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Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda [Hardcover]

by John E. Mueller
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 5, 2009 019538136X 978-0195381368 0
Ever since the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the prospect of nuclear annihilation has haunted the modern world. But as John Mueller reveals in this eye-opening, compellingly argued, and very reassuring book, our obsession with nuclear weapons is unsupported by history, scientific fact, or logic.

Examining the entire atomic era, Mueller boldly contends that nuclear weapons have had little impact on history. Although they have inspired overwrought policies and distorted spending priorities, for the most part they have proved to be militarily useless, and a key reason so few countries have taken them up is that they are a spectacular waste of money and scientific talent. Equally important, Atomic Obsession reveals why anxieties about terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons are essentially baseless: a host of practical and organizational difficulties make their likelihood of success almost vanishingly small.

Mueller, one of America's most distinguished yet provocative international relations scholars, goes even further, maintaining that our efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons have produced more suffering and violence than the bombs themselves, and that proliferation of the weapons, while not necessarily desirable, is unlikely to be a major danger or to accelerate.

"The book will certainly make you think. Added bonus: It's immensely fun to read."
--Stephen M. Walt,

"Meticulously researched and punctuated with a dry wit. Mueller deserves praise for having the guts to shout that the atomic emperor has no clothes."
--Arms Control Today

"Mueller performs an important service in puncturing some of the inflated rhetoric about nuclear weapons.... An unusual and fruitful perspective on nuclear history."
--Science Magazine

Frequently Bought Together

Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda + The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons Since 1945 (Cambridge Studies in International Relations) + Every War Must End (Columbia Classics)
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Editorial Reviews


"His witty and unmerciful intellectual attack on the doomsayers, who have been arguing for the past 50 years that rapid proliferation is just around the corner, that we stand on the brink of a new nuclear age, or that it is a few minutes to midnight, is a refreshing one."--Survival

"The narrative is liberally seasoned with striking facts and a dash of wry humour."--Times Literary Supplement

"This is both a well written book and an important scholarly contribution...Policy makers and their staffs could benefit from this piece." --Choice

"With his rare combination of wit and meticulous scholarship, John Mueller diagnoses that America is paralyzed by atomaphobia and prescribes a fifteen-chapter treatment to help us recognize that we have blown reasonable concerns about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism out of proportion and that many of our policy responses actually make things worse. Atomic Obsession is recommended bed-time reading for nervous Nellies both inside and outside of government."--Michael C. Desch, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, and author of Power and Military Effectiveness

"John Mueller's argument will almost certainly change your interpretation of some significant events of the past half-century, and likely of some expected in the next. It did with mine."--Thomas C. Schelling, 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, and author of Arms and Influence

"With clear-eyed logic and characteristic wit, John Mueller provides an antidote for the fear-mongering delusions that have shaped nuclear weapons policy for over fifty years. Atomic Obsession casts a skeptical eye on the nuclear mythology purveyed by hawks, doves, realists, and alarmists alike, and shows why nuclear weapons deserve a minor role in national security policymaking and virtually no role in our nightmares. It is the most reassuring book ever written about nuclear weapons, and one of the most enjoyable to read."--Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, and author of Taming American Power

"How much should we worry about nuclear terrorism? How far should we go to stop Iran (or North Korea) from acquiring nuclear weapons? In this fascinating and provocative book, John Mueller addresses such questions. Policymakers, scholars, students--indeed all Americans who are concerned about threats and the allocation of scarce resources--must read this volume, ponder its conclusions, and debate what now needs to be done."--Melvyn P. Leffler, Professor of History, University of Virginia, and author of For the Soul of Mankind

"...the book will certainly make you think. Added bonus: It's immensely fun to read." -- Stephen M. Walt,

"Mueller's achievement deserves admiration even by those inclined to resist his central thesis. The book is meticulously researched and punctuated with a dry wit that seems the perfect riposte to the pomposity of security experts who have so far tyrannized debate. Although by no means the last word on nuclear weapons, Mueller deserves praise for having the guts to shout that the atomic emperor has no clothes... the book should nevertheless be packaged up and sent to Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a simple message: 'Please calm down.'" --Arms Control Today

