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Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State Hardcover – January 21, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (January 21, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202400
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202407
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,478,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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.

More About the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine's Childhood, Saint Augustine's Memory, and Saint Augustine's Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

This has become one of my highly recommended reads.
Star_Girl
So he rails against the new National Security State as though the spirit of 1776 and the U.S. Constitution were still alive in the hearts of Americans today.
Thomas J. Farrell
What this book does not do is give us any idea how - or whether -we can ever hope to return to the America that was the hope for and the beacon to the world.
Glenn Bassett

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Todd Bartholomew TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In "Bomb Power" Wills argues that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked a critical turning point in American polity. Presidents would no longer have the time necessary, nor the luxury of consulting Congress and asking for a formal declaration of war. The increasing ability to forward position nuclear weapons and the rapidly improving technology for delivering them meant that time and space were contracting too rapidly to allow for such formality. More importantly, the potential for mass destruction had to be closely guarded to prevent the potential for catastrophic mistakes. Thus the near dictatorial powers General Leslie Groves had crafted around the Manhattan Project had to be transferred to the direct control of the President. This served to greatly enhance the power and prestige of the President, leading to the construct of the Imperial Presidency that evolved over time, allowing Presidents to avoid and evade the need to consult Congress on military matters, whether it was Korea, Vietnam, or other conflicts. As a result there was a pressing need for a robust national security apparatus that could effectively serve the needs of the President in such a dangerous age of nuclear proliferation.

Wills argues that the creation of this National Security State (as he terms it in the title and elsewhere) has served to weaken democracy by transforming the presidency and the executive branch into something with near dictatorial powers, thwarting any effective checks and balances from Congress. At times Wills digresses into tangents that weaken his narrative and really have little to do with his central arguments. In the later chapters it almost had the ring of a polemic against the abuses of George W.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By James L. Woolridge VINE VOICE on January 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Award winning historian, author and teacher, Garry Wills talks to the readers about the influences of 'bomb power' on American politics and the separation of powers in our government. Professor Wills, in this well written book leads us from the secret Manhattan Project,developing the bomb down to current times forwarding the idea that the bomb has given the President vast power, not only to use the bomb but to do do all the covert operations needed to deal with the nuclear use and protection of the country from countries that might use nuclear threats to their advantage. This upsets our balance of powers set forth in the Constitution. Wills always writes well and this book is an example of his good works but the idea of the 'bomb power' is going to take more study. A vastly interesting theory
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John Hevelin on April 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I am a big fan of Garry Wills and have read most of his non-religious writing. I have very much enjoyed his writings about Nixon, Reagan, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Henry Adams. I also read Head and Heart: American Christianities (2007), which I thought was extraordinary. I am very much in agreement with the central thesis of "Bomb Power" -- that the secret creation of nuclear weapons has led to a consolidation of power in presidential and military hands that threatens our Constitutional government -- which is why I found this book frustrating and disappointing.

The lack of a Bibliography makes it difficult to ascertain whether Professor Wills read either THE DECISION TO USE THE ATOMIC BOMB AND THE ARCHITECTURE OF AN AMERICAN MYTH (Gar Alperovitz, 1995) or House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power (James Carroll, 2006), two books that make a case very similar to that made by Professor Wills. Alperovitz basically makes the case that President Truman and Secretary of State Byrnes made a unilateral decision to drop atomic weapons on Japan in order to gain negotiating leverage against Stalin at the Yalta Conference, which would make it the first example of the kind of executive abuse that Professor Wills wants to warn us against. I would certainly have expected Professor Wills to have mentioned these books.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Bassett on March 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very important book, one that should have been written many years ago. But it's not one to be read by anyone with suicidal tendencies, unless in the presence of someone with a good restraining hand.

That the development of the atomic bomb did far more damage to us than it did to Japan is a fact that few people have noticed. In Japan it killed a relative few people, who would, for the most part, be dead by now, in any case. But, either because of the hubris the bomb allowed us (power corrupts, etc. etc.), because of the genuine necessity for the USA to take over management of the world to protect others from the bomb, or some plausibility in between we have been almost perpetually at war since 1945 - have, in fact converted ourselves into a war country. President Eisenhower, early on, saw it coming and warned us; we ignored him at our peril. And this book shows us the consequences of our inaction.

The supposed requirement for speed has given all subsequent presidents after Truman the excuse to usurp the Constitution, ignore Congress, and declare their wars themselves....or, beginning with Korea, just to refrain from declaring them altogether and go on with the wars. Sometimes, early on, as with Korea, they called it something else, like a "police action." But by Vietnam they'd learned that no one would try to stop them. So the word "war" returned to match the deed. And foreign political assassinations and declarations that governments must be changed because we were displeased with those countries' citizens' choices barely caused little blips on our radar screens.
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