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On Thermonuclear War

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ISBN-13: 978-1412806640
ISBN-10: 141280664X
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On Thermonuclear War + Thinking about the Unthinkable in the 1980s + Nuclear Weapons & Foreign Policy
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"On Thermonuclear War was controversial when it was first published-and still is, today. No light reading, at well over 600 pages it packs in details from across disciplines and was widely read on both sides of the Iron Curtain: today its many insights on military strategies, issues, and the logic of amassing thermonuclear armaments still apply. It was the first book to examine the underlying logic of making and keeping nuclear weapons, originally created from a series of lectures, and provides both military and college-level collections with strong insights on military might and strategy." —The Midwest Book Review

"Kahn's classic On Thermonuclear War had been reissued by Transaction Publishing ... This could not come at a better time. Human nature has not made much moral progress since the end of the Third Reich but its very worst instinct for total destruction has, so far, been held at bay by the certainty of self-destruction. We need someone to remind us again of how to think about the unthinkable." —Mark Safranski, zenpundit.com



"New thoughts, particularly those which contradict current assumptions, are always painful for the human mind to contemplate. On Thermonuclear War is filled with such thoughts."

—Hubert H. Humphrey

About the Author

Herman Kahn (1922-1983) was a renowned political scientist, economist, historian geo-strategist, and considered by many to be the founder of futurology as a serious field of study. Associated for many years with the RAND Corporation, he was the founding director of the first independent “think tank,” the Hudson Institute. Among his many books are Thinking About the Unthinkable, The Year 2000, The Next 200 Years, The Coming Boom, The Resourceful Earth, and On Thermonuclear War.



Evan Jones is Herman Kahn's nephew. He is an historical analyst and game designer specializing in strategic simulations. He worked at the Hudson Institute in the mid-70s, primarily doing research used in The Next 200 Years.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 668 pages
  • Publisher: Transaction Publishers (July 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141280664X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1412806640
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #180,948 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Hallstatt Prince on June 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Herman Kahn has had many epithets hurled at him in his day. It is even rumored that Stanley Kubrick based his Dr. Strangelove character after him.

But the truth is he does a job someone has to do when countries possess nuclear weapons.

In this book Kahn discusses the unthinkable: how would a nuclear war be fought and what would be the consequences. He does this in the only way it can be done-in a dispassionate way. He asks such questions as to whether civilization can survive a nuclear war and if so how long it would take for it to recover.

His conclusion based on the facts and technology of the time he wrote the book (1962) was that nuclear war was winnable. Detractors of the book saw it as advocating nuclear war which is far from the truth. How easy it is to shoot the messenger.

From many accounts of Kahn the man he was far from bloodless and he was in fact optimistic about the future.

As one reads this book one enters into the mind of a great thinker. He was a highly logical man who dared to take on a problem others saw as taboo. Some may not like the way he deals with the subject but as long as we possess nuclear weapons the problems and all of their ramifications must be considered.

A frightening yet interesting read.

Jim Connell "Hallstatt Prince"
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By sheepherder@geocities.com on March 10, 1998
Format: Hardcover
On Thermonuclear War is a work from 1960 that runs counter to the conventional wisdom of his day, and which still exists to this day. He attacks the so-called "cataclysmic" view of nuclear war. Kahn provides numbers to show that a total nuclear war is survivable, and that our society could eventually recuperate. Make no mistake, at no point does he advocate nuclear war, he merely makes us face the fact that it could happen, and that we had better be prepared to deal with it. After all, the Soviets did. Although this book would seem to be dated in this Post-Cold War era, remember that we and the Russians still possess hefty nuclear arsenals, and the world is a much less stable place than during the Cold War. This book can be hard to read, given the plethora of technical information, but it is worth it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on December 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
ON THERMONUCLEAR WAR was controversial when it was first published - and still is, today. No light reading, at well over 600 pages it packs in details from across disciplines and was widely read on both sides of the Iron Curtain: today its many insights on military strategies, issues, and the logic of amassing thermonuclear armaments still apply. It was the first book to examine the underlying logic of making and keeping nuclear weapons, originally created from a series of lectures, and provides both military and college-level collections with strong insights on military might and strategy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. Gorin on October 25, 2010
Format: Paperback
Herman Kahn's "On Thermonuclear War" may be appreciated on many levels. Firstly since his ideas were apparently too "real" for the RAND Institute, he went off and founded his own think-tank, The Hudson Institute.

Secondly, in many ways "On Thermo...." represents the first truly modern approach to the discipline known as Systems Analysis.

And finally Kahn had the courage to realize that all previous \scenarios involving thermonuclear war truly were lightweight and an honest assessment was necessary. He delivered. In spades. Hence chapter titles such as "Will the Living Envy the Dead?". He approached this without irony, with a rock-solid grasp of the facts and possibilities and developed his scenarios on existing knowledge of thermonuclear war and its effects and definite real grounding in prevailing defense policy.

Chilling? To be sure. And even in the years since its publication it has not lost an iota of possibility regarding the consequences of such insane acts as he describes. His analysis makes John Schlesinger's "Mutual Assured Destruction" (MAD) seem like child's play. In Kahn's time and world the generals were clearly out not win, not deter.

Roughly thirty or so years ago, Atlantic Monthly ran an article that evaluated nuclear war scenarios (fiction and realistic) as pornography, lacking any other analogue. An excellent article that may be tracked down via Atlantic's site. In it most fiction such a "Level 7", Red Alert" (basis for Dr. Strangelove) and "On The Beach" were treated as softcore nuclear porno.

In contrast "Fail Safe" and "On Thermonuclear War" reigned as truce hardcore examples of the genre.

In all, Kahn's book is excellent and timely, the Atlantic article is worth tracking down.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By WHC on December 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
It's good to see this book back in print, even though nearly 50 years have passed since it was written, because it analyzes a topic of vital importance to national security. Author Herman Kahn is the man (and his book) who was the genesis for Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece, "Dr. Strangelove." The book gives the reader a chilling look at strategies in which to wage *and* win a nuclear war. It is definitely an iconoclastic work for the factual and dispassionate manner in which mass casualties and future birth defects are discussed and quantified --- with graphical information plotted logarithmically by order of magnitude. In retrospect the work is quite outdated, but the discussions of nuclear-powered aircraft and available mine-shaft space are amusing. Nevertheless, it is a captivating look at civilian and military planning to survive and rebound from the unthinkable.
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