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A Nuclear Family Vacation: Travels in the World of Atomic Weaponry Hardcover – June 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


“[Hodge and Weinberger] succeed admirably in reminding us that nuclear weapons have "never really gone away" and in calling attention to the crucial public debates that are not taking place. The questions they pose are significant and overdue; the answers they receive unsettling…They remind us that the purpose and future of our nuclear arsenal are too important to be left to those whose jobs remain dependent upon its perpetuation.” ―Chicago Tribune

“A Nuclear Family Vacation is an eye-opening read for anyone who thinks that nuclear weapons are a thing of the past.” ―Nerve

“How are you spending your next holiday? Tired of the same old thing? You might want to pick a different destination from A Nuclear Family Vacation, a new book and travel guide by veteran defence reporters Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger. This husband-and-wife team take the reader on a rapid, darkly comic tour of nuclear weapons sites across the world. A rare achievement in a nuclear policy book, their narrative demystifies an intimidating topic for a broad audience without sacrificing substance. Instead of pontificating on thermonuclear war, Hodge and Weinberger give us an eye-level view, often through their car window…the book sparkles with anecdotes and insights. It is well worth the trip.” ―Nature

“Some people trek to Machu Picchu, some dive on the Great Barrier Reef. Those of us interested in nuclear issues visit the monuments and precincts of the Bomb. Such are husband-and-wife journalists Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger.” ―New Scientist

“In A Nuclear Family Vacation, a husband-and-wife duo of Washington, DC-based defense reporters takes a journey deep into the nation's nuclear weapons complex. But wait--this turns out to be a surprisingly fun road trip.” ―Mother Jones

“In this off-the-uncontaminated-path adventure, Sharon Weinberger and Nathan Hodge make nuclear vacationing seem fun, in a weirdly exhilarating way. They are the slightly obsessed tour guides holding the microphones at the front of the security-cleared bus. Together, the experts lead us across a neglected, mismanaged, and forgotten past, pointing out the history of doomsday weaponry along the way. A Nuclear Family Vacation is a shocking reminder that the Cold War isn't over; it's just transformed into something else that we don't have a name for yet.” ―Robert Sullivan, author of Cross Country and Rats

“A vacation for some, a nightmare for others. Either way, well worth reading.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Exhibiting dark humor, defense journalists Hodge and Weinberger take a tour of America's nuclear-weapons infrastructure, visiting labs, plants, bunkers, missile silos, and ground zeros of nuclear explosions.” ―Booklist

“In this adventure in ‘nuclear tourism,' the husband-and-wife authors…convey an acute sense of the incoherence of latter-day nuclear strategizing.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Nuclear tourism is an effective and interesting way of canvassing issues we face today. Reading A Nuclear Family Vacation is a good way to learn more about the history of nuclear weapons and become conversant with our current situation. Hodge and Weinberger have done the legwork to back up their common-sense conclusions.” ―Defense Technology International

“Underlying their journey into our nuclear past is an earnest and thoughtful discussion of our nuclear present--and future...They identify a troubling lack of a cohesive national nuclear policy and remark that "much of the infrastructure supporting nuclear weapons continues to exist merely because no one has come up with a compelling reason to shut it down." One can imagine an updated version of A Nuclear Family Vacation in which the two visit sites in Pakistan, India, China, North Korea, Israel, Russia, France, Great Britain, and heaven knows where else. The itinerary is not as finite as one would like; in fact, it seems to be growing. But there would be some comfort in having these sober and subtle observers as our guides.” ―Bookforum

About the Author

Sharon Weinberger is a contributing writer for Wired's national security blog, Danger Room. She was previously editor in chief of McGraw-Hill's Defense Technology International and a writer for Aviation Week & Space Technology, a leading aerospace and defense magazine. She is the author of the recently published Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon's Scientific Underworld, and writes frequently on national security and science for the Washington Post Magazine, Slate, and Discover.
Nathan Hodge is a Washington, D.C.-based writer for Jane's Defence Weekly. A frequent contributor to Slate, he has reported extensively from Afghanistan, Iraq, and the former Soviet Union. His work has appeared in the Financial Times, Foreign Policy, and Details, among many other newspapers and magazines.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596913789
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596913783
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,375,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By maskirovka VINE VOICE on June 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As the whimsical title indicates, this is sort of a radioactive version of P.J. O'Rourke's "Holidays in Hell." The authors, a husband and wife team of journalists, spent several years touring the nuclear weapons archipelago of the United States and made side trips to Kazakhstan, Russia, and Iran.

