact on history since their inception; Part two examines the effects of the spread of nuclear weapons among the various nation states; and Part three examines the nuclear terrorists threat post 9/11.This is perhaps one of the very few must read books about nuclear weapons, their history, and the mythology that has grown up around them for decades that I have ever read. It's all here, from a review of the cold war, missle gaps, dirty bombs, proliferation, suitcase bombs, so-called nuclear deterent, and just about every other conceivable threat or issue that has surfaced in the past 70 years. This is an astounding book that turns seven decades of nuclear weapons policy, and much of what we thought we knew about significant occurances during that period, on it's ear and provides at least a measure of reassurance for the future.The book is meticulously researched, has extensive chapter notes, a reference section worthy of a library, and an index. To be sure this is a provocative book and it will be difficult to convince many that have been living on what has been described as the brink of disaster for decades that the military-industrial complex just maybe was wrong. Regardless of the readers political leanings or philosophy, this book is a must for anyone wanting an antidote to the nuclear weapons scare. What if the author is correct?


A Poke in the Eye to Alarmists (Again)

by David W. Southworth
(5/5)

Dr. John Muller, a professor at the Ohio State University, has published this book taking a critical look at the threat from nuclear and radiological weapons, and at the industry that has arisen since 9/11 to stoke public fears. While stating there is a threat from loose nuclear materials that are not under a strict security regime is real, the many limitations incumbent in a terrorist utilizing nuclear weapons in an attack, such as size, safety and handling issues, among others, add significant barriers to a terrorist group seriously threatening nuclear attack on the United States. Perseverance in adding safeguards are important, but the public should not be overly and inappropriately alarmed of an imminent attack. I highly recommend this book.


Interesting premise . . .

by David Zampino "21st Century Hobbit"
(3/5)

. . . with a fair amount of legitimacy, but ultimately fails to deliver.The author's basic premise: our "Atomic Obsession" is truly that -- an obsession, and like many obsessions is not rooted and grounded in reality. The author is quite correct. A nuclear attack which devastates a city and a conventional attack which devastates a city can do equivalent damage to lives and property. And the lingering effects of radiation has quite likely been exaggerated. (A survivor of an atomic blast who dies of cancer 30 years later at the age of 70 cannot, with the information and statistics we have available, be considered a fatality of that blast!) The author argues that governments and special interests who are invested in the issue can, have, and continue to exaggerate and distort. Again, a very reasonable premise.I do think that the author underestimated the reality of the Cold War, and gives more credit (and credibility) to Stalin and Khrushchev than is historically warranted. (I suspect that the 100,000 or so dead from the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam would probably agree with me!)I don't think that this book is liable to change any minds. The fear of nuclear war is too ingrained in too many people. Heck, the fear of nuclear POWER is ingrained in too many people. An uncle of mine, a nuclear physicist and engineer of some note, once suggested to me that "fear of radiation" is the irrational fear of the 20th century, just as "fear of ghosts" was the irrational fear of the 19th century.And fear, whether rational or not, can and at times, does inform reality.


An informative book on nuclear weapons

by Dr. Bojan Tunguz
(4/5)

Every once in a while a book arrives that challenges many of our most deeply-held assumptions, and makes us reconsider some aspects of our worldview. For the better part of the last sixty five years one such assumption has been the imminent threat to the survival of the entire World posed by the nuclear weapons. With the end of the Cold War this threat seemed to be receding fast, only to be rekindled in the first decade of the 21st century by the rise of various rogue regimes around the world, and even more ominously, by the rise of non-state agents that aim to destroy as much of the modern Western civilization as possible. However, according to John Mueller much of that threat is way overblown (pardon the pun) and in "Atomic Obsession" he aims to refute most of our prejudices when it comes to nuclear weapons.This is a very well researched book as sixty pages of references at the end clearly testify. Mueller brings up many good arguments and for the most part he seems very convincing. I am particularly swayed by the quick -calculation arguments that, for instance, refute notions such as that of a "suitcase bomb" that can be used to bring devastation to a major US city. The probably impact of one such device would be far smaller than what had transpired on 9/11, with the cost in development and resources that far exceed anything that any terrorist group is likely to have. There are several well constructed arguments like that one, and for the most part I am willing to be swayed.However, there are some problems with the kind and range of sources that are consulted. It is hard to escape the impression that Mueller is rather selective in terms of sources that he cites. Most of the best-argued quotations are from the sources that support his claims. This could be because his claims are indeed the most reasonable and well-thought out, and most of the highest experts would agree with them. However, it is also obvious that the quotes from the sources that oppose his POV are more often than not very silly and preposterous, and it doesn't take a genius to refute them. In a sense, Mueller is oftentimes setting up a straw-man argument that does nothing to help his cause.The most off-putting aspect of this book are the persistent snide remarks that show up every few pages. It could be argued that they are attempts at humor in an otherwise very serious book, but I didn't find a single one of those remarks funny. In fact, these remarks are rather distracting and do a disservice to his arguments. Many times I would find myself essentially agreeing with one argument or another, until I reach one of those condescending remarks that implies that anyone who sees things differently is essentially an idiot. Were it not for this supercilious tone the book would be a very readable treatment of the subject. In what gotta be the most presumptuous line that I had ever read in any scholarly work, Mueller accuses Albert Einstein of "confidence bordering on intellectual arrogance" in latter's endorsement of one World Government. I am not a very big fan of that idea either, to say the least, but if anyone can be allowed to show intellectual arrogance that would be Albert Einstein. Such a dismissive, and yes intellectually arrogant, attitude on the part of Mueller is extremely off-putting. Many of his arguments would probably flow much better with well intentioned skeptics had he chosen to adopt a much more even-handed attitude in this book. As it is, the book as a whole can be described as overconfident and intellectually arrogant.It is not clear what the intended audience of the book is. On one hand this is a very well written scholarly work, and the academic audience seems to be its intended target. On the other hand there are many references to popular culture and the perception of the nuclear threat by the general public. It is quite clear that Mueller would like to sway the public opinion of what the real threat of nuclear weapons is, and in that vein a lot of his writing can be characterized as a polemic.Overall, this is a very well written and extremely informative book. Whether you are inclined to treat the threat of nuclear holocaust as the most pressing security issue or not, you will benefit from reading the "Atomic Obsession." However, this book should not be considered the definitive word on the subject and I for one am interested in reading other works with potentially opposing points of view.


The good news and the bad news...

by D. S. Thurlow
(3/5)

In 2009's "Atomic Obsession", author John Mueller takes on the commendable task of bringing some sanity to the often badly overhyped topic of nuclear weapons. In a breezy, often sarcastic narrative, Mueller makes several valuable points. First, the popular perception of the effects of nuclear weapons is much exaggerated. Second, terrorist possession of nuclear weapons, while worrisome, may be the least likely terrorist threat. Third, the dangers of nuclear proliferation have probably been badly overhyped.Serious students of nuclear deterrence and the Cold War may find this book less satisfying. In reviewing the history of nuclear weapons, Mueller tends to cherry-pick convenient facts and quotations while dismissing the facts and logic of a complex and well-developed literature. For example, Mueller decides that because the US and Soviet Union never fought a nuclear war, there was never a realistic possibility of such a war. He almost certainly undersells the value of espionage to the Soviet nuclear program. He decides that Canada and Japan never developed nuclear weapons on the basis of examplary national virture while ignoring the possibly more relevant fact that both have been under the nuclear umbrella of their close ally the US for decades.Mueller's narrative also suffers from an apparent assumption that all relevant information is in the public realm. With respect to nuclear weapons, nuclear deterrent diplomacy, and even recent terrorism, the opposite may be more likely. Nothing in the book or Mueller's bio suggests any acquaintance with the classified aspects of any of the above, calling into question some of his conclusions and their implications about the people responsible for the defense of the United States.The general readers interested in a little peace of mind about the nuclear threat may find "Atomic Obsession" an interesting book. Serious students are advised to skim the book for its relevant points and grit their teeth through the rest.


The smartest guy in security studies

by Enjolras
(3/5)

