In This Review
Norman Cousins: Peacemaker in the Atomic Age

Norman Cousins: Peacemaker in the Atomic Age

By Allen Pietrobon

Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022, 440 pp.

In August 1945, 12 days after learning of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Norman Cousins, the American editor of the small circulation Saturday Review of Literature, wrote a forceful essay titled “Modern Man Is Obsolete,” describing his fear of “forces man can neither channel nor comprehend.” The essay gained attention and set Cousins on his path as a passionate yet wily anti-nuclear campaigner. Despite his zealous opposition to nuclear weapons, he never played down the dangers of Soviet communism or shunned the policy-makers responsible for developing and maintaining the United States’ nuclear arsenal. Whether in raising money to treat Japanese women disfigured by the atomic bombs or in warning about the dangers of fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests, he pursued his campaigns with flair. He gained access to political and religious leaders. U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower was sympathetic to but not indulgent of Cousins. President John F. Kennedy found him a useful go-between with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in pushing forward a partial test ban treaty. Cousins even provided a draft for Kennedy’s famously dovish American University speech of June 1963. As a sympathetic biographer, Pietrobon does a good job of describing how Cousins’s combination of deep moral convictions and political pragmatism managed to make such an impact.