8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
New perspectives, good on science but...,
This review is from: Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)Joseph M. Siracusa appears to be of American extraction but lives and works in Australia as a Professor of International Studies at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. The evidence of his origins can be found in the opening passage of his book when he describes his own recollection of the feeble practices instituted by the US Government in the 1950s to counter the threat of nuclear blasts against schoolchildren. The truth is, as he says, "America's schoolchildren would never have known what hit them".
The book is part of Oxford University Press's marvellous series of Very Short Introductions and while I had initial reservations about the historical elements of the book, Siracusa eventually won me over. The science of nuclear weapons is not well understood by the vast majority of people and Siracusa does attempt to explain it in layperson's terms. Having read Richard Rhodes' seminal work, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, I was reasonably well aware of the mechanics of the system but also very cognizant of the historical aspects, which are glossed over a bit too carelessly in this one, even for such a short book.
Once the basics are out of the way, the post WWII global scene is dealt with and Siracusa moves quite well between the various policies adopted by countries in a changing world where the balance of power shifted quite rapidly from US monopoly to a policy of containment as the Soviet Union developed their own weapons. Various developments are well discussed, as the development of the hydrogen bomb and missile technology evolved into Mutual Assured Destruction: MAD.
His explanations of the Reagan era Strategic Defense Initiative leads well into his perspectives on the end of the Cold War era and where it left us. There is an interesting discussion towards the end on deterrence policy and the role of missile defences in shaping policy. With the accession of G.W.Bush to the US Presidency, many SDI programs were re-invigorated and Siracusa explains the philosophical problems with recruiting friendly nations to support the program. He finishes with a short analysis of the possibilities of a terrorist bomb and how such a problem might occur.
This book did not win me over at first and it took a bit of effort to get into it. However the author kept the pace going quite well and with ample information available to him, it would have been something of a challenge to sift through it all. The book shows some signs of being put together in something of a hurry: Los Alamos is in New Mexico, not Mexico (p.17) and the only Rumsfeld I know of is Donald, not David (p.100).
The best part of the book for me would be the objectivity of the analysis, particularly when it came to comparing the various policies of the superpowers. That included some coverage of US decisions, previously unknown to me, which ultimately proved either futile or questionable. Not quite from the top drawer but definitely worth a look.