You've got to love anybody who challenges the conventional wisdom of the Washington, DC, military-industrial complex. I read this book right after Obama's Nuclear Summit and found it a useful corrective. InAtomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda, John Mueller, a political scientist at OSU, tries to show why everything you think you know about nuclear weapons is, well, absolutely wrong and misguided.I won't get into the substance of his allegations too much - if you want to get a quick idea, read Mueller's National Interest article atOr: how I learned to stop worrying.(Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda)(Book review): An article from: The National Interestor pages 236-39 in the book. However, to summarize it generally, he takes a "glass half-full" approach toward the use and misuse of nuclear weapons. Much of this consists of refreshing candor about the need for perspective. Mueller chastises policymakers for overstating the potential impact of nukes and instilling irrational fear amongst the public. He also alleges that nukes have failed to impact the course of human history to quite the extent most historians would have us believe.As much as I respect Mueller for taking the unpopular but level-headed position, I have two criticisms of the book, one substantive and one stylistic. First, much of it becomes pretty repetitive. Mueller makes many good points, but he makes them over and over again. The organization of the book doesn't help either, as the themes seem to blend with each other (Mueller never seems to tire of pointing out Graham Allison's mistaken prophecies).Unfortunately, for all his repetitions, Mueller just doesn't provide enough evidence to back up all of his claims. Rather, he seems to rush through them rather quickly, barely stopping to present the evidence supporting his views. For example, he claims that the atomic bomb was not necessary to induce the surrender of the Japanese, nor did it lead to deterrence during the Cold War. However, in the case of the Japanese, he goes only into a superficial discussion, barely addressing the meticulous research of scholars like Richard B. Frank inDownfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire. Likewise, with the Cuban Missile Crisis, he doesn't consider the (very well-documented) internal deliberations during ExCom (or even memoirs of the participants, such as RFK'sThirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis), much of which stress the crucial role that nukes played in the Kennedy administration's deliberations. He also doesn't even mention the recent cases of North Korean proliferation to Syria or Burma, which might suggest that some rogue states can and do really want nukes.Indeed,Atomic Obsessionignores one fundamental point about nukes that makes them extremely different from any other weapon in the world. It's not their destructive power or technology. Rather, it's the fact that a nuclear warhead, combined with an intercontinental ballistic missile, can reign immediate and effective destruction on populations anywhere in the world. During most wars, political leaders and civilians behind the front lines were relatively safe from the immediate effects of battle. Airpower changed that a bit, but still required a basing point for aircraft and were limited by the number of sorties and weather.By contrast, with nukes (and an ICBM), a country can hit its enemy anywhere, anytime, with enough force to at least destroy a major part of a city. For the "homefront," those civilians and politicians normally not in immediate risk during war, nukes change their calculus drastically, putting them in 24/7 danger. This is especially important for America, which hadn't been directly threatened by war or bombs since the Civil War. Unlike say England during World War II, America has traditionally had the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to protect us (even the Japanese only got to Hawaii). Americans reacted hysterically to the Russian bomb and the ICBM not just because of its destructive power, but also because it was the first time they were actually at risk. I think this represented a huge change in the course of American, if not world history and threat perceptions. In that sense, nuclear weapons became the ultimate "sword of Damocles," hanging over the heads of voters and politicians everyday.Overall, Mueller makes some smart points, but the book seems more like a long op-ed article rather than academic scholarship.


Allay your fears!

by eric talerico "Greenmanwest"
(5/5)

This entertaining, well researched and well argued book posits the idea that the obsession Americans have with the threat of Nuclear escalation is unfounded. "The Atomic Obsession" outlines the history of nuclear weapons and the often strange and convoluted policies that have lead to the current view of the Nuclear Club - including the standoff between the world and Iran over its nuclear policies. Its refreshing to read someone who has a very down to earth point of view on these issues.


Interesting Scholarly Research but No Correlation with the Conclusions Drawn

by Erika Borsos "pepper flower"
(4/5)

The author writes his book based on his belief and premise that the United States spent an enormous amount of money on stock piling atomic weapons after World War II which he maintains was unnecessary. His main premise is that having such a large arsenal by the US did *not* prevent World War III. He maintains World War III would not have occurred regardless of how large a large stockpile of nuclear armaments the United States possessed. The only problem with the author's argument is that despite his wonderfully written book with excellent references and a fantastic bibliography, he can not actually PROVE that premise is a fact. The fact that the USA possessed these weapons this fact could very well have been a deterent to evil minded countries who had world domination in mind. The Soviet Union wanted to spread communism throughout the world. While they preferred an internal revolution that actually was NOT the case in taking over Central and Eastern Europe. The fact is FDR and Winston Churchill gave over Central and Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union through an agreement at the Yalta Conference. The Soviets did not have to even fight to dominate those countries. The 1956 Hungarian Revolution proved the Soviet Union was capable of crushing a nation and its citizens who rebelled against its domination. Another examples is the 1960s Cuban Missile Crisis which had an uncertain outcome as President John F. Kennedy contemplated a confrontation with the Soviet Union. Fortunately no weapons were used but the U.S. had no idea just how far the Soviets would push the issue of aiming missles from Cuba at the United States. The author has done excellent research on this subject but all of it is *after* the results of the confrontation are known. The future was uncertain at the time.While it is a fact that 65 years after World War II, there has not been World War III which the West had feared would happen after WWII, it does not follow as the author would have us believe, that this would have been the case even if the US did not possess the nuclear arsenal which it had stockpiled. Had the author predicted there would be no World War III in the early 1950s and had he put it in a time capsule, then opened it today with an accurate prediction, perhaps there would be some credibility to his statement. One could then take some of his thoughts seriously. After World War II, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was no way to predict what the Soviet Union would do if it were provoked. Even right now, there are evil minded countries who wish to destroy our way of life and force the West to live by their narrow religious beliefs. The author would even have us believe that atomic terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists is not a likely scenario. Again this certainly is not a proven fact. He concludes his book with this statement " ... when examined, the evidence of al-Qaeda's desire to go atomic and about its progress in accomplishing this exceedingly difficult task is remarkably skimpy, if not completely negligible. The scariest stuff - a decade's worth of loose nuke rumor and chatter and hype - seems to have no substance whatsoever. For the rest, there is perhaps reason for concern or at least interest. But alarm, and certainly hysteria, are scarcily called for." For my part, I don't see alarm or hysteria being the case on the part of the United States or other Western countries but having a reasonable ability to defend oneself against ALL POSSIBILITIES is the BEST DEFENSE.There is a great deal of interesting material in the book which is the reason I give the book four stars. The author provides a well researched scholarly work but the major problem with this book is the author's conclusions. His conclusions do *not* logically follow the facts he provides which is the reason for deducting one star. There is little correlation between the facts and his conclusions. In fact, he seems to have started with a premise which seem to be "beliefs" and "feelings" which he tries to tie together with historical facts but the two just do not jive. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]


Well Reasoned Evaluation of the Fear of Nuclear Weapons and Why it Doesn't Need To Happen

by Frederick S. Goethel "wildcatcreekbooks"
(5/5)

From the very beginning of this book, the author makes clear his intention to persuade readers that the fear of nuclear attack from terrorists or rogue states is mainly unfounded and that we should calm down and evaluate our priorities.Breaking the book into three sections, the author begins with how nuclear weapons operate and what sort of damage they can actually inflict. And, the amount of damage, in relation to conventional weapons, is really not all that spectacular. When accounting for cost, nuclear weapons have no real advantage over conventional weapons and actually can be a hindrance to those seeking to operate in the area of a blast.The second part of the book deals with nuclear weapons from a historical standpoint. He discusses the Cold War and why, in hindsight, it was way over blown. Nobody was particularly suicidal, including the commanders and heads of the nuclear nations and all knew that launching an attack would end up being a suicide play.Finally, in the third part of the book the author makes a very convincing argument against the possibility of a rogue nation or terrorist group obtaining and operating, never mind transporting a nuclear device. What most people seem to fail to understand is to complexity involved and just how difficult it would be for any such group to operate secretly for any amount of time. The author also deals with the possibility of stolen nuclear weapons, and deems the threat to be minimal.The writing is well done and the author's arguments are persuasive. Maybe it really is time to stop losing sleep over the possibility of a nuclear attack and focus on more realistic scenarios. I would highly recommend this to all with an interest in current events.


Contradicting the Contrafactual

by J. A. Walsh
(3/5)

I hate to do the "I agree with..." thing, but I defer to most of the criticisms and kudos that have been offered in other reviews of Atomic Obsession.Specifically, the book makes in-roads toward debunking the myth of the so-called Churchill contrafactual, which posits that by unleashing the devastation of the Fat Man and Little Boy on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US made manifest to the world the horror of nuclear war, and thereby made global leaders so afraid of "the bomb" that it deterred future wars and saved countless lives. By extension to not illogical extreme, this could be said to place the dropping of the bomb as the US' greatest historical act of humanitarianism.That is tough to swallow, and Mueller goes after that thinking with abandon; but, he does not always hit the right chords. As others have noted, his analysis of the actual impact of a nuclear strike (especially and isloated one by a rogue state or terror group) is compelling and logical; but, sometimes comes off as too cavalier. He seems to completely ignore the psychic, political and social impacts that such an attack would inevitably wreak. He does similarly compelling work in separating chemical, biological and radiological weapons (so-called WMD) from nukes in exposing their far more limited utility and effectiveness.But, he is left to play a lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda with historical and political events, and his arguments against the impact that proliferation and nuclear posturing had on the course of 20th century history is not convincing. Indeed, in several of the examples he chooses (i.e., the Cuban missile crisis) he points to quotes, writings and anecdotal evidence that supports the idea that the bomb was an ancillary consideration at best. Still, he never can eliminate the fact that it was a consideration and he doesn't do enough to demonstrate why leaders were irrational or ill-advised to consider it at all.Finally, he makes several well-grounded economic arguments for the toll that nuke fear has taken on budgets and the strain it has put on policymakers, all in the name of a remote and over-estimated threat. But, politics is not economics; presidents and prime ministers are not homo economicus. The chances of a nuclear attack may have been exceedingly slim throughout history, and the costs vastly oversold; but, when lives are at stake, I suspect that most citizens expect their leaders to make decisions with more than cost-benefit analyses at their fingertips.Then again, that is exactly the kind of nuclear paranoid thinking that Mueller hopes to disabuse me of. He failed, but it was not for lack of a solid effort.


Excellent discussion of nuclear weapons but less than thorough on some political situations from history and today

by Joel Avrunin "Electrical Engineer who loves S...
(4/5)

John Mueller writes this book with a fascinating premise---those nuclear weapons we've been concerned about all of these years? Well, you can stop worrying---they aren't as big a danger to the world as you thought.I likely would not have bought this book as I figured it was a screed against the perceived obsession with war on the right, and perhaps an anti-atomic book. I was pleasantly surprised to find some well reasoned discussion on atomic weapons and their respective place in this world. I have come away from the book not entirely clear on the author's politics, just that he feels both Democrats and Republicans have equally used the atomic fear to funnel more power to themselves (which would likely put him in Ron Paul's camp on foreign policy, but I did not read anything to indicate that).While I may not agree with its every conclusion, the general premise is a sound one and one that we hear in public policy all the time. Can nuclear weapons kill a lot of people? Yes---but so can airplanes, bombs, bullets, etc. The firebombing of Dresden killed far more than the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. The premise is that as a weapon of war, nuclear weaponry takes far more maintenance and money than it is worth as a strategic weapon. A great comparison is made to Hitler's V-weapons, large scary looking rockets that diverted his resources and did not do appreciable damage. The author says that just as Hitler would have been better off building more airplanes and fewer rockets, so would modern militaries find other conventional investment more useful and damaging in war. Did you know that the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima didn't even take out the bridges? Much of the death was caused by flash fires on old dry wooden huts that made the city a tinderbox. Newer buildings suffered broken glass, but not instant "vaporization".The danger of terrorists setting off a nuke? Why use a nuclear weapon when 19 guys with box-cutters could do so much more damage. The steps to actually setting off a nuclear device are so complex that there are easier ways to kill. And a dirty bomb? Leaving the area in a slow and methodical manner is a lot safer, and dangerous fallout levels are greatly exaggerated by our EPA. Every city has a certain level of background radiation, and a slight rise over normal is considered dangerous, even when that slight rise is LESS than other cities in the world where people live normally. For instance, a city with a normal background radiation of 4mSv rising to 5mSv is considered uninhabitable due to radiation damage, but there are cities that normally sit at 7, and even 15+ mSv with no ill effects.The author argues persuasively that our mania over controlling nuclear weapons just makes them more desirable. Nuclear weapons mean a country is world leader, hence tin-pot dictators seek them. My own analogy--college kids often drink more beer when under 21 than over 21 (being illicit makes things seem cool). Plus, just because a country has nuclear weapons, doesn't mean they will be used. The same warnings were issued on China going nuclear (bet you forgot China has nukes) that are issued today on Iran. And the charge that with nukes, Saddam would control the middle east? The US has nukes, and we can't even control Baghdad! Israel used its nukes during 1973 as a threat to the US (support our defensive war, or we will have to resort to nukes). North Korea has developed Nukes, but similarly just uses them to blackmail the US for aid.I do have some qualms with the book. Mostly, I do believe that in his zeal to allay fears over nuclear weapons, he glosses over the genuine threat posed by Iran. The point should be that it is not the weapon we should fear, but Iran itself, nuclear or not. Ditto for Al Qaeda. He tries to say that 9/11 shocked the Arab world and destroyed support for Al Qaeda. I think US predator drones shooting at their leaders likely hurt them far more than a general "loss of support in the Arab world". He basically says Ahmandinejad is a wind bag. This may be true, but those behind him have been planning Iran's rise to power for years. There is also quite a bit of revisionist history---assuming that Japan would have surrendered without the nuclear bomb (when even after Nagasaki, some elements wanted to keep fighting), and assuming that the Soviet Union was destined to fail (many said the Soviets would be here forever). He is correct in his assertion that the Soviets didn't want armed struggle with the US proper---they did operate through subverting society. To that extent, America's singular focus on the nuclear arms race made policy makers miss the more insidious infection of culture with communist ideas.In summary, I am glad I read the book and feel I gained an appreciation for the fact that the nuclear threat itself is rather overblown. The central thesis that mere possession of nuclear weapons is not easy and not as important as general military power is well proven. The book is an important addition to the world scene, but augment your reading with books such as "The Devil We Know" on Iran, and others the present a more contextual and thorough treatment on WWII and the Cold War.


A Well-Researched Evaluation of the Importance of Nuclear Weapons Turns Out to Be a Dud

by Kyle Slayzar
(3/5)

In Cold War history, one cannot discount the mass influence of nuclear weapons. As inanimate objects used only once in combat, they shaped American foreign policy as well as redesigned military strategy for both the United States and the Soviet Union. They were the crux of most historical events between the two countries as both feared the use of such weapons would lead to the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD theory) of each other if not an outright annihilation of the human race itself. These bleak aspects of a nuclear exchange are rarely disputed within the historical community, however, it is the subject of debate in "Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda" ("Obsession") by Ohio State political science professor John Mueller (Author of "Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them").Mueller challenges the assertion of a nuclear exchange signaling the end of humanity or an outright collapse of the United States and their overall influence in history. As a former graduate student in American history, specializing in US military and diplomatic history, I knew coming into reading Obsession that I was either gonna learn something new or rip the book a six-pack of new ones. After reading Obsession for a week and writing down notes in my trusty notebook I find myself admiring Mueller for his excellent research and political analysis but am going to have a field day with his historical analysis.In the tradition of historical analysis of a book the first thing I analyzed was Mueller's bibliography, chapter notes, and citations. Indeed, Mueller has done an excellent job gathering both primary sources in the form of interviews and speeches as well as secondary analysis conducted by prominent historians such as John Lewis Gaddis (who is one of my favorite Cold War historians).However, it would seem as though nearly all of Mueller's research and analysis comes from public sources (interviews, speeches, and articles) and few, if any, from actual government reports whether stuff obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the declassified Soviet archives, or even original interviews with officials or scientists. Unless I missed something, the vast majority of information researched comes from the public domain most prominently open statements to the public and secondary analysis from others, which begs the question, "what is Mueller missing?" Forget the discussion on scholarly research and discipline to conduct original research beyond a Google or JSTOR search, Mueller is missing a lot research material here to make the case on whether or not his thesis on nuclear weapons is plausible. Where are Air Force nuclear weapons test reports? The CDC reports on the effects of radiation? DHS action plans for nuclear attack? Memos of dissenting scientists within the US and Soviet government?To cite an example of this trend, the first chapter addresses the allegedly overly exaggerated effects of nuclear weapons themselves. Mueller brings up EPA and United Nations reports on both the alleged lethal dose of radiation (EPA) and the actual effects of high levels of radiation (UN) (p. 6-8), but doesn't actually cite the sources. Instead, Mueller cites the reports from secondary sources most notably an article by Peter Zimmerman in Foreign Policy's quarterly journal. The only real citation of a primary source in chapter one is by the Office of Technological Assessment, an alleged neutral scientific analysis group funded by congress until 1995. OK, that sounds like an objective source to me but, are there any others? Correlation of the facts requires triangulation from more than one source beyond journal articles, especially if the fields (foreign policy to particle science) are unrelated.This trend continues throughout Mueller's book, but does it automatically refute his argument? Absolutely not, but it does bring into question Mueller's method of academic scholarship and discipline since his research appears to be nothing more than public domain and nothing truly original. It suggests his analysis is missing key components.Moving on to other criticisms, Mueller utilizes some very poor analogies to further his argument. While discussing the social aspect of a terrorist nuclear attack, Mueller states that while 10,000+ deaths from a potential nuclear strike would be tragic, it would hardly unwound the fabric of the US. I agree with this part, actually, but his analogy to explain it is severely flawed. Here is the block quote."(The) prediction that the sudden deaths from terrorism of 10,000 Americans would 'do away with our way of life' might be assessed in this regard. As it happens, officials estimated for a while in 2005 that there would be 10,000 deaths from Hurricane Katrina. Although this, of course, was not a terrorist attack, there was no indication s whatsoever that such a disaster, while catastrophic for the hurricane victims themselves, would do away with the way of life of the rest of the nation." (p. 22)Pending a situation portrayed in films like The Day After Tomorrow, I do not think American citizens living in California, Missouri, or my current state of residence (North Dakota) have to worry about hurricanes. Terrorism is deliberate and malicious while bad weather is a natural force (unless you're a member of the Westboro Baptist Church), to compare the two to further an argument on the social consequences of nuclear terrorism is beyond flawed.Moving on to the historical significance of nuclear weapons, I think Mueller could have added a few more secondary analysis to his bibliography. It almost seems selective as Mueller, while drawing almost exclusively from secondary sources, seems to have left out some of the most acclaimed analysis from Cold War historians including Water Lafeber, Aleksandr Fursenko ("One Hell of a Gamble"), and even some critical books by John Lewis Gaddis (ie: "Strategies of Containment"). Mueller doesn't even mention Cold War foreign policy giants George Kennan or Paul Nitze and their work from 1945 to the turn of the century. The former three authors framed Cold War history while the latter two policy makers designed America's foreign policy during the Cold War. One would think they deserve a mention or even a paragraph discussing why they were right or wrong in their assumptions on nuclear weapons, which they did have.Continuing with historical discourse, Mueller makes several historical assertions that can easily be challenged. One example is that the nuclear bomb was not necessary in WWII to end the war. I always found this a silly argument as the Japanese were obviously on their last legs and were on the fast track to be annihilated whether by US firebombs or by Russian invasion, which Mueller asserts is the cause for the Japanese surrender and that the nuclear bomb was little more than "an extension," of that (p. 46). While this is up for historical debate, Mueller spends only two paragraphs 'proving' this notion and the first one is quotes from historians saying, "no, the Japanese did not surrender due to the bomb." The second paragraph discusses Soviet intervention, albeit briefly. To me, this needs to be elaborated on considerably since Hiroshima and Nagasaki are critical to Mueller's overall argument that nuclear weapons have never truly been all that important. Without proving it here, the carpet begins to roll over his argument. He needs to seriously elaborate on this subject beyond one paragraph of historians agreeing and another with an analysis.I could go on much, much, longer criticizing Mueller's work but lemme end it here by saying that while he makes some good points, I am far from sold. Obsession could be easily over 500 pages that can convince myself and other military historians if he simply took the time to do some original research and spend less time trying to make the book more palatable for The Daily Show. Nuclear weapons, foreign policy, and terrorism are not light subjects and should not be given a casual glance as Mueller seems to do in Obsession. However, I do reserve the right to be proven otherwise so I encourage Mueller to utilize this constructive criticism to go back and make some serious revisions to his work. I think he's on the right track, but I also believe this current edition of Obsession seems little more than a draft albeit with edited grammar and sentence structure.All in all, a C-.


Free yourself

by Malvin
(5/5)

"Atomic Obsession" by John Mueller is an unusually liberating book that exposes the fallacies of our obsession with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and terrorists. Inspired by Bernard Brodie, the Cold War strategist who late in life questioned the nuclear deterrence strategy he had once articulated, Mr. Mueller critiques current U.S. policy as few are willing or able to do. Cogently argued and packed with many pages of original thought, insight and analysis, Mr. Mueller's book is essential reading for everyone interested in foreign policy, national security and politics.The book is divided into three sections. The first section, 'The Impact of Nuclear Weapons' assesses the limited effects from the kind of low-grade chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear 'dirty' weapons that a terrorist organization might be able to wield (if they even could). Mr. Mueller concludes that the threat, inasmuch as some have proclaimed that the very existence of the U.S. is at stake, has been vastly overstated. Reviewing the history of nuclear deterrance and public opinion both during and after the Cold War had ended, Mr. Mueller argues convincingly that the political climate tends to influence the public's perception of the relative threat level far more than does the actual presence (real or imagined) of nuclear weapons.The second section, 'The Spread of Nuclear Weapons' further challenges the conventional wisdom. Mr. Mueller shows how arms control agreements (such as SALT I and II) were mostly ineffective (a view that coincidentally is almost indistinguishable from the esteemed Richard A. Clarke's assessment inCyber War) but perversely tended to encourage greater production of WMDs, not less; how some states concluded that the costs of developing and maintaining nuclear arsenals far outweighed the benefits, and subsequently dismantled their nuclear weapons programs without any outside pressure applied (South Africa and Libya); how the possession of nuclear weapons does not automatically lead to hegemony or deter war between states; and so on. Counterintuitively, Mr. Mueller suggests that America should allow marginal states like Iraq and North Korea to pursue their nuclear weapons ambitions, given the high probability that the political and economic costs will eventually delegitimize the regimes among their own people and the international community; thus leading to their downfall.The third section, 'The Atomic Terrorist?' thoroughly debunks the notion that a terrorist organization could ever build a nuke from scratch, much less acquire the bomb from a so-called sponsoring state. Mr. Mueller cooly details the steps the would-be terrorist would have to take to succeed in such a project, calculating the odds of success at an impossibly high level. Chastising the media for failing to challenge the opportunistic politicians who have created mass hysteria around such an improbable scenario, Mr. Mueller contends that our foreign policies are often misplaced inasmuch as they are driven by fear; which ironically is the very thing the terrorists want from us the most.Even if one allows for some of the book's more controversial aspects - such as the author's belief that the detrimental effects of radiation exposure are vastly overrated or that an all-out nuclear war waged between nation states is survivable from a human species perspective - the author's core argument is spot on. Mr. Mueller makes it clear that preemptive wars, embargoes and weapons stockpiles do little to resolve political differences but they do contribute enormous sums to the national debt. It would be far more constructive, Mr. Muller believes, to reduce international tensions through strengthening economic, cultural, and diplomatic ties; thereby depriving the terrorist of the discord needed to attract attention and gain support. In this mature, humane and thoughtful manner, the author nudges us in his own peculiarly inimitable way towards a more peaceful world.I highly recommend this superb book to everyone.


Nuclear parody

by Mary E. Sibley
(5/5)

Nuclear devices are the most effective means of killing people. Their capacity for mayhem is awesome. Chemical and biological weapons are less effective. All sorts of conditions impede their use. Radiological weapons would create mass disruption, not mass destruction.Overstating the atomic bomb's impact has been going on since Hiroshima. Verbs liquidate, vaporize, and that ilk, have come into use. Overstatement has moved beyond the realm of physical impact to social and political consequences. Atomic hyperbole helped idealists and hawks to make their case.The heirs of World War II influenced the policy of the cold war. There were redundant sources of stability. Krushchev implied that only bloody fools are not afraid of war. Stability was overdetermined. War gamers had trouble coming up with a scenario to spark a major war in studies conducted in the seventies and eighties. Nuclear weapons are not required to bring caution to risk averse countries, (caution is supplied by the experiences of the two world wars).After Dresden and Tokyo terror bombing in World War II, the novelty of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was that a single explosion could do so much damage. The sufficiency of the bombs to end the war has been disputed. The major factor causing Japan's capitulation may have been the entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan.It is not clear that possession of a nuclear arsenal influenced events after the war. Atomic espionage did not impact events. Atomic weapons did impact our agonies and obsessions. Nuclear strategy became a living dream world.In the 1980's Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, (Star Wars). The Soviets were alarmed. Gorbachev worked for arms control. After 1989 the worry became the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Another fear is that war may be triggered by a nuclear accident.Possibly nuclear arsenals are passe. Countries seeking status now concentrate on economic growth rather than on building nuclear weapons. Nuclear proliferation fixation has exacerbated the problem of nuclear waste and has caused the building of nuclear reactors to be unnecessarily expensive. The likelihood of atomic terrorism is not high.The book considers ably atomic obsession and exaggeration of external threats. In military terms atomic weapons have been useless. The economic cost of having a nuclear arsenal is great. Nuclear proliferation is a not a major danger. To be assisted to think differently about policies our government has pursued is valuable. It results in a personal paradigm shift, (at least in the case of this reader). There are extensive notes.


Alarmists beware

by Matthew Smith "Roger Mexico"
(5/5)

I used to consider myself to be a nonproliferation proponent with a realist's bent and decidely not an alarmist, but after reading John Mueller's new book I think I might have been something of an alarmist. This is the first level headed analysis of the nuclear threat I have yet come across. What this book makes clear is to what extent the discussion surrounding all things nuclear has always been and still remains extremely hyperbolic. Instead of sound analysis of risks and possibilities relying on historical data and realistic assessments of the possibilities for these weapons to be used people have been inundated with one percent doctrines, Doomsday Clocks and visions of apocalyptic scenarios of Earth shattering destruction. What this work does is to parse through all of these doomsday scenarios and break through all the hyperbole and look at the actual facts surrounding nuclear weapons to discover whether the alarmism is warrented, or if in fact these weapons, while extremely dangerous and not to be trifled with, are not as Earth shattering as suggested nor are we perpetually on the brink of nuclear Armageddon.One of the first areas Mueller sets his sights on is whether or not nuclear weapons have been an affective deterrent that has kept us from a possible WWIII, and what he discovers is that their affect on deterrence has been minimal at best and superflous at worst. Going back the author looks at Soviet objectives and their motivations, and what the reader discovers is that WWII had a major impact on Stalin and the Soviets as well as the rest of the world. That affect was probably even greater than on the U.S. since the U.S. did not have the war brought onto its home soil like the Russians. What Mueller discovers is that Stalin was committed to avoiding another major conflict with or without nuclear weapons. It was the conventional forces and the destruction they wrought that led Stalin to the conclusion that another major conflict could topple the Soviets, which is what led him to pursue a policy of avoiding conflicts that could lead to a major conflagration. What is shown is that conventional force was the main motivating factor for avoiding confrontations that might lead to another major conflict and not nuclear weapons.The author also goes along way to debunking the alarmists and cascadologists by using historical data and trends to show how these people have been consistently wrong in their predictions. Probably the most famous of these alarmists is the Doomsday Clock at the University Chicago. This clock which has never been set below twenty minutes to midnight and thus nuclear Armageddon has been so fantastically wrong to become comical, and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is not the only people to have been perpetually predicting nuclear disaster for over sixty years now. Every decade had its new prophets of doom predicting a tipping point that is almost reached whereby twenty or more nations will begin to arm themselves with nuclear weapons (cascadology) thereby creating an untenable situation that must lead to nuclear war. Among the ranks of these alarmists have resided U.S. presidents, high ranking intellegince officials, renowned scientists and many others, but what we have seen is their predictions have been proven exceedingly exaggerated. What we have seen instead is nations in South America give up their nuclear programs voluntarily along with South Africa as well. We have seen nations like Japan and Germany rebuild and insert themselves back onto the wrold stage after WWII without even hinting they need nuclear weapons to take their place among powerful nations. There have been no wars and proliferation has moved at a snails pace, so that when these alarmists tell the world the sky is falling their proclamations should be received with a heavy dose of skepticism.The author does an excellent job looking at nuclear terrorism, and laying out the very difficult path that confronts any would be nuclear terrorist. Dick Cheney, famously, laid out his one percent doctrine which said that if a group or state had even a one percent chance of getting and using a WMD then the U.S. had to take the threat seriously. It was partly this doctrine that led us into Iraq. The author actually agrees with the doctrine somewhat, but what he does suggest that the possibility is much, much lower than a 1 in 100 chance. The possibility that a terrorist group can get their hands on a functioning, usable nuclear weapon is extremely remote, and the possibility that they are able to deploy any weapon they could get affectively is even more remote. Mueller provides a very sober and cogent analysis of the risks we face and the counter measures we should employ.A quick criticism I do have is that I was somewhat put off by the polemical style of the work. The book is still fantastic but for me this style takes away from the scholarly aspects of the book. I still really like the book, but I could have done without that.This is a very affective and profound book. This work is a very necessary addition to the literature out their on nuclear weapons, and anyone looking to truly understand the threat we face must read this poignant book. It will calm as it enlightens the reader. I highly recommend this very important book.


