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How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III Paperback – February 21, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“The virtues of How the End Begins are numerous and impressive . . . this is a deep meditation on the role, meaning, and possible consequences of nuclear weapons in our time.”
—Michael Anton, The Weekly Standard

"Is there a scenario in which nuclear retaliation would be moral? Rosenbaum’s answer is a definitive no. Any reader of this upsetting book will be convinced that he’s right."
--Nathaniel Rich, The Daily Beast

About the Author

Ron Rosenbaum is the bestselling author of Explaining Hitler, The Shakespeare Wars, and The Secret Parts of Fortune, among other books. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. He writes a column for Slate and lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416594221
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416594222
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #646,136 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Marvin Aberle on April 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
I saw Ron Rosenbaum's new book on the shelf and impulsively decided I had to read it. I'm very interested in nuclear decision-making and command and control. But I'm as much interested in the moral side of such decision-making as the rational, and have always wanted to read something that was slightly philosophical and not just factual. This book appeared to be the perfect combination and so I purchased it with excitement.

My feelings are mixed after having read the book. The first half roughly was full of eye-opening tidbits of nuclear history and gave a good glimpse of how command and control of nukes is carried out, and some of the weaknesses of that (or any) system. Also examined were the most likely hotspots where nuclear war could eventually break out; namely Israel and Pakistan. So all-in-all it was a fairly intriguing review of a swath of nuclear issues and history.

The problems arose for me when the author continually (and perhaps irresistibly) injected himself into the narrative. True, much of the book is intentionally comprised of musings by the author, but there are restrained and unrestrained ways of going about that. Read the NYT review of the book and you'll see some good examples of the latter. In the end though, I just couldn't stand the incessant stream of rhetorical questions. It also reminded me in places of some papers I had written in college where I stuffed more and more fluff in just to meet a page minimum. There's a lot of self-referencing and empty, bombastic language. I could just see Rosenbaum patting himself on the back for a particularly slick turn of phrase.

By the second half of the book I had become very frustrated. I couldn't read or think about nuclear issues anymore without Ron Rosenbaum's ego shoved in my face.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Eric K. on March 27, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Everybody knows that the Cold War is over, that all those thousands of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles mothballed and the nuke-bearing bombers and ballistic-missile subs put on permanent stand-down years ago, right? Wrong. Although the numbers have been cut by 50%, all the same weapons and alert systems, the same hair-trigger launch protocols are still in place, 20 years after the dissolution of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. They've just been relegated to a smaller presence in our collective consciousness, and a virtually nonexistent one in the daily news cycle. But they continue to hold the entire population of the earth hostage, in constant danger of genocide on a unimaginable scale.

Journalist Ron Rosenbaum has been writing about his obsessive fascination with nuclear war since the mid-Seventies. In 1978, his long investigative piece for Harper's, "The Subterranean World of the Bomb," for which he was allowed unprecedented access to highly restricted military facilities, including the SAC War Room Command Balcony and a Minuteman silo launch capsule, is widely considered to be a classic of its genre. That he should have to continue writing about this subject 33 years later, long after the fall of these weapons' intended target nation, is, to say the least, troubling. In fact, it's downright terrifying.

How the End Begins reprises one of the Harper's article's central themes: the question first posed by Air Force Major Harold Hering, a decorated Vietnam veteran in training for a job as a ICBM "missileer," namely, "What safeguards exist to prevent a launch officer from receiving an unlawful launch order, such as one given by an insane Commander-in-Chief or an enemy infiltrator into the command and control system?
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Brownfield on July 4, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm an ex-nuclear submarine officer, a scholar of nuclear weapons policy, and the author of My Nuclear Family.

Without a doubt, "How the End Begins" is the most interesting book on nuclear weapons that I've read in a long time. In this book, Mr. Rosenbaum becomes a sort of Dante, descending into the depths of nuclear hell and returning to tell the tale. It is a true story that should alarm us all and catalyze global society into taking action to provide for better security against nuclear threats, not the least of which is the threat of our own politicians and strategists who still follow the outmoded doctrine of the Cold War.

At its best, this book offers some very useful suggestions for how the USA and Russia can move away from hair-trigger alerts with their nuclear arsenals. At its worst, Mr. Rosenbaum occasionally treats the scariest possible scenario as though it were reality. This is particularly so in the cases dealing with Syria and Israel, but Mr. Rosenbaum is nonetheless honest about his strong personal emotions toward Israel, and I certainly don't blame him for how he feels.

The negative review of this book that asserts that 'zeroers will find much to like' is incorrect, and I'd like to set the record straight. This book is very skeptical of the Global Zero movement's efficacy, though Mr. Rosenbaum clearly takes moral sides with those who equate nuclear war to genocide, and people like Bruce Blair, the movement's founder, who would like to see global arsenals de-alerted.

What makes this book shine is that it is written by a non-technical but extremely knowledgeable nuclear outsider who cares more about people than about mega-tonnage and throw-weight. After learning about these arcane things myself, I am convinced that Mr.
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