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How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III Hardcover – March 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rosenbaum (The Shakespeare Wars), an investigative reporter and Slate columnist, examines the potential for and consequences of nuclear conflict in this sobering, well-argued study. Drawing on decades of study in the field, the author points to a new world that will feature multiple nuclear powers that pose a threat for "touching off a regional nuclear war that could escalate to global scale." Nuclear weapons in the hands of such unstable regimes as Pakistan, North Korea, or Iran is not Rosenbaum's only concern. He worries about Russia's "new bellicosity" and its shoring up and modernization of its nuclear arsenal. Moreover, he argues that the Obama administration's new START treaty preserves a dangerous status quo that leaves in place a "rickety" nuclear command and control system with a "one percent per year" risk of failure. After examining and reluctantly dismissing the prospects for nuclear disarmament, the author concludes with a stark warning: "It's all about luck now. I'm a pessimist." In clear, crisp language, Rosenbaum not only vividly details his personal odyssey "to map out the terra incognita... of the new nuclear landscape," but also challenges the rest of us to confront the gathering storm. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

It�s time to rethink the unthinkable, says Rosenbaum. Impelled by his advocacy to abolish nuclear weapons, he interviewed former and current military officials, academic strategists, and philosophers, who ponder the reliability of nuclear command and control and contingencies that contemplate using nuclear weapons. Providing readers summaries of the cold war�s nuclear close calls, Rosenbaum quizzes defenders and critics of nuclear deterrence. He is naturally sympathetic to arguments that deterrence is an unstable mind game destined to fail. How it might takes Rosenbaum into scenarios involving a country regularly assailed by threats of annihilation, Israel. What if, despite Israel�s atomic arsenal, Iranian menaces eventuate in a nuclear attack (which Rosenbaum pessimistically predicts). Rosenbaum asks several interlocutors if Israeli retaliation that would kill millions of innocents could be ethically justified. Shifting the problem from seminar abstraction to air-raid reality, Rosenbaum discusses war risks run by Israel�s acts of preemption, as in its 2007 destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor. With the bomb proliferating, Rosenbaum is an alarming herald of current and possibly future events. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416594213
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416594215
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,174,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Graham DeShazo on March 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is long on supposition, conjecture, and theory (as well as a heavy-handed dose of personal morality), and short on facts and the type of stories and details I was looking for. To the extent that stories and examples were given, they were oversold.
I respect the author's opinion, but I think it is poorly defended and subject to considerable question.

In addition, the book digresses way too far into subjects of religion and philosophy.

Finally, and I hate to say this part the most, the book is kind of boring. The prose is (again) heavy-handed as well as long-winded. I found myself skipping ahead, which is something I never do.

I did manage to finish the book, but I was left with a sense of buyer's remorse.

If you describe yourself as a "zeroer", you will find much to your liking. Otherwise, you will probably find little to change your mind.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Joey Bee on May 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book strikes me as a great New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly article that was streched into a book with less than optimal results. You get some really chilling information and assessments, which are unfortunately wrapped around Rosenbaum basically debating morality with himself. There's a great deal missing here - it's a shame, because it is such a compelling topic, but it isn't done justice here.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By BernardZ on April 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The basic problem with nuclear weapons is that they exist. You can build them with 1940s technology, if you want an intercontinental ballistic missile, you can build that with 1950s technology. Over time as the world gets richer and technology improves it gets easier to make these. Right now, many countries if they wanted to, could develop nuclear weapons and a variety of WMD. Despite the best efforts of scientist and engineers, there is no credible defense against these weapons so the only policy that has worked up to now is assured retaliation (MAD). In this debate steps in the author of this book.

The major question that seems to concern the author is once someone launches nuclear weapons. What is the morality of nuclear retaliation? Say side A does an atomic strike on side B, is it moral for side B to retaliate? Of course, the real problem here is if side A thinks that side B will not retaliate; they may be very tempted to strike.

I think the writer, is dishonest with his facts. For example, he must know that it is questionable whether Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov's decision had much to do with preventing nuclear war as plenty is available on the net about it.
I am sure he is misrepresenting the facts on purpose about the US nuclear triad policy. It is expensive, but the point of it is not for first strike. The idea is by having a variety of methods of retaliations it makes it harder for the other side to make a successful first-strike on the US so giving the US a more credible threat of a second strike. If, for example, say the USSR did develop the blue-green laser that could detect submarines, which people had been working on?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Virginian on April 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Instead of an analytical assessment of current military and political risk, this well-written piece is more like a 200 page editorial, big on hyperbole and short on balanced analysis. Mr. Rosenbaum skillfully uses selected facts and the occasional snarky, denigrating comment to suggest his own intellectual bias.

The major thesis is the non-use of nuclear weapons, and their eventual removal and destruction. A commendable objective that fails to acknowledge the difficulty of actually enforcing such a ban and the huge advantage furtive ban breakers might gain in an otherwise nuclear free environment. That doesn't justify the immolation of millions of people but is a reality none the less. This omission alone suggests the author's willingness to support his position through careful omission rather than a considered and forthright discussion of all relevant facts.

He carefully skirts issues or dilemmas that his target audience would find troubling. For example he points out the immorality of killing millions of innocent enemy civilians, something I certainly agree with, but avoids the obvious repugnant question: is there any acceptable loss of life to avoid a wider conflict?

Mr. Rosenbaum is lavish in praise and omits substantial condemnation of Soviet (now Russian) military officers who support his position while offering many anecdotes of (primarily) U.S. nuclear weapons security systems flaws and lapses, frightening lapses by the way.

I found the work to be well written, engaging and intellectually incomplete.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rosenbaum sheds light on a subject that gets surprisingly little press coverage these days, painting a sobering picture of the very real threat that nuclear weapons pose. Interestingly, he makes a case for abolition/reduction of nuclear weapons but also preemption of would-be nuclear powers. Before reading this book, I never appreciated how compatible those two positions could be.

On more than one occasion I wanted to forget what I've learned from this book, but that wouldn't make any of it less true. The subject matter is pretty heavy, and I came away with the same feeling of unease I felt after the laughs wore off in Dr. Strangelove. Nonetheless, I would recommend this to a friend.
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