Good and bad

by M. Broderick "mikebinok"
(3/5)

Good coverage of some of the reasons why many countries that could develop nuclear weapons have NOT done so, though some of his examples such as the Falkland Islands war being started even though Britain had nuclear weapons aren't convincing (Neither the Argentine generals nor anyone else truly believed that Britain was going to threaten the survival of Argentina with nuclear weapons, but that won't always be the case for countries with (legitimate or not) paranoia about their opponents such as Iran or North Korea vs. the United States).His historical revisionism about World War II atomic bombings in particular is less worthwhile.


I'm glad books like this get published

by M. Fulkerson
(5/5)

Books such as this are essential reading in my opinion.This book presents an original view, raises some great questions, and offers logical solutions. If you're well informed about wartime in the world then this book may not introduce you to anything you don't already know. But if you think that war happens simply because there are bad guys somewhere else, I urge you to read this book. Sometimes the bad guys are right in front of you!


Assessing the Reality and Consequences of Nuclear Hysteria.

by mirasreviews
(4/5)

John Mueller is swimming against the tide with "Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda". Instead of trying to heighten anxieties about whatever dreaded explosion, disease, natural disaster, or cataclysm may befall us if we don't spend unfathomable amounts of money and give up our civil liberties right now(!), Mueller is trying to calm everyone down. He tries to confront the inflammatory, and often nakedly preposterous, rhetoric of nuclear paranoia with objective analysis of what damage a nuclear bomb actually does, the history of nuclear vertical and horizontal proliferation, and the likelihood of a substate or terrorist group being able to produce a nuclear device.To this purpose, "Atomic Obsession" has three parts: "The Impact of Nuclear Weapons", in which the author examines the effects of atomic bombs and other weapons now commonly classified as "weapons of mass destruction", such as chemical, biological, and radiological weapons, and he analyzes the theory of nuclear weapons as deterrence. "The Spread of Nuclear Weapons" addresses the history of vertical proliferation (First World nations acquiring more warheads) and horizontal proliferation (more nations acquiring nuclear arsenals), emphasizing that horizontal proliferation has been far slower than predicted and examining why that is the case. "The Atomic Terrorist" attempts to objectively assess the ability of substate groups to produce an improvised nuclear device.Mueller's analyses are easy to follow, and his sharp tongue and intermittent sarcasm actually make this dry subject entertaining. Most of the content uses facts (or, indeed, the absence of facts) to combat hysterical exaggeration of the consequences and likelihood or nuclear attack. He quotes from both pro- and anti-hysteria "experts", addressing claims in a straightforward, literate fashion. He also introduces are few provocative ideas that I hadn't heard before: that fear-mongering on the part of anti-nuclear movements may have actually helped the hawks and that arms control treaties may actually make arms reduction more difficult.Mueller discusses the propaganda and the weapons, but no where does he mention that hysterical nuclear rhetoric may be just that: rhetoric, not policy. The policies of excessive spending on nuclear arms and to combat nuclear terrorism are more likely motivated by economics than any real belief in their benefit. The rhetoric is foist on a gullible public to justify the creation of jobs in the military and defense industries and, unfortunately, the occasional invasion of a foreign nation. In the 1980s, it was an attempt to facilitate the economic collapse of the Soviet Union. Mueller is trying to make the public less susceptible to the rhetoric by drawing attention to its flaws and to the costs of nuclear hysteria. In that, "Atomic Obsession" succeeds and is a surprisingly enjoyable read. But it is worth mentioning that politicians and journalists don't foster nuclear hysteria because it makes sense; they do so because they have something to gain by it. The illogic their arguments may be beside the point.


Interesting, Revisionist

by missed "mist."
(4/5)

Atomic Obsession is a fascinating look at the current and historical take on nuclear weapons. Mueller's look at the early history of the bomb is revisionist, and therefore valuable because it causes you to reconsider many conceptions about the importance of the bomb as a historical fact. His premise is that the bomb is not as important as it seems, and to be quite honest, I'm still trying to wrap my head around that.Mueller then reviews historic bomb policy and how it informs governments today as they deal with the fear or rogue nations, such as Iran, Iraq and North Korean, and terrorist organizations obtaining nuclear power. According to Mueller, it is foolish to believe that these states and organizations will get the bomb as nuclear weaponry require a tremendous amount of talent and money to maintain or build. This seems like obvious logic when you think about it, but the pundits and so-called experts like to make a huge hue and cry about it to the point where common sense is all but forgot amongst both the populace and government.Two points that Mueller doesn't make that seem obvious to me are: the US and other major powers don't want to lose the aura of nuclear weapons by having other states go nuclear; terrorists use the threat of obtaining nuclear weapons to control the major powers with fear. Had Mueller addressed these two points, I think the book would have been spot on.


Interesting Review of Atomic Issues

by Nice Lady "a reasonable person"
(5/5)

The author allays our fears. Trying to fabricate a nuclear weapon is not such a simple thing.This is an interesting and comprehensive review of atomic Issues. The author explores all these relevant aspects of our "atomic obsession" in exhaustive detail.This is an interesting study on many levels:From a literary standpoint it is well written and flows smoothly.As a historical text, the author takes us through the development and key personnel of the atomic age to the present day.From a psychological perspective, the author acknowledges that the term nuclear energies, nuclear development, nuclear bombs, etc. strike fear in many people and there is a prevalent feeling that they may all portend the end of the world. It is helpful to have someone review this subject critically and bring us into the modern age and prepare us for a possible future.This is a fascinating book and a must read for anyone interested in this subject.


An Interesting Angle on Weapons of Mass Destruction

by Nor'easter
(3/5)

The author, John Mueller, states clearly at the beginning of this book that his goal is to sooth people's fears of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. In short he mocks concerns about weapons of mass destruction. I can find interesting a book written about the realities of weapons of mass destruction (a term the author heckles) but going to the extreme Mueller does in mocking the danger of these weapons in today's world is I believe, a disservice. The author gives an awful lot of statistics and facts and it bothers me that there are no citations or references for them. I don't quite know what Mueller's agenda is- I sense there is one the reader doesn't know about but maybe he just really believes that the dangers of WMDs are highly overrated. In any event, I don't concur with the majority of this book and I found the mocking distasteful. Obviously, I had quite a few differences with the book and it was not a very enjoyable read for me. I think it is good, however, to read about a topic from a variety of angles, whether one agrees with them or not so I would still recommend this book.


"LET THEM HAVE IT"...RIGHT IN THE KISSER

by Orrin C. Judd "brothersjudddotcom"
(4/5)

The key to understanding John Mueller's intent in this book is that a laudatory cover blurb is offered by "Stephen M. Walt, author of Taming American Power." Mr. Mueller, likewise, wants to limit the exercise of American power in the world by arguing, quite rightly, that we face no realistic nuclear threat from any other nation and pretty much never have. For the sake of argument we might pretend that the USSR briefly had a worrisome nuclear capacity. But recall that after the Cold War former Soviet officials admitted that even as late as the Cuban Missile Crisis they had no capacity to engage in an exchange with us and that Daryl Press and Keir Lieber have recently written authoritatively about the nuclear supremacy we enjoy today. Mr. Mueller takes the whole matter a few steps further and shows that the weapons themselves are far less destructive and murderous than both opponents and advocates have always claimed, that possession of nuclear weapons has never served to deter enemy action, that even rogue states aren't going to use them and that terrorists aren't going to obtain them. His ultimate argument is that if the leaders of a country are determined to obtain a nuclear capacity we can blithely "let them have it." In essence, his is a call for isolationism, justified by accepting that no matter how evil the regime they aren't a realistic nuclear threat to us.Of course, his position requires that we adopt a posture of indifference not only to nuclear weapons, but to evil. After all, it is all well and good for us to sit back and relax, secure in the knowledge that North Korea is incapable of inflicting much of any harm on us. But how can any decent person justify indifference in the face of the harm the regime inflicts on its own people? Indeed, unfortunately for Mr. Mueller and his ilk, he's fatally undermined one of the most effective arguments that the non-interventionists/isolationists had going for them lo these past 6 decades, that the casualties such a regime might inflict as we were removing it make such action too risky to be worthwhile. When Mr. Mueller demonstrates that a nuclear weapon exploded in Central Park would not even destroy the surrounding buildings and that the release of nuclear materials around Chernobyl had no deleterious health effects on the surrounding population, he is accidentally making a powerful case for our dropping a bomb on a Politburo meeting.The value of this book is that it demythologizes nuclear weapons, speaks rationally about their military limitations, and obviates any notion that we need fear having them used against us. But, where the book is meant to get us to turn a blind eye to the attempts of evil regimes to obtain such weapons, it instead turns up the pressure on us to remove these regimes entire, since it can be done with so little risk and at so little cost.


Countering the Atomic Fear Factor

by Orville B. Jenkins "Research Guy"
(4/5)

The full title of this book is Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda. This was a challenging and very interesting work. The writer reviews every aspect of atomic weapons, their production and presence and the question of proliferation. The overwhelming findings he presents here are surprising.Mueller's premise is that there is not actually a constant and present danger that atomic weapons will be used, even by terrorists. Because all the prominent viewpoints we hear are just short of hysteria in the fear that some rogue nation or individual terrorist organization will destroy cities or nations, this was a challenging perspective. He details the practical and economic factors involved, to determine that more destruciton can be accomplished with current conventional weapons, much cheaper, mitigating against the desire to go the atomic direction.I was wary at first and was suspicious of the underlying perspective. He is not a fear monger, but rather trying to dispel the fear fostered among the public by the US government and some circles in the scientific community. But I found this a highly reflective and reasoned volume, not a radicalized diatribe. As I continued to read, I realized this writer has done on-0the-spot research over a long period. He quotes not only from technical studies, but includes many public pronouncements and discussions from various government personnel, and includes quotes from his own interviews with insiders on the science and politics sides of the question of atomic weapons and their proliferation.Great detail and statistics, reports and quotes from all kinds of scientists and government officials are organized here to present the picture of how minimal the chances are of anyone actually using an atomic bomb. The cost of care, maintenance and security, besides the sophistication of production facilities, means even governments will have trouble affording production. One bomb is not much good, so the cost of a whole arsenal is involved.One of the interesting perspectives he provides is the many negative consequences for using them that mitigate the value of using them. He takes a historical perspective going period by period form the beginning of the atomic age. Very thoughtful study.He includes evaluation of the possibilities terrorists might use one on the US or other place, and cites a mountain of facts and analyses that indicate it is so expensive and the atomic explosions are actually so ineffective, plus the logistics of getting and actually making it, that the chances are basically nil. An interesting balance to the fear hype we hear so much, especially in the Bush administration. Still some of that around in this administration.


Nuclear weapons aren't all they're cracked up to be

by Paula L. Craig
(5/5)

I have often been puzzled by the tremendous overreaction in the US to the 9/11 attacks. Sure, it was horrible, but the number of people directly affected just wasn't that huge (terrorism is a long way from being a major cause of death in the US). The media carry on about North Korea and Iran getting the Bomb as if it meant the end of the world. I found Mueller's book to be a breath of fresh air. Mueller makes it clear that, as weapons go, nuclear bombs are a waste of time and money. For the cost of a nuclear bomb, a country could purchase a tremendous number of conventional bombs--and those conventional bombs would be perfectly capable of causing more destruction than the nuclear bomb could. On top of that, conventional bombs are a lot easier to clean up after.I work fairly close to the Pentagon, so the thought of becoming a nuclear casualty has crossed my mind. I had heard in the past that nuclear bombs required no more technical expertise than an ordinary physics graduate student would possess. Mueller makes it clear that isn't true. Nuclear weapons are quite tricky to build; not at all the sort of thing that a group of terrorists without the backing of a wealthy state is likely to be able to do. Yes, the risk of my being killed by a nuclear weapon is not zero and never will be. But it's close to zero.Highly recommended.


Don't worry be happy! The best 3 star book you will ever buy!

by Peter Ingemi
(3/5)

Atomic Obsession is a book that produces contradictions. It manages to both make its case and miss its mark at the same time.The strongest points of the book are the scientific, the evaluation of the actual damage the atomic bomb. In terms of quantitative terms he is right on the money. His evaluation of the kinds of damage an actual terrorist attack would do to the country is also pretty sober and should be required reading for those seized in panic.His evaluation of the actual difficulties involved for either a rogue nation or a terrorist organization is also pretty good. In particular his 20 tasks that a terrorist has to accomplish in order to deliver the bomb is first rate and I certainly hope our foes ignore his cost benefit analysis on some of these issues.The book gets weaker when it deals with certain historical and political situations. He tends toward historical revisionism in dealing with Japan and WW II and this points on the fallacy of panic over nuclear war and the soviet threat during the cold war comes chiefly through hindsight, yet he fails to notes the failures in hindsight of those who assured us that the Soviets were strong and here to stay.His ignorance of the Soviet Unions involvement "Nuclear Freeze" movement is horrifying. Yet his information on Chemical and biological war in history are again must reads, as he soberly takes a look at them in their historical context. He gives both Reagan and Cheney some of their due and he does correctly state that rouge nations will often use the "nuclear" threat to get financial and political advantage, yet he also totally discounts the religious motivation that makes some actors less than rational today.What I think he really undersells however is the truth that a lot of the reason why these things have failed has been the "obsessive" efforts to prevent them. The attention and the training that this threat, however small, has been given has not only discouraged those who would attempt it but has also led to the capture and neutralization of lesser deadly threats.In short his book could just as surely be an advice book to our foes against the allure of Nuclear attack as it is warning us of panic and a poor use of resources. As we have more resources the status quo would seem to be better as their resources represent a larger percentage of what they can spare than ours ever will.To sum up on basic facts he is excellent, on political points and historical revision not so well. The odd thing is I don't think the author was trying to be ideological at all, in fact reading the book it is impossible to think that it was deliberate.I've never had such a hard time rating a book. The book is so well written and the parts that are correct are SO good that it is a must read, but the parts that are wrong are just so wrong I can't believe the same author wrote them! I think this author should go on the road with his critics debating these issues a lot of good would come of it.My judgment: There are too many issues with this book to give it more than 3 starts, but it is worth buying due to the important arguments that should not be ignored.


A Proliferation of Mass Deception & Fear-Mongering/Hyperbole of Pundits

by R. A. Barricklow "Scaramouche"
(5/5)

An OUTSTANDING work of scholarship with meticulous research that expertly defuses the fear-mongering bombs of pseudoscientific pundits. At long last many readers will be able to get the real facts and decide for themselves the true state of affairs when it comes to the questions of nuclear proliferation/detonation. From in-depth analysis of worst-case terrorist scenerios to Russian thermonulclear war, the author covers everything you've thought of and didn't think of. He even delves into the five suitcase bombs that showed up on Fox's Television 24; where one sadly went off in Valencia, California, at 9:58:o7 a.m.; fortunately all others were disarmed & recovered! What detail! He leaves nothing on the table! This is consistent throughout his fine work. And, it is entertaining!The book is composed of three parts, each relating to the other, but also completly independent. Part One examines nuclear weapons and the influences they have had throughout the world, from its beginning to now. Part Two accesses these effects in-depth. Part Three was my favorite: the examination of the atomic terrorist nightmare/propaganda - especially since 9/11.The grand legacy of impending doom has at long last been debunked! Unfortunately, mainsteam news will incessantly continue with their declamations to the contrary; but those in the know will be able to pick apart their arguements like kindergartners running through their A,B,C's.What I found most distasteful was some of our so-called leader's "feeding nuclear frenzy". For instance, General Tommy Frank's saying that a massive cassualty-producing event somewhere in the western world could well cause the American popualtion to question our own constitution and begin to militarize our country, or Michael Ignatieff saying that a cowed populace will demand tyranny be imposed on it.If there is an incident, then the ONLY way it could possibly happen is: another "inside job".HIGHLY RECOMMENDED !!!!!


A liberal's view on world's nuclear proliferation

by Rama Rao "Rama"
(2/5)

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is getting more dangerous than ever since Islamic nations such as Pakistan have acquired nuclear weapons, and Iran is on the verge of making one. The author also provides evidences for the moral and material support for Al Qaeda by Pakistani army and Pakistani physicists to help the Islamic terrorists to acquire these weapons. In spite of these disturbing reports, the author suggests that the fear over the use of such weapons is exaggerated, and our worries are unjustified. He observes that nuclear weapons have never been used since WWII despite the fact that a number of countries have them in their arsenal; hence we need not worry so much! The author's rush to this judgment is incorrect, because until now no Islamic nation possessed a nuclear weapon, but now one country has that, and another has acquired this technology. That means the whole dynamics changes. Since much of academics in universities and colleges are on the left; such a liberal bias is not unexpected.The book is described in three parts. In the first part, the author argues that inventing nuclear weapons was a terrible waste of human talent, money, effort and a national tragedy, since a possible WWIII could be averted without them. The author argues that nations would have feared disastrous effects of even a conventional war let alone a nuclear war. The author has a short memory; ending of cold war between the two super powers, Libya's voluntary surrendering of nuclear program after Iraq war and the drone attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists in Pakistani territory have worked because US has nuclear weapons. The use of atomic bomb against Japan prevented further escalations of WWII.The second part describes nuclear proliferation among nations and asserts that this tragedy was based on the wrong ideology that weapons and the arms race cause war, and not people; and militarily these weapons are useless since they are difficult to obtain, and never been used except for once. This sounds like an argument of a defeatist and an apologist, since he continues his argument by saying that chemical, biological and nuclear weapons (called weapons of mass destruction (WMD)) are a hysterical fear-mongering, because the damage of WMD in an actual war is not so far and wide as claimed. The author must tell this to a chemist or a biologist or even a physician; they will tell him the disastrous effect of radiation on the environment and on all living species. It is catastrophic even to think of such consequences.The last part is the most interesting part since it discusses how terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and other rogue Islamic nations are trying to acquire these weapons, and how successful they are in producing them. The author provides a wide ranging reports that involves interactions between Pakistani nuclear physicists and Al Qaeda with the blessings of Pakistani military. It is the fear of United States retaliating against Pakistan that has prevented them to assist Al Qaeda and possibly Taliban. The author's analysis is jokingly simplistic and makes a mockery of seriousness of the issue. He claims that Al Qaeda can never be able to produce or acquire nuclear weapons; I hope the author's dream come true.1.Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them2.The Remnants of War (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs)


Required reading

by R. Murphy
(5/5)

What a fascinating book! John Mueller has a wonderful ability to take the layperson through a highly complicated and nuanced issue without dumbing things down, and at the same time showing wonderful scholarship. "Nuclear Obsession" really challenged a lot of my preconceived notions and assumptions, and I'm so delighted that I read this. A great piece of persuasive and informative non-fiction, *everyone* should read this!