"There is much to agree with in the book. Mueller performs an important service in puncturing some of the inflated rhetoric about nuclear weapons...Mueller provides
an unusual and fruitful perspective on nuclear history." --Science Magazine

"...this book is lively and provocative and a useful corrective to much of the mainstream consensus."--Foreign Affairs

About the Author

John Mueller is the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies and Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University. He is the author of Overblown and The Remnants of War, winner of the Joseph P. Lepgold Prize for the best book on international relations in 2004, awarded by Georgetown University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (November 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019538136X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195381368
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #576,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't worry about nuclear terrorism, be happy? November 3, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Ohio State professor John Mueller has his work cut out for him: in the post-9/11 world, with North Korea and Iran working toward developing nuclear weapons, and with al Qaeda's Osama bin laden and Ayman al-Zawahari still hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan somewhere, no doubt plotting against us, Mueller argues in "Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to al-Qaeda" that nuclear weapons are expensive, largely useless, and virtually impossible for terrorists to steal or build.

He develops his analysis in three parts. Part 1 looks at the actual effect of nuclear weapons and, along the way, points out that the casual lumping of chemical and biological weapons with nuclear ones into a category of "weapons of mass destruction" is something of a hysterical overreaction; conventional weapons (bullets, bombs) are far more effective at killing than chemical or biological weapons, and thus it doesn't really make sense to classify the latter with nuclear weapons. He's very persuasive on this point. As for nuclear weapons, they're bad, but Mueller explains why the detonation of one or even two atomic bombs wouldn't destroy the country. In short, we shouldn't overestimate the damage that a nuclear weapon would cause.

In Part 2, he turns his attention to history and suggests that nuclear weapons have played very little role in international politics and diplomacy, apart from wasting colossal resources and talent.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Atomic Obsession is a book that produces contradictions. It manages to both make its case and miss its mark at the same time.

The strongest points of the book are the scientific, the evaluation of the actual damage the atomic bomb. In terms of quantitative terms he is right on the money. His evaluation of the kinds of damage an actual terrorist attack would do to the country is also pretty sober and should be required reading for those seized in panic.

His evaluation of the actual difficulties involved for either a rogue nation or a terrorist organization is also pretty good. In particular his 20 tasks that a terrorist has to accomplish in order to deliver the bomb is first rate and I certainly hope our foes ignore his cost benefit analysis on some of these issues.

The book gets weaker when it deals with certain historical and political situations. He tends toward historical revisionism in dealing with Japan and WW II and this points on the fallacy of panic over nuclear war and the soviet threat during the cold war comes chiefly through hindsight, yet he fails to notes the failures in hindsight of those who assured us that the Soviets were strong and here to stay.

His ignorance of the Soviet Unions involvement "Nuclear Freeze" movement is horrifying. Yet his information on Chemical and biological war in history are again must reads, as he soberly takes a look at them in their historical context. He gives both Reagan and Cheney some of their due and he does correctly state that rouge nations will often use the "nuclear" threat to get financial and political advantage, yet he also totally discounts the religious motivation that makes some actors less than rational today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nuclear weapons aren't all they're cracked up to be January 2, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I have often been puzzled by the tremendous overreaction in the US to the 9/11 attacks. Sure, it was horrible, but the number of people directly affected just wasn't that huge (terrorism is a long way from being a major cause of death in the US). The media carry on about North Korea and Iran getting the Bomb as if it meant the end of the world. I found Mueller's book to be a breath of fresh air. Mueller makes it clear that, as weapons go, nuclear bombs are a waste of time and money. For the cost of a nuclear bomb, a country could purchase a tremendous number of conventional bombs--and those conventional bombs would be perfectly capable of causing more destruction than the nuclear bomb could. On top of that, conventional bombs are a lot easier to clean up after.

