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on June 27, 2007
This is book is divided into two parts. The first is about the threat of nuclear terrorism. The author lays out a litany of facts that led me to conclude that nuclear terrorism strikes against the US are virtually inevitable, then inexplicably and in somewhat cavalier fashion, asserts that it is unlikely.

The second part of the book tells the tale of Pakistani nuclear proliferation perpetrated by A.Q. Khan.

The combination of the availability and virtual undcetectability of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and the proliferation of nuclear weapons design technology and technique by Khan make an undeterrable nuclear strike by Al Qaeda or other jihadi terrorists an existential threat to the US, the probability of which will be increased if current US defensive tactics are handicapped by revocation of post 9/11 laws including the US Patriot Act. This book should be read by every lawmaker and voter who believes that misguided changes to laws that have kept us alive since 2001 are somehow in the interest of Americans when in fact placing civil liberties ahead of civil defense is suicidal in the age of nuclear terror.
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VINE VOICEon June 22, 2007
There's no question that this is engrossing current events-type reading, an alternative to the summer hype novels. If you -- like me -- are sick of Iraq on the Sunday talk shows and all over the NYT Bestseller list, this (like Scahill's "Blackwater") is a niche work that keeps you in the know without devolving into the kind of rehash that we are all now overwhelmed by.

The book opens with a very interesting examination of what's out there, how and where to get it, and who might be after it. It reads almost like an intelligence estimate or policy paper in these early parts and is quick, informative and relevant.

The middle of the book breaks stride a little as AQ Khan, the father of Pakistan's bomb is studied. We get bio, Indian subcontinental politics, an examination of the ambitions of the nuclear aspirants on the Islamic Street, and more.

Langewiesche freely mixes in his politics, but in the end - at only 175 or so pages - I think this delivers more bang for the buck than anything I've seen on the current events/politics bookshelf for a long time.
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on May 28, 2007
Mr. Langewiesche has written an engaging book on the current state of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The book is short, to the point, and certainly thought provoking.

The book briefly discusses the motivations and economics behind the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Further, the author demonstrates the relative problems of developing the weapons for capability-poor entities, both governmental and non-governmental. Using the example of Pakistan and A.Q. Khan, Mr. Langewiesche examines the difficulty of controlling proliferation.

In the end, he is resigned to the global spread of atomic weapons, and the ensuing complexities in dealing with the spread. While not offering anything concrete, he does call for greater dexterity among those charged with preventing terrorist attacks, as well as stressing the need for philosophical changes to deal with the evermore-level nuclear playing field.
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on February 13, 2013
Full of insightful and factual commentary with a narrative that turns the pgae. I couldnt put it down. Sheds light on the nebulous and sinister world of nuclear weapons with a gritty 'boots on the ground' perspective which was clearly the result of years of research, travel and interviews by the author.
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VINE VOICEon December 28, 2009
This is an excellent review of the progress towards Nuclear Nonproliferation, and the process of poor countries to obtain nuclear weapons or develop them in defiance of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The core focus becomes the development of a nuclear bomb project in Pakistan and its funding by selling the technology and becoming a conduit for components worldwide.

Langewiesche provides a fascinating, well-documented story. Personalities are developed and the book reads like a suspense thriller. The author provides background histories and scenarios of the persons and countries that play in this scenario. This provides substance and context for the events and the connections involved in the spread of nuclear weapons around the world.

One secondary theme is the limited value of these weapons in the real-world scenarios of threat and counter-threat and the difficulty of using them in defense of a homeland. In repelling an invader, the local population, a government could not risk detonating a nuclear bomb on its own soil.

Further, deterrence and counter-threat would require a full arsenal, not just one or two bombs. This means an impossibly expensive proposition. Part of the travesty he discusses is how impoverished nations proceed to finagle ways to finance such programs while they cannot even feed their population, often for the simple prestige of having nuclear weapons.

Related to this is perhaps the most enlightening insight through this book is the revelation of the culture of fear over the effect of runaway atomic bomb development, is that the difficulties and expense assure that the real danger is minimal. The concern is discussed in the context of an enormous body of facts evaluating the comparative results of attacks by atomic or conventional weapons.