Does "atomaphobia" paralyze Americans?

by Roger D. Launius
(4/5)

Nuclear proliferation has long been a major issue in post-World War II strategic thought and security affairs. The U.S. seems obsessed with controlling the number of nuclear weapons and who has them. All the while countries both allied and competitors, as well as non-state actors that might be threats seek to obtain them. We are consumed with fears of nuclear weapons in North Korea, Iran, and other nations; even more so in the hands of terrorists. Should we have the "atomaphobia" to quite the degree present in public discourse?John Mueller, a specialist in national security affairs on the faculty of Ohio State University, argues in "Atomic Obsession" that while the issues are real the realities of the issues are less dire than we might normally be led to believe. The first of his three part study explores the impact of nuclear weapons on world affairs since 1945. He finds that the effects of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are no doubt serious but that their use would not nearly serve up the Armageddon that has been envisioned. He thinks they have proven to be more significant as deterrents than as useful weapons on the battlefield. They are "messy," cannot be contained, and have many drawbacks to use, according to Mueller. That explains why they have not been utilized in any of the crises between nations in which one or both of the actors have possessed them. Their devastating effects have been persistently overstated, largely for purposes of deterrence, he insists, and their influence on international relations since World War II has been modest. All the while Mueller seeks to make the case that while their presence is not helpful he recognizes their destructive potential. In reading this, I am reminded of the George C. Scott character, General "Buck" Turgidson from "Dr. Strangelove" when he said about a nuclear exchange with the Soviets: "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops!"John Mueller's second section deals with issues of proliferation of nuclear arms. He argues that proliferation, while it has taken place, has not been the devastating issue that many envisioned. States holding such weapons have remained responsible overall in the threat of their use and arms races, the growing nuclear club, arms control efforts, and monitoring a control have all been overstated. He argues for a rational approach to North Korea and Iran, the current bugaboos of nuclear proliferation. For instance, he notes, "In the end, if Iran actually does develop something of an atomic arsenal, it will likely find, following the experience of all other states so armed in the `nuclear age,' that the bombs are essentially useless and a very considerable waste of money and effort" (p. 155).The final section of this book deals with "The Atomic Terrorist" so much in the news in the post 9/11 era. Mueller does not minimize the potential for destruction of terrorists, and their effect on the U.S. with the 9/11 attacks speak to that reality, but he does suggest that fears of nuclear annihilation at the hands of terrorists are overblown and irrational. In some cases they were fomented for purely political ends and have more in common with propaganda than any reality-based analysis. He draws out what he considers "the difficulties confronting the atomic terrorist." He adds: "Thus far, terrorist groups seem to have exhibited only limited desire and even less progress in going atomic. This may be because, after brief exploration of the possible routes to go atomic, they, unlike generations of armed pundits, have discovered that the tremendous effort required is scarcely likely to be successful" (p. 163). Mueller then walks through all of these problems, painting a portrait of near impossibility.Mueller's effort, of course, is to counter the extravagant rhetoric associated with suitcase bombs, terrorists on motor boats with nukes, etc. The author seeks to counteract this, while still making way for diplomatic negotiations and arms control efforts. As Mueller concludes: "In the end, it appears to me that, whatever their impact on activist rhetoric, strategic theorizing, defense budgets, and political posturing, nuclear weapons have had at best a quite limited effect on history, have been a substantial waste of money and effort, do not seem to have been terribly appealing to most states that do not have them, are out of reach for terrorists, and are unlikely to materially shape much in our future. Sleep well" (p. 239).I hope John Mueller is right. I want to believe him, and his case is convincing. Right or not, national security hawks will not accept his arguments. Only time will tell. But what if he is wrong?


A well argued though flawed discussion of Nuclear weapons.

by S. Lawrenz "Lendorien"
(3/5)

Atomic Obsession poses the question, "Are nuclear weapons as awful as we think they are?"Author Mueller takes a nonconformist view on the matter and at times can be quite convincing. He answers with a resounding no in this book, and he argues that the United States has wasted a great deal of energy, money and resources obsessing on a threat that truly was minor.Atomic Obsession is a well written book with a great deal of factual information on the weapons and their destructiveness. He makes some strong points about the exaggerated view of the lethality of nuclear weapons the public consciousness has, as well as the fact that the fear of the weapons actually makes countries want them simply for the fear factor.The main problem I have with this book is that much of his arguments rely on historical cases. Yet, his book is written in hindsight and with knowledge that might not have been fully available to the historical participants. Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes. At the time, one's vision is often not nearly as clear. His failure to recognize this substantially weakens his arguments at times.For example, while Professor Mueller talks a lot about how a lot of a doomsday predictions on nuclear war and World War ended up being silly, he doesn't touch on the possibility that maybe the predictions never came to happen because of the fear that they might.It's like when a person fireproofs their house because they're afraid of having a fire. Is the fact that their house didn't burn down proof that their fears were irrational, or was it because their fears made them take actions to prevent a fire that it didn't happen?Perhaps Nuclear War didn't happen because leaders were afraid of what might happen if it did. Professor Mueller totally ignores this argument, using knowledge gathered in hindsight as proof that he is correct.Furthermore, when talking about modern day terrorism and countries like Iran, he fails to take into account that radical religious extremism does not necessarily think about things in a rational manner. When people believe things due to Faith, expecting them to act rationally from a secular point of view just won't work.I was also bothered by Professor Mueller's arguments on the use of the bomb on Japan. He repeats the revisionist claim that the bomb had no impact on the outcome. This is an argument that has been raging for years and no-one has conclusively proven that Japan surrendered only because of Russia's declaration of war. Indeed, there has been a great deal of research that says that the bomb DID have an impact. To state outright that it did not is overstating the case and not 100% provable.Overall, I found this book definitely worth a read because of the wealth of information about the bomb as well as his sober analysis of the realities of it. It is a bit reassuring to read some of what he writes because apparently we're not really going to be able to shatter the world with our bombs. Still, his arguments, while in part quite probably correct in points, have logical holes and his use of historical hindsight seriously undermines his central thesis.


Atomaphobia No More!

by sneaky-sneaky
(4/5)

In a scant 240 pages, John Mueller handily debunks the decades-old hysteria surrounding nuclear weapons. He opens with a worst-case scenario, the use of a Hiroshima-sized weapon in a U.S. city, and the few blocks of destruction that would entail if it were detonated at ground level. The use of such a device would be a horrible tragedy, but it would cause far more psychological damage than physical. Mueller reaches the sound conclusion that the only country with the power to destroy America is America itself, as could be correctly concluded from the WMD handwringing that initially led us into Iraq, a message later mysteriously transformed into a blow for democracy and the unseating of tyranny. What has kept many of our leaders up at night for the past few years is apparently the specter of nuclear terrorism, and Mueller neatly lays out the serious obstacles such a venture would entail. Developing an atomic weapon took Pakistan 27 years, and most countries having developed them have found nuclear weapons to be expensive and useless, as did Israel when it was attacked in 1973 despite its nuclear arsenal, later realizing that the 10% of its budget consumed by nuclear weapons could have been far better spent on conventional ones. Mr. Mueller also delves into the likelihood of terrorists purchasing ready-made nukes, and the loose suitcase-nuke rumors. Countries such as Pakistan keep their weapons disassembled in separate and secure locations with compartmentalized knowledge regarding assembly and security procedures. Arcane combinations of temperature, pressure, and humidity are part of the tiggering process, and any misguided attempt to use these weapons would result in a non-nuclear self destruct. Suitcase nukes were developed before 1991, require maintenance (as do all nuclear weapons) and had a lifespan of about three years before they became "radioactive piles of scrap," so there are probably none left in the world. There are also the purely pragmatic considerations of selling nukes, there is no guarantee that a state selling a weapon would not be the victim of it, and the development of nuclear forensics ensures that the source of the fissile material would become known. The 'nuclear cascade' argument has also gone on for decades, "If [insert country name] gets the bomb it will set off a regional nuclear arms race." A current favorite is Iran, if they get the bomb then Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Jordan will want it too. There is also the assertion that a nuclear nation will become a regional hegemon able to blackmail other states. Israel has had the bomb for decades without spurring any kind of regional nuke-off, and threatened countries are likely to band together in the face of bullying, as they did against Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait, and any country engaging in nuclear blackmail could surely be deterred by the thousands of nuclear weapons the U.S. still possesses. In the same years that dire forecasts over the spread of nuclear weapons have been made, as many countries have departed the nuclear club as have joined it; South Africa and Libya, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus have all given up weapons they sensibly found to be expensive and useless. At the end of his book John Mueller urges us to "sleep well" as nuclear alarmism has mostly been pleading by the M-I complex in order to fund itself, various doomsday authors moving paper, and politicians basking in headlines. The commonly accepted existential threats to our nation that are posed by nuclear weapons are fallacies.


Atomic Obsesion

by S. Robbins "talking to a tortoise"
(3/5)

This book deals with the questions of nuclear weapons from their inception to the present. Having grown up in a world where our culture has revolved around the threat of a nuclear war, I was eager to learn more about the subject. After reading it I have real mixed feelings about this book. I was drawn to the title, one of the great titles in my opinion. So what is it about the book that gives me mixed feelings? Is it a bad book, no, in fact in many ways it is a great book. So lets break it down into what I liked.First, this book will make you think. Second, this book provides information sources that a US writer doesn't often use, particularly information from Russian and Israeli intelligence services. Third, this book is very comprehensive in dealing with the topic.Now, what I didn't like.First, it is a textbook, John Mueller, the author, is a university professor. I liked that the book was scholarly, but it was heavy reading and I'm more into reading for my entertainment. Second, the book raises lot's of questions, gives both sides of the debate, but often doesn't end with an answer, some may not agree because Mueller does take us down some roads of thought that seem to have an ending, but in the end there is always some doubt.My recommendation, read this book if you're very interested in the topic, it was slow reading for me and sometimes redundant.


Don't worry about nuclear terrorism, be happy?

by Tung Yin
(4/5)

Ohio State professor John Mueller has his work cut out for him: in the post-9/11 world, with North Korea and Iran working toward developing nuclear weapons, and with al Qaeda's Osama bin laden and Ayman al-Zawahari still hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan somewhere, no doubt plotting against us, Mueller argues in "Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to al-Qaeda" that nuclear weapons are expensive, largely useless, and virtually impossible for terrorists to steal or build.He develops his analysis in three parts. Part 1 looks at the actual effect of nuclear weapons and, along the way, points out that the casual lumping of chemical and biological weapons with nuclear ones into a category of "weapons of mass destruction" is something of a hysterical overreaction; conventional weapons (bullets, bombs) are far more effective at killing than chemical or biological weapons, and thus it doesn't really make sense to classify the latter with nuclear weapons. He's very persuasive on this point. As for nuclear weapons, they're bad, but Mueller explains why the detonation of one or even two atomic bombs wouldn't destroy the country. In short, we shouldn't overestimate the damage that a nuclear weapon would cause.In Part 2, he turns his attention to history and suggests that nuclear weapons have played very little role in international politics and diplomacy, apart from wasting colossal resources and talent. He suggests that Japan would have surrendered even without the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, points out that Argentina had no qualms about starting the Falkland Islands war with Britain despite the latter's nuclear arsenal, and argues that anti-proliferation efforts have largely failed (and if anything, pushed rogue nations toward developing nuclear weapons). Since nukes are generally useless and expensive, he finds it not surprising that countries like Canada, Japan, and others -- which could easily have them if they wanted -- haven't bothered with them.Finally, in Part 3, Mueller suggests that we spend far too much time obsessing about what will happen if/when al Qaeda gets a hold of a nuke, and far little time thinking about how unlikely this is. Getting a nuclear nation to give up a nuke is pretty unrealistic, he argues, because no one is going to want to be identified as the nation that armed terrorists. His argument here depends critically on what he calls "nuclear forensics" -- the ability to identify where a nuclear weapon that has exploded came from. Expecting terrorists to build their own atomic bomb while hiding out in caves is silly, he contends as well.I found this a VERY comforting book to read, for obvious reasons. It's well-argued and written with a bit of wit (example: "There is something decidedly worse than being a disgruntled Russian scientist, and that is being a dead disgruntled Russian scientist."), so that it's a fast read despite the weight of the ideas. At the same time, while this book *should* be persuasive, it didn't quite close the deal for me. First, I'll admit that it's hard to feel at ease about nuclear terrorism, because even if it's a very small chance, it seems like a really bad outcome; Mueller can argue effectively that it's virtually zero probability, but still, it's not zero. Now, his point is that we shouldn't let near zero probabilities dictate our policies, and that at least is persuasive.However, Mueller also relies on the nuclear forensics, yet says that this field is still developing. If it doesn't develop enough -- or if nuclear states don't know about it or don't believe it -- or worse yet, simply aren't rational, then there's no guarantee that deterrence will continue to work.So, the upshot is, this is a very important book to read, as it's swimming against the tides. You'll feel better, even if, like me, you aren't fully persuaded.


The Main Thing We Have to Fear May Be Fear Itself.

by watzizname "watzizname"
(5/5)

Professor Mueller argues very convincingly that fears of things nuclear, such as nuclear proliferation or nuclear terrorism or nuclear war, are exceedingly overblown. Not that atomic weapons aren't fearsome, and not that nuclear proliferation, terrorism, or war are impossible; they aren't. But the dire predictions of wholesale or cascading proliferation, leading inevitably and quickly (generally "within the next decade") to nuclear war, have not come to pass. Not by 1960, not by 1970, not by 1980, not by 1990, not by 2000. And the chance of it happening before 2010 is diminishing sharply each day, with less than 20 days remaining at this writing.Mueller lists some 29 reasons (on pp. 239-239) why those dire predictions haven't come true. His third listed point highlights perhaps the most effective reason:"Militarily, the weapons have proved to be useless and a very substantial waste of money and of scientific and technical talent: there never seem to have been militarily compelling reasons to use them, particularly because of an inability to identify suitable targets or ones that could not be attacked about as effectively by conventional munitions."Somehow, the opportunity to spend huge sums of money to get a weapon of little or no practical value has not turned out to be as irresistible as predicted. Apparently, even most politicians would rather spend thousands for weapons they can use than trillions for weapons they can't.As for the `danger' of atomic terrorism, Mueller points out that no nation that has atomic weapons is likely to hand one over to terrorists (he gives, in detail, the reasons why), and no terrorist group is likely to have or be able to obtain the competency to either steal one (and get away with it) or to build their own (again, he details the reasons why). Mueller concludes:"Sensible, cost-effective policies designed to make that possibility even lower may be justified, given the damage that can be inflicted by an atomic explosion. But unjustified, obsessive alarmism about the likelihood and imminence of atomic terrorism has had policy consequences that have been costly and unnecessary."On one point Mueller is on doubtful ground. "The antiproliferation war there [Iraq] that began with military invasion in 2003 has inflicted deaths that may well run into the hundreds of thousands. This costly venture sprang PRIMARILY from the atomic obsession." [emphasis added] Mueller ignores the considerable evidence that antiproliferation was the pretext, not the real reason, for the war (the real reason being oil). And even that pretext, like all the other `reasons' cited for going to war, turned out to be a lie. But that still supports Mueller's point about unjustified alarmism, without which Bush's lie would not have had the desired effect of panic leading to war.watziznayme@gmail.com


This should be required reading for everyone with power or influence.

by Zendicant Penguin "Zendicant Penguin"
(5/5)

Wow, finally a book that takes a cool-headed look at the 'problem' of nuclear proliferation and the liklihood of a terrorist organization getting its hands on a nuclear bomb.Anyone born after 1945 has been groomed to act hysterically in the face of any perceived nuclear threat. Although it was shut down some years ago (only to be re-started with another fear-inducing purpose), most of us are familiar with the 'doomsday clock' that ominously warned us that we were metaphorically five minutes away from nuclear armageddon. Closer in time the USA recently used the prospect of Iraq's nuclear threat as a prop in its orchestration of the events that gave it permission to invade. What these two have in common is a syndrome that the author of this fine book meticulously examines in this book: The knee-jerk paranoia surrounding nuclear weapons, or 'Nuclear Alarmism'.To do so Mr. Mueller engages in a point by point examination of the problem by not only discussing everything from the likely dimensions of a nuclear explosion and scope of damage one may encompass, to the steps necessary to assemble a nuclear device, but also tackling the political ramifications of either developing or disseminating a nuclear bomb.The conclusions he reaches and persuasively conveys to the audience are 1) the nuclear threat is overblown; 2) that it is virtually impossible for a non-state actor to obtain a weapon; 3) it would be suicidal for a nation state to supply nuclear weapons to a third party; 40 that the amount of resources necessary to obtain a nuclear bomb beggars the economy of any but the wealthiest nations; 5) that obtaining one doesn't reap any rewards anyway, (it being a classic value trap "So I spent all this money, now what am I going to do with it?"); 6) the possession of a nuclear bomb has not caused non-nuclear nations from standing up to a possessor country e.g. US-Vietnam War, Vietnam-China war, Russia-Chechny war. Argentina-UK war, and more aptly, Iraq and Afghanistan v. USA (H'mmm, perhaps instead of fixating on a supposed nuclear weapons threat we should be examining how it is that men wearing nothing more than sandals, dresses, and twists of rag on their heads are able to take on the mightiest military on the face of the earth?).Mueller's discussion is long overdue for, we here in the United States have been assaulted by the hysterical, when not cynical,fear-mongering of our political actors for far longer than an honest nation should have to endure, without any quantifiable corresponding good.Reading this book will doubtless leave a reasonable person feeling much better about the so-called nuclear threat and the nonprospects of a nuclear armed terrorist, and also feeling a bit peeved at the recent somewhat ignominious results of contriving a nuclear threat out of whole cloth and then acting to destroy it.On the other hand, one could make the argument that creating paranoid fear in the general public goes a long way toward suppressing the desire to nuclearly proliferate, as it were, so there is an argument to be made that, although cynical nuclear alarmism does serve a public purpose. The question is whether this public purpose has any effect at all upon so-called rogue nations?My only criticism of this book is that it reads, at times, like a college paper, making the same points over and again. The reason for this doubtless is to fill space. I'd have been happy to have the same book wrote shorter, if you knows what I means.


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