I work fairly close to the Pentagon, so the thought of becoming a nuclear casualty has crossed my mind. I had heard in the past that nuclear bombs required no more technical expertise than an ordinary physics graduate student would possess. Mueller makes it clear that isn't true. Nuclear weapons are quite tricky to build; not at all the sort of thing that a group of terrorists without the backing of a wealthy state is likely to be able to do. Yes, the risk of my being killed by a nuclear weapon is not zero and never will be. But it's close to zero.

Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The author writes his book based on his belief and premise that the United States spent an enormous amount of money on stock piling atomic weapons after World War II which he maintains was unnecessary. His main premise is that having such a large arsenal by the US did *not* prevent World War III. He maintains World War III would not have occurred regardless of how large a large stockpile of nuclear armaments the United States possessed. The only problem with the author's argument is that despite his wonderfully written book with excellent references and a fantastic bibliography, he can not actually PROVE that premise is a fact. The fact that the USA possessed these weapons this fact could very well have been a deterent to evil minded countries who had world domination in mind. The Soviet Union wanted to spread communism throughout the world. While they preferred an internal revolution that actually was NOT the case in taking over Central and Eastern Europe. The fact is FDR and Winston Churchill gave over Central and Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union through an agreement at the Yalta Conference. The Soviets did not have to even fight to dominate those countries. The 1956 Hungarian Revolution proved the Soviet Union was capable of crushing a nation and its citizens who rebelled against its domination. Another examples is the 1960s Cuban Missile Crisis which had an uncertain outcome as President John F. Kennedy contemplated a confrontation with the Soviet Union. Fortunately no weapons were used but the U.S. had no idea just how far the Soviets would push the issue of aiming missles from Cuba at the United States. The author has done excellent research on this subject but all of it is *after* the results of the confrontation are known. The future was uncertain at the time. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Read
Other reviewers commented that this read like an academic book, but I couldn't disagree more. It is part history and part international politics, but it blends these elements... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Tethys
3.0 out of 5 stars Mueller's basic point is that policy makers are alarmists
And on that count, he is absolutely correct. We humans have lots of things we can choose to worry about. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Penfist
3.0 out of 5 stars Mueller makes the case against nuclear alarmism
John Mueller is a provocateur. As a political scientist he is a Realist, and from this stance he often launches acerbic volleys against rival schools as well as popular... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Autonomeus
4.0 out of 5 stars Atomic Obsession
The author's work is well documented. I found his premise compelling and I feel more comfortable with my knowledge of nuclear weapons. Read more
Published on March 10, 2012 by WBF
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good read.
Very good read. Makes you rethink what terrorists are actually capable of...not much. I would highly recommend this book. For the price you can't go wrong.
Published on March 6, 2012 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting perspective
The author is articulate, bright, cogent, and has done his homework. Here's the flaw in his treatise: Pakistan has dozens of modern day nuclear weapons. Read more
Published on June 21, 2011 by Tell It Like It Is
2.0 out of 5 stars Still not convinced!
Author John Mueller is very erudite and well read. He has done his homework very well and presents a lot of compelling facts and figures. Read more
Published on December 16, 2010 by Judith Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars Rest easy? No nukes?
It will take some time--unless you are a political scholar--to get through this dense and dare we say explosive treatise on why we should not worry about nukes. Read more
Published on October 26, 2010 by Kristin J. Johnson
3.0 out of 5 stars A well argued though flawed discussion of Nuclear weapons.
Atomic Obsession poses the question, "Are nuclear weapons as awful as we think they are?"

Author Mueller takes a nonconformist view on the matter and at times can be... Read more
Published on October 21, 2010 by S. Lawrenz
3.0 out of 5 stars Well thought out, but too wordy.
"Atomic Obsession" is a thought-provoking and logical assessment of the true threats of atomic terrorism, and offers the reader a plethora of information on the subject. Read more
Published on October 17, 2010 by K.
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