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Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race Paperback – November 4, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This is the third volume in a history of nuclear weaponry that began with the award-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but despite its subtitle, this installment might also be described as a chronicle of the unmaking of the arms race. Paralleling the careers of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, Rhodes builds up to a detailed account of the 1986 Reykjavik summit, at which the two leaders—both eager to achieve peace—nearly came to an agreement on eliminating their nuclear arsenals, before the accord, he says, was sabotaged by then-assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle. The insistence of Perle and other advisers that the U.S. required a strong deterrent against the Soviet Union is held up for particular contempt. There has never been a realistic military justification for accumulating large, expensive stockpiles of nuclear arms, Rhodes argues. Far from keeping America strong, decades of nuclear arms production have seriously eroded the nation's domestic infrastructure and diminished its citizens' quality of life, he believes. The clarity of the historical record reinforces Rhodes's fiercely held political convictions, ensuring widespread attention as he returns to this critically and commercially successful subject. (Oct. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Richard Rhodes digs deep into the workings of the Cold War to explain how and why, between 1949 and 1991, apocalyptic nuclear war could easily have occurredâ€"and how and why it was avoided. Through dramatic narrative and readable prose, Rhodes reveals the disjointed policies, bureaucratic infighting, and paranoia that marked this era, while profiling Soviet and American leaders (including Richard Perle, who nearly derailed the summit talks). Rhodes portrays Gorbachev, who advocated mutual security, as the era’s hero; Reagan, while sympathetic, comes across as more naïve. While a few critics noted some sections of the book as repetitive and slow and others described Rhodes’s first two volumes as more magisterial, Arsenals of Folly provides an important, timely lesson: the cost of the nuclear arms race was a waste of resources, Rhodes concludes, and since then, there has been "no reasonable gain in security."

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375713948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375713941
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Rhodes is the author of 25 works of history, fiction and letters. He's a Kansas native, a father and grandfather. His book The Making of the Atomic Bomb won a Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction, a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award. He lectures widely on subjects related to his books, which run the gamut from nuclear history to the story of mad cow disease to a study of how people become violent to a biography of the 19th-century artist John James Audubon. His latest book is Hell and Good Company, about the people and technologies of the Spanish Civil War. His website is

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes jumps back into the fire of nuclear physics with his latest book "Arsenals of Folly: The Making of The Nuclear Arms Race". Here Rhodes tackles the history of the nuclear arms race from the explosion of "Joe" the first Soviet atomic bomb to the arms escalation and he documents how close we have come on a number of occasions to use these weapons of mass destruction. To give a better overview of the time Rhodes also focuses on the various peace treaties, the development of "Star Wars" (no, not the movie)and Reagan's obsession with trying to engage Gorbachov in trying to defuse the arms race.

Beginning with the accident at Chernobyl in 1986 and covering the history of both the United States and Russia as they became involved in their nuclear war dance throughout the latter part of the 20th century, Rhodes uses information demonstrating that the disinformation that we've seen within government recently to shape public opinion has been going on for the last 40 years (big surprise!) creating circumstances that allowed the arms race to escalate out of control. Rhodes begins with Chernobyl (later covering the history of detente and the roles of various presidents before Reagan and Gorbachov sat down to try and rid the world of nuclear arms)because the plant itself was designed to do dual duty as both a reactor and a source of plutonium for weapons. The accident changed Gorbachov's perspective on the destruction that could result from a nuclear device simply because the damage to the environment and human life from Chernobyl was life a small nuclear device going off. This opened the way for more open and honest discussion on how to reduce the world's nuclear arsenal.
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38 of 47 people found the following review helpful By R. C Sheehy on January 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I was very interested in reading this book and when I saw the title I must admit I was very excited and looked forward to what I expected would be a history of the development of the nuclear arms race. Where this book went wrong in my opinion, was that it focused exclusively on the end of the Cold War. That would have been fine but the book spoke of the making of the arms race and instead focused on its conclusion.

The book begins promisingly enough with a compelling account of the Chernobyl disaster, but then it becomes a repeat of various memoirs from various members of the Regan administration and Mikhail Gorbachev. Unlike the two previous book, Rhodes does not do a great job of synthesizing the information and presenting it as its own. This seems to be nothing more than reheated left overs.

The far more promising concept and what Rhodes fans were expecting was a history of the development of Nuclear Weapons, far more history on the SALT and START talks and the development of delivery vehicles. The background history of the poor state of the Soviet economy was very good and more attention should have been placed on it, but sadly that was focused on details of the Geneva meeting place.

All in all this was a tough read and for certain is the third of Richard Rhodes three books on the development of the nuclear arms race.
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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Curious Wavefunction VINE VOICE on October 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Rhodes is perhaps the foremost nuclear historian of our time. His past two books (among many others on extremely varied subjects) on the making of the atomic and hydrogen bombs are landmark historical studies. But as readers of those books would know, they were much more than nuclear histories. They were riveting epic chronicles of war and peace, science and politics in the twentieth century and human nature. In both books, Rhodes discussed in detail other issues, such as the Soviet bomb effort and Soviet espionage in the US.

In this book which can be considered the third installment in his nuclear histories (a fourth and final one is also due), Rhodes takes a step further and covers the arms race from the 1950s onwards. He essentially proceeds where he left off, and discusses the maddening arms buildups of the 60s, 70s and 80s. One of the questions our future generations are going to ask is; why do we have such a monstrous legacy of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the earth many times over? The answer cannot be deterrence because much fewer would have sufficed for that. How did we inherit this evil of our times?

Much of the book is devoted to answering this question, and the answer is complex. It involves a combination of paranoia generated by ignorance of what the other side was doing, but more importantly threat inflation engendered by hawks in government who used the Soviet threat as a political selling point in part to further their own aims and careers.
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful By James P. Sheesley II on February 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I learned much from Rhodes's "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" and "Dark Sun", and my learning (and enjoyment, despite the subject matter) continued through the first part of the book, discussing Chernobyl. The it stopped. Rhodes served up a recap of the excellent early Cold War history from "Dark Sun" and then, rather suddenly, switched to a bone-dry diplomatic history of arms control that was neither comprehensive nor novel. At times, pages on end seemed to be little more than a transcript of Gorbachev - Reagan meetings. Riveting as those were, I'd lived through that history and can get this from the academic literature. I'd hoped for more from this great popular historian.
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