Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race

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Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race

By Richard Rhodes
Knopf, 2007
400 pp. $28.95

Following first-rate histories of the making of the atomic and hydrogen bombs, this latest in Rhodes' accounts of the nuclear age comes as something of a disappointment. Part of the problem is that Rhodes is on a well-trodden path, and although there is always a new vignette to be told, this story has many more strands and lacks focus. Rhodes offers just the bare bones of the early nuclear decades so that he can concentrate on the endgame of the Cold War. He focuses, in particular, on the events of 1986, with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April and the Reykjavik summit in November, when Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan seriously discussed nuclear abolition. (Rhodes takes this to be a missed opportunity.) He writes well, and there are some telling passages, but instead of concentrating on getting the history right, Rhodes allows his own prejudices to shine through.

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