In my opinion, the best parts of the book by far are the ones that deal with the facilities in the US such as Los Alamos, the Nevada Test Site, "Site R," and the Congressional Doomsday Bunker at Greenbrier, West Virginia. The authors interviewed a fair number of people at each place and that makes their destinations come alive (as someone who has been to Los Alamos and the Nevada Test Site, I can attest to the accuracy). I also thought the chapter about the men and women who man the ICBM silos shed light on a world and career field that I knew little about.

The book does have some weak parts. The authors pretty much got the run around while in Russia (which is to say no admission to any sites that are involved in Russia's ongoing nuclear weapons programs). Given that fact, I would have ditched that chapter and added more about American sites (perhaps the Pantex Plant in Texas). I feel the same about the trip to Esfahan, Iran (where the authors are smart enough to realize that the Iranians were putting on a propaganda display). I also think the authors gave the Iranians too much of a benefit of a doubt about their nuclear program's peaceful intentions (if you build and operate nuclear facilities that you don't declare to the IAEA as required by the Nonproliferation Treaty, it's hard to come up with an innocent explanation).
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Format: Paperback
Husband and wife authors Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger may have written the quintessential travelogue on the world of nuclear weapons. Wry, witty and always fascinating, the authors traipse from Trinity, New Mexico -- the site of America’s first successful nuclear test -- to Kazakhstan – where Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedic character Borat seems to have caused the country about as much grief as Semipalatinsk, the Soviet equivalent to the U.S. Nevada nuclear testing site. The tour is amazingly illuminating, spanning some 70 years of atomic weapons development, and takes the reader to more than a few destinations that most average Americans probably never even knew existed.

Part of this book’s success is indeed its ability to decode the amazingly complex world of the “nuclear complex” and connect, like numbered dots in a child’s coloring book, government labs, secret cities, manufacturing centers, test sites, and nuclear launch sites into a bigger picture. But more importantly, authors Hodge and Weinberger bring an expert blend of place, personality, science, history and folklore to the subject that avoids the trap of stale, cold war, strategic analysis and instead opens the door to the culture of the nuclear complex, which is filled with strange locales, quirky characters, and plenty of oddities. That’s not to say that Hodge and Weinberger don’t tackle the more serious issues – such as why the U.S. still has nuclear weapons and where we have them pointed – but there’s refreshingly little sermonizing.

As tour guides go, one couldn't ask for better than Hodge and Weinberger, and the trek into the semi-secret world of the atomic is worth every step. A Nuclear Family Vacation is as much a trip into the weird, as it is a trip into history. But the blend is so well done that it easily satisfies both cravings.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tara McIntosh on March 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
While sections of this book are very interesting and tell a fascinating tale of current nuclear installations and their relevant background, much of the book is written in a very dry yet journalistic point of view. As someone who is fascinated with nuclear history, I longed for more detailed references on the Hanford, Washington facility, K-25 and Happy Valley in Oakridge, Tennessee and the myriad of information which is now available to the public on our tumultuous atomic past. More references to Los Alamos and Alamogordo, New Mexico and the remnants of buildings where scientific greats like Wigner, Oppenheimer and Teller stressed over internal moral conflicts to create arguably the most prolific device in the history of man were anticipated and would have been appreciated.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very good overview of the wobbly trajectory of the nuclear weapons environment and the result of obvious significant effort by the authors. Does not get bogged down in "scientific-speak" yet explains some complex factors quite well. Retains a good neutrality on the subject - the absurdity of some of the situations is self-evident without any subjective pressure.

Can be slow going at points but by the time you finish, you'll feel like you've gained a pretty good understanding of a shadowy, dangerous subject.
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By J. Coman on December 31, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm an Atomic Tourist and found this book a lot of fun. It covers a lot of great places to visit if you are interested in the evolution and creation of nuclear weapons. As terrible as nuclear weapons can be, the science, innovation and history are an interesting study. To visit the important sites brings you into some really great places that offer a lot of other travel opportunities.
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