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The Wizards of Armageddon Hardcover – January 1, 1983

ISBN-13: 978-0671424442 ISBN-10: 0671424440

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The Wizards of Armageddon + Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda + Every War Must End (Columbia Classics)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 452 pages
  • Publisher: Simon and Schuster (1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671424440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671424442
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A fascinating account of a hidden elite and a hidden era in American politics, packed with inside stories that will be new to even the most seasoned specialists. The tale of the strategic 'Whiz Kids' has never been told in such detail or with such flair." —Les AspinChairman, House Armed Services Committee


"Fascinating. . . . It contains much that is not only new but stunning about the nation's official thinking and planning for nuclear war."
The Washington Post Book World


"Like most people, I know that nuclear strategy is a subject of crucial importance—but shy away from it as too forbidding. Reading Fred Kaplan, I understand and want to learn more. He brings the subject to life with human example and an understanding so sure that he can explain the unthinkable."
—Anthony Lewis,The New York Times
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Teresa Case on June 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
This fascinating review of nuclear strategy covers the period from 1945 to 1990. It is extraordinarily clear in presenting the options faced by Presidents and decision makers, and how they resulted in strategy that varied between "Nuke them back to the Stone Age" in 1948 to "MX Racetracks in the Nevada Desert" in the Caarter and Reagan Administration.
I found it a most compelling read, causing me to sacrifice sleep to continue, because it names names, dates, and places. Insight into all the news figures I grew up seeing on TV News.
I grew up as an Army Brat in the 1960's and 1970's, and this book explains why many of the weapons systems came and went. In-fact, it explains why our family "Came and Went" on a few stations!
I highly recommend this if you have even a passing interest in Nuclear War strategy and National Policy, or even in what part you and/or your parents/grandparents played in the "Big Picture".
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on November 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
Fred Kaplan has done something very hard to achieve: portray a bunch of, well, nerds with sympathy and humor, explaining their trains of logic and their conclusions in readable prose. It is hard because most of them were micro-economists who lived in a world of utility functions, game theory, and loops of mathematical logic - just the kind of stuff that puts many off (like me) of "public policy" as an academic field that is dominated by economists who are little more than self-important if intelligent twits - with no practical wisdom whatsoever.
However, this group was important because they were trying to encapsulate nuclear weapons into their rationalist methodologies. Kaplan's book is the ideal companion to Freeman's Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, which is so dry by comparison and yet covers the strategy better. It is a fun read, though a bit overwhelming to get through as there were SO MANY of them. (There was an added interest for me, as I knew some of these characters as a student and was unimpressed with them as thinkers while respecting their impact on public policy.)
Whoever thought that microeconomists following their threads of logic could have had such an enormous influence on military strategy. I never would have! If I understood it, what they did was link military considerations into a mathematical methodology that could be studied and discussed and that offered conclusions - or predictions - if (tortuously) followed to their end. This helped military planers get a handle on these issues and (perhaps) to think more clearly.
Much of quality of this book is due to the fact that Kaplan is a really good reporter and not an academic who is just shuffling papers.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David Berry on November 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is Fred Kaplan's version of the evolution of U.S. nuclear strategy during the Cold War. More specifically, it is the story of the role played by the RAND Institute, a think-tank in Santa Monica, California. The RAND Institute pioneered civilian consulting on military matters, and by the time Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, nearly all of the Institute's principal recommendations had become official administration policy.

Based largely on archival research of declassified documents and personal interviews, Kaplan does a good job in capturing the personalities, egos, and relationships at work. He dispenses with in-depth discussion of data and interpretation, instead trying to create a humane narrative. He rarely engages in either personal attack or praise, instead focusing on how his protagonists arrived at certain conclusions. Still, the book is not without a didactic element. The RAND Institute imposed (and still imposes) the methods of rational choice analysis-taken from logic, microeconomics, and game theory-on the possibility of nuclear war. But for Kaplan, this project of rationalizing Armageddon is in the end nothing more than "a compelling illusion." The terror and uncertainty surrounding nuclear war comprised a chaos which couldn't be tamed. Another criticism is much more deeply buried in the book. The use of rational choice theory assumed a great deal about what the Soviets wanted and how they would achieve it. Yet these assumptions made by the mathematical minds of the RAND institute did not engage with the realities of Soviet leadership or policy.

Overall, Kaplan has written a well-researched book over a terribly important topic. For those like me born into the post-Cold War generation, it recreated the tension and anxiety-along with the absurdities-of a bygone era. Not much more could be asked of a history.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Bosiljevac on July 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is the history of the strategy behind the U.S. nuclear arsenal, from the moment we dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima through the Reagan years. While the book does get into specifics about meetings and memos, the over-arching story is quite interesting, especially as it pertains to the current state of affairs with U.S. foreign policy. If there is one lesson to take away from the book, it is that strategy and intelligence can and will be built around a predetermined political goal, when an administration chooses to use it in such a way. Bush Jr. is not the first, nor will he be the last president to have intelligence manufactured to support his specific strategy. From early on, when the Air Force and Army officials crafted their intelligence reports to favor themselves when it came time to create the budgets, to Kissinger's altering of CIA reports on Soviet missiles to support his own missile defense agenda, intelligence and strategy has been slave to policy, not the other way around.

But aside from the political maneuverings and dealings, this book covers the rise of the defense intellectua--strategists born of academic economic theory rather than hardened by battlefield experience--to the highest ranks in devising nuclear strategy. It covers the cycles, from an all-out destroy everything strategy to a counterforce/military targets strategy, from viewing the atomic bomb as the ultimate weapon to considering it merely another tool in the conventional arsenal. Through the years, the strategies came and went in phases, but in reality there were only a few recycled strategies, and basically the same problem holds for each: we just don't know if they'll work. They're all theory, despite the illusion, during the Reagan years, that these are tested, scientific truths.
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