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Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe Hardcover – August 9, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Allison applies a long, distinguished career in government and academia to this sobering—indeed frightening—presentation of U.S. vulnerability to a terrorist nuclear attack. While he begins by asserting such an attack is preventable, the balance of his text is anything but reassuring. Allison begins by describing the broad spectrum of groups who could intend a nuclear strike against the U.S. They range from an al-Qaeda with its own Manhattan Project to small and determined doomsday cults. Their tools can include a broad spectrum of weapons, either stolen or homemade from raw materials increasingly available worldwide. Once terrorists acquire a nuclear bomb, Allison argues, its delivery to an American target may be almost impossible to stop under current security measures. The Bush administration, correct in waging war against nuclear terrorism, has not, he says, yet developed a comprehensive counter strategy. Arguing that the only way to eliminate nuclear terrorism's threat is to lock down the weapons at the source, Allison recommends nothing less than a new international order based on no insecure nuclear material, no new facilities for processing uranium or enriching plutonium and no new nuclear states. Those policies, Allison believes, do not stretch beyond the achievable, if pursued by a combination of quid pro quos and intimidation in an international context of negotiation and a U.S. foreign policy he describes as "humble." A humble policy in turn will facilitate building a world alliance against nuclear terrorism and acquiring the intelligence necessary for success against prospective nuclear terrorists. It will also require time, money and effort. Like the Cold War, the war on nuclear terrorism will probably be a long struggle in the twilight. But no student of the fact, Allison asserts, doubts that another major terrorist attack is in the offing. "We do not have the luxury," he declares, "of hoping the beast will simply go away."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Chemical weapons can kill in the thousands. Over the same area, a football-sized nuclear packet could kill half a million. With Iran and North Korea joining the fray, Russia’s massive supplies, and Pakistan’s black market, we’re in Big Trouble. Allison, who served under the first Clinton administration, models his argument on the successful Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program he helped implement when the Soviet Union collapsed. Nuclear Terrorism, well-written, lucid, and above all horrifying, offers a blueprint for preventing nuclear terrorism. Reviewers generally agree with Allison’s points, but ask how he would implement his goals in politically diverse climates. How does one conduct nuclear power plant inspections with corrupt officials, for example? Allison himself admits that his plan will take a “long, hard, slog”—one that seems necessary.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (August 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805076514
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805076516
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #203,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Graham Allison is one of America's leading experts on nuclear weapons and national security. He has served in the Department of Defense as assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans, is the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, and a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In other words, when this man speaks and writes on an issue where he has the expertise, it is prudent, very prudent, to pay attention to what he has to say. And he has a lot to say in his new book entitled "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe."

I am a great fan of suspense thrillers and novels about spies, espionage, and international crises and disasters. How I wish that Allison's book was just another of my exciting leisure-time fictional entertainments! But, unfortunately, this book is nonfiction: a serious, indeed extremely serious, and sober, discussion of the threat we face called "nuclear terrorism." For example, one "dirty bomb," which simply consists of conventional explosives dispersing radioactive materials, exploded in downtown Manhattan, would make the island uninhabitable for years and result in many thousands of deaths from the immediate blast, from radiation poisoning over time, and from the immediate panic it would cause at the outset. And note: these radioactive materials are readily available in many medical and industrial facilities and, of course, explosives are so easy to obtain that they often fall into the hands of knowledgeable teenagers.

Scary? Of course. But that's not the worst possibility that Allison discusses in his book.
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Format: Hardcover
According to a growing number of authorities I have read in recent years, a nuclear attack on the United States is almost inevitable. The bomb(s) will not come by intercontinental missile, but will be smuggled into the country, carried by car to most likely New York or Washington D.C., and detonated. Hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people will die. It will be the worst catastrophe to befall the US ever and may result in world-wide social, political and economic chaos. The US may or may not know who planted the bomb, but you can be sure that some action will be taken, possibly of a nuclear nature.

Where will this bomb come from? Graham Allison, the founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, an expert on nuclear proliferation, gives these likely possibilities: from the inadequately accounted for Russian arsenal, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran's incipient program, or the bomb may be made from fissile material available on the black market. Allison makes it abundantly clear that how to make a bomb is not a problem. The information is readily available on the Web.

The question that daunts me is how will the US know for sure where the bomb originated and who planted it? It doesn't seem possible that after a nuclear explosion there could be a forensic signature in the rubble. Herein lies a big problem. Suppose the US thinks the bomb came from Russia, sold to Al Qaeda by a disgruntled group of ex-Soviet scientists and military people. How does the US retaliate? Bomb Russia? That would usher in a very quick WWIII with consequences too horrific to contemplate. Bomb western Pakistan where bin Laden may (or may not) be hiding? That seems pathetic.
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Format: Hardcover
I am an emergency room RN and saw one of my patients reading this book so intently we could hardly get him to put it down for an x-ray. I was intrigued by what he told me, so I bought a copy the next day.

It is an amazing story and one that all Americans should be aware of. Most remarkable, however, is the description of how an attack can be prevented/stopped. Not with some pie-in-the-sky solution but rather with very specific actions the government could take.

Again, I urge all Americans to read this book and then write to their congressmen about it. As an ER nurse with twenty five years experience, I can tell you that should a nuclear attack of any magnitude occur there will not be much we can do for you. Now is the time to stop that possibility and Dr.Allison's book gives us guidelines to do so.
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Format: Hardcover
This book argues that nuclear terrorism is a frightening threat, that we are vulnerable, and that it is almost inevitable if we don't try much harder, and more effectively, to prevent it. The first two points are certainly correct. But is nuclear terrorism as easy and inevitable as Allison argues? One is reminded of the famous physicist Enrico Fermi's remark about extraterrestrial intelligent life: ``So where is everybody?'', meaning that if the universe is full of advanced intelligent life, why hasn't it come and made itself known? If nuclear terrorism is as easy as Allison claims, why hasn't it happened yet?

The answer must be that it isn't so easy after all. But that doesn't provide much reassurance---if it was too difficult for al Qaeda in 2001, can we sure it will be beyond the means of al Qaeda's successors ten years later? Of course, we cannot be sure, and that makes Allison's wake-up call valuable. More nuclear material is being created, often in unreliable or unstable hands (Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, possibly lost in Russia).

Allison's solutions are obvious and sensible: ensure that no new nuclear powers are created, disarm North Korea, make sure tight control is maintained over existing nuclear material, some of which is now scattered and poorly controlled in research reactors around the world and possibly also in Russia.

Unfortunately, this book is long on these generalities and short on specifics. The devil is in the details: How do we disarm North Korea, keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and keep Pakistan's (and Russia's) from falling into the hands of terrorists?
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