From Publishers Weekly
The demands of nuclear weapons policy have poisoned the American polity, according to this unfocused jeremiad. Historian Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg
) argues that the project of deploying and defending against nuclear weapons transformed America into a national security state mired in permanent semi-emergency, with swollen military forces, unaccountable spy agencies, a Byzantine apparatus of state secrecy, and an empire of overseas bases. Worse, he writes, the aura of bomb power that presidents gleaned from their prerogative to initiate nuclear holocaust made the presidency into an American monarch[y] that sneers at constitutional restraints. Wills's is a provocative and at times insightful analysis of how presidential status and mystique hypertrophied alongside the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, it's a rickety framework for his scattershot account of foreign and security policy in the nuclear age, which meanders from the Manhattan Project to George Bush's war on terror to gay marriage. It's often hard to see the connections he insinuates between nuclear obsessions and misdeeds like the 1954 CIA-organized coup in Guatemala. Wills's conception of bomb power is a weak explanatory principle for this sketchy take on post-war American history. (Feb.)
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Despite his provocative subject matter, Wills refuses to side with either party and condemns Republicans and Democrats alike. The critics responded likewise by evaluating Bomb Power on its approach and arguments, making historical rather than political assessments. Some saw Wills's alarming account of the unprecedented growth of the executive branch's power as rational and persuasive; others were not so easily convinced. The Los Angeles Times, for example, considered Wills's "permanent constitutional crisis" a direct result of the conflict between the Founding Fathers' lofty ideals and the demands of a hostile modern world. Although most recognized Wills's left-leaning tendencies, only the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette accused Wills of bias. These differences aside, Bomb Power is a meticulously researched, readable, and well-timed treatise on the state of the U.S. government.