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The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor Hardcover – May 15, 2007

3.7 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

In this sobering report, William Langewiesche (formerly at The Atlantic Monthly and now at Vanity Fair) asserts that there is no way to prevent Third World countries from obtaining nuclear weapons. We can only "accept the equalities of a maturing world in which many countries have acquired atomic bombs, and some may use them," he claims. Critics praised Langewiesche's concise, clearheaded prose and rigorous investigation techniques. However, they were disappointed that the previously published articles comprising the book had not been more thoroughly reworked into a fluid narrative, which results in an awkward structure, clumsy transitions, and multiple repetitions. A few also questioned his choice to end the book with a chapter on Mark Hibbs, a journalist covering the nuclear industry. Although The Atomic Bazaar is not a perfect book, critics agreed that it is an extremely important one.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

From Booklist

In his sixth book of combustible investigative journalism, Langewiesche, long a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and now the international editor for Vanity Fair, takes on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Fluent in nuclear politics, Langewiesche explains why nuclear bombs are now the weapons of choice for poor and poorly governed countries and "the new stateless guerillas," and he reveals how such groups can acquire the components of a nuclear bomb. Intrepid and electrifying, Langewiesche reports on contaminated secret nuclear cities in Russia and such U.S. funded outposts as the so-called Plutonium Palace, and he chronicles how stolen uranium and nuclear hardware are smuggled to Turkey, the "grand bazaar for nuclear goods." The book's most startling disclosures are found in Langewiesche's portrait of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the "Muslim" bomb and the "greatest nuclear proliferator of all time," and his profile of fellow journalist Mark Hibbs, who has revealed secrets pertinent to the mess in Iran. Langewiesche's bracing expose of nuclear criminality blasts away the ubiquitous misinformation usually attendant on this alarming subject. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374106789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374106782
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,374,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the post 9-11 world there has been much debate about the possibility of a nuclear terrorist attack; either dirty or conventional. Given the discussions, and the accusations about other nations' capabilities, I think it is incumbent upon us all to learn as much as we can about the realities of the situation and how nuclear material is dealt with.

This book begins with a look at how a nuclear bomb could (and almost would have to be) made and how it could be detonated. It discusses, in detail, the similarities and differences between plutonium and highly enriched uranium. It further details what the extent of damage would be, as well as likely repercussions. The author then moves into the area of security of possible fuels, and gives a detailed look at how difficult it would be for a terrorist group to obtain the needed material.

Finally, the book finished with a detailed look at A.Q. Khan, and the role Pakistan has had in disseminating information to other third world nations. It also discusses the politics of the nuclear underground and how this might affect the world.

The book is well written, contains much valuable information, and paints a brighter picture than I would have imagined possible. It is, however, frightening to think of who has these weapons and how they might be used.
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Format: Hardcover
The nuclear doomsday thriller was in vogue during the 1980's (see "Warday" -- 1984 and "The Fifth Horseman" -- 1980). Now in a post 9-11 world, nuclear destruction has made a comeback in TV (see "24") and in literature with "The Atomic Bazaar." Written in a documentary fashion, Mr. Langewiesche focuses upon how easy it would be for a terrorist to obtain the materials for a nuclear bomb (starting in Russia). Then the book tells the true story of A. Q. Khan who offered "nukes to go" to the rogue nations of the world. Easily read in one evening, it will leave you paranoid for our future.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Langewiesche is a great reporter and a good writer. Like Sebastian Junger, he writes coldy, directly and at times viciously about the realities of an armageddon that could be coming to your (our) front door very soon. The first half of the book are broad strokes on how that armageddon could manifest itself via a terror network. The second half of the book concerns AQ Khan, the Pakistani proliferationist who wittingly has made the first half of the book 'do-able'. Unlike Junger, Langewiesche lacks the great writer's ability to weave a narrative; the book feels disjointed, a bit tossed together at times. No matter. The content is critical for understanding the age we live in and the realities we may someday face.
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Format: Hardcover
Quick read - I read it in 3 hours. Langewiesche's prose is concise and compelling.

Langewiesche starts off by describing how a simple mashing together of 2 blocks of highly enriched uranium could cause a blast. Then he describes what it would look like and feel like if you were there.

The next part of the book explains how difficult it would be for a stateless terrorist to obtain highly enriched uranium (HEU) and make a bomb out of it. It is nearly impossible. Uranium is easy to get but it takes a whole lot of technology to make the 90% HEU necessary for a weapon.

The rest of the book is an expose' of the Pakistan's notorious, greedy, egocentric, megalomaniacal A.Q. Khan and how he stole technology from an unsuspecting Dutch engineering firm to develop Pakistan's nuclear weapons program and how he sold the technology to anyone with money.

The last part of the book is an unflinching excoriation of Musharrif and the rest of Pakistan's ruling elite.

The technology is out there; any state with the money will get a bomb - the genie is out of the bottle - Saudi Arabia, Syria, Brazil, Venezuela, Iran; you can't stop it. It is foolish to try.

I disagree with the other review of this book - The author's conclusion is that a terrorist could not obtain a nuke. ( I also heard him say the same on NPR).

He assures us that detonations and nuclear exchanges will likely take place but probably between backward countries such as India and Pakistan. He reassures us that if a state handed over a nuke to a terrorist to use on us, they would be accountable, and nobody has as many nukes as we do.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Atomic Bazaar" is sometimes fascinating, and sometimes frustrating (eg. when we learn how ineffectual much of the U.S. effort to safeguard Soviet fissionable materials has been). One learns that the Hiroshima bomb was 9,700 lbs., containing two half-spheres of highly-enriched uranium weighing about 62.5 lbs. each, that were slammed into each other by a projectile charge. The reaction lasted for just a millisecond and used less than two lbs. of uranium (about 3 tablespoons) to create a 15 kiloton TNT-equivalent explosion that killed 150,000. We also learn that most of the radioactive products quickly decay - seven hours after ignition, emissions are about one-tenth those at the level one-hour after detonation, and after two days the level has dropped to a one-percent level.

Langewiesche then goes on to assert that use of nuclear weapons are now more likely by terrorists than a nation-state, due to relatively lesser concern over retaliation.

Terrorists are not likely to obtain a finished bomb through theft - they are well guarded and incorporate sophisticated electronic interlocks. Building one from scratch is also not a likely alternative because of the difficulty enriching natural uranium. Thus, Langewiesche believes that the greatest threat comes from terrorist theft of already highly enriched uranium (HEU), particularly from the former Soviet Union. About 100 lbs. of 90% U-235 woud be required. (Plutonium, available from a number of nuclear-generating plants, is not a likely source because it is HIGHLY radioactive, and very poisonous if inhaled, ingested, or in contact with an open wound; further, it requires a much more complex means of detonation.
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