The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger

In This Review

The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger

By Jonathan Schell
Metropolitan Books, 2007
272 pp. $24.00

Now into their seventh decade, nuclear weapons should be thinking about their retirement, but, irritatingly, they seem to be full of life. Instead of expiring with the Cold War, they have found new purposes and new potential owners. Schell has been trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons since his eloquent The Fate of the Earth appeared in 1982. As the disarmament cause has now been taken up by establishment figures who would once have derided Schell's vision as utopian, it is good to have this articulate restatement of the case for abolition, along with Schell's musings on the durability of nuclear arsenals. The book opens with the standard canter through the history of the nuclear age, with a focus on the psychological hold of the weapons on policymakers ("The Bomb in the Mind"). With the Cold War over, policymakers began focusing on proliferation, but unfortunately they saw their countries' nuclear arsenals as part of the solution rather than the problem. (For this the current Bush administration receives much blame.) So the world remains in thrall to the bomb's "terror and allure," and only a determined break with the past will allow it to escape. The Seventh Decade may not be fully convincing as history or as practical politics, but it reinforces the growing sense that humankind is riding its luck -- and that addressing this deadly legacy should be as high up on the international agenda as climate change or pandemic disease.

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