From Publishers Weekly
According to arms control expert Tucker, chemical weapons—and efforts to ban them—are almost as old as war itself. The ancient Greeks and Romans tried to outlaw poison, and in 1675 the French and German empires signed a treaty that outlawed poisoned bullets. By WWI, the "futile slaughter of trench warfare" made toxic gases more attractive to the German High Command—and then everybody else. Fear of reprisal precluded the use of nerve agents in WWII battlefields, but the Nazis found Zyklon B, an insecticide, to be an effective instrument of death in their gas chambers. In the 1950s and '60s, virtually every major power was developing and testing chemical weapons, and this deadly technology was often granted to client states: Egypt used nerve agents in its 1962 war against Yemen, and Iraq frequently used nerve agents against its Kurds. Despite current debates about weapons of mass destruction, Tucker's main points are not about warfare: his description of the 1995 Tokyo subway attack proves that with enough money, any madman can develop nerve gas. In his final pages, Tucker does point out that we have "grounds for hope as well as concern," but many readers will only find cause for pessimism. Regardless, this is a sobering, detailed and necessary book. (Feb. 7)
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Nerve agents have been in existence since the 1930s, when German scientists invented them. But not even Hitler had the nerve to use them; for crossing that Rubicon, the world has fallen dictator Saddam Hussein to blame. Both tyrants appear in Tucker's history of nerve agents, which is notably informative and clearly written. Though readers will learn how the poison is manufactured and the morbidity of its biological action, they will cleave to Tucker for his accounting of the rationales for making the stuff in the first place. An arms-control expert who has worked in Washington's agencies and think tanks, Tucker imparts the shock of the Allies upon discovering what the Nazis had wrought. At first merely keeping the German stockpile, they built their own production complexes in the 1950s. Yet strategists could never clarify the military sense of nerve agents, while technicians were forced to contend with the inevitable leaks, which cultivated sentiment favoring abolition. Undeterred by international conventions, terrorists' interest in nerve agents generates Tucker's disquieting conclusion to his essential background history. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved