In This Review

American Arsenal: A Century of Waging War
American Arsenal: A Century of Waging War
By Patrick Coffey
Oxford University Press, USA, 2014, 336 pp

Coffey, a historian of science, traces the origins of some of the most important weapons of the past century, profiling the scientists responsible for their development and the interactions between those scientists and the military officials and politicians who decided whether and how the weapons should be used. Coffey’s examples are all from U.S. military history, and they are all high-profile cases: chemical weapons (including napalm), long-range bombers and missiles, nuclear weapons, and drones. Less flashy but just as important arms, such as tanks and antitank weapons, fighter aircraft, submarines, and torpedoes, are absent. Coffey writes well, but he tells familiar stories, with the exception of his interesting account of the U.S. contribution to the development of chemical weapons. And although some of the characters in his book, such as the scientist James Conant and the air force general Curtis LeMay, make regular appearances, they do not quite hold the narrative together, and no strong themes emerge, other than a general emphasis on the importance of personalities and institutions, as well as strategy and science, in shaping the American arsenal.