From extensive technical and governmental sources available, the author concludes that the odds are very low that a weapon could be functional, and that its effect is considerably less than traditional hysteria has led us to believe. Beyond the physical and geographical logistics against the production of atomic weapons by a even a worldwide network of terrorists, the actual effect of atomic explosions is actually less than can already be attained by cheaper, easily-available conventional weapons.
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VINE VOICEon January 27, 2008
This book examines two basic issues: the proliferation of nuclear weapons among countries and the possibility of terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear bomb. With regard to countries, the author makes the point that the technology of atomic weapons is now over 60 years old and there is no way to really stop a determined country from acquiring these weapons. Pakistan's nuclear program is used as an example. Prime Minister Bhutto (the father of Benazir Bhutto) said the Pakistani people would eat grass if necessary to get the bomb and indeed Pakistan proved unstoppable. On this subject the book includes a mini biography of AQ Khan, the so-called father of the Pakistani bomb and a discussion of institutional corruption in that country.

On the subject of terrorism, a persuasive case is made that government agencies working through bureaucratic channels are incompetent to stop a determined terrorist. Instances of waste and pointless expenditure are sited, like the financing a luxurious customs house for a foreign country in the middle of a wilderness where it can easily by bypassed by anyone so inclined. Nevertheless, the author explains that there are high natural barriers to stealing fissile material and making a bomb and this is why it has not happened. Even if many parts of the world are ungoverned and ungovernable it does not mean that local gangsters and drug smugglers do not know who is trying to move dangerous materials across their turf. These people who rule the street have no particular interest in helping strangers smuggle nuclear weapons. The author advocates that instead of dealing with government bureaucrats in national capitals, government agencies should forge ties to these individuals in order to enlist their help in watching for nuclear terrorists.

On the whole, this book is non-ideological and rooted in common sense. It presents a bleak picture of proliferation without being alarmist. It is a useful book for readers seeking a realistic view of nuclear proliferation.
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on June 14, 2014
Really goes into the issues, technical, political, and economic, of nuclear proliferation. Worth a read, as it provides the back story for the scare headlines about terrorist nukes and dirty bombs. Also tells the story of how A. Q. Khan built Pakistan's bomb, and then became rich selling that technology to North Korea, Libya, and Iran.
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on August 30, 2007
This is one of those books where, again, I wish Amazon would let us do half-star ratings. It's really a 3.5, on account of being slim, and being two books in one, with some never-resolved pulling in different directions.

Part I is about the possibility of nuclear proliferation in the abstract, whether by "third world" nations or non-nation-state actors such as al Qaeda.

Part II is about the biggest individual involved with such proliferation to date, Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

Langewiesche also does a good job in explaining why world politics has been part of why European countries have at times been laxer on export controls than the U.S. It also explains why the U.S. kept quiet for so long how much it knew about Khan's helping Iran.

This book could have been better, in my opinion, if biographical psychoanalyzing of Khan had been deleted, saving 5-10 pages, and Langewiesche had taken that plus another 15 to detail what he knows about post-Khan proliferation, etc.
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on October 18, 2014
Atomic Bazaar is poorly written, jumps around and included too much extraneous material. The technical discussion is not well documented and at times contradictory, ie, he first says an atomic explosion occurs in milliseconds, then a few pages later it occurs in microseconds, a difference of a factor of one thousand. The author centers the book on Pakistan and Khan, barely touches on other rogues such as India, North Korean and Israel, and potential rogue nuclear countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Lybia, Iraq and Iran. He does not discuss the enormously disruptive nuclear force of Israel, nor how Israel obtained the know-how and materials to develop it. This omission leaves the book a hollow shell as the existence of the Israeli nukes has destroyed any possibility of potential peace in the Middle East. This is a book not really worth reading, one learns next to nothing from it.
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on April 7, 2009
This is a timely read, today, with North Korea launching its latest multi-stage rocket, Iran continuing its nuclear program, President Obama proclaiming his goal of a nuclear weapon free world, Secretary of Defense Gates announcement of massive cuts in strategic defense systems, and the announcement of the New York investigation of a Chinese national running shell companies acquiring materials for Iran's nuclear program. This reminds me of history studies which included the discussion of the idealistic goals of the 1920s and 1930s when war was outlawed with the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact and the unequal 1920s Naval Arms Reductions agreements. If the desired disarmament is not universal, future fights could be the equivalent of taking a knife to a gun fight. The age old differences that exist today will continue and lead to future fights and unnecessary loss of life--massive losses if the fight goes nuclear.

The world is suffering the consequences of selective and lackadaisical enforcement of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)--especially the overly politicized and toothless enforcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This does not excuse the Western World businesses which have and are capitalizing and increasing their profits upon the desires of insecure nations to acquire expensive essential technology for atomic enrichment and development.

This book portrays the scary state of the world. It discusses the shaky nature of fission material security in Russia, especially since the collapse of the old Soviet Union, where a lot of the security efforts are financed by the U.S.

The story continues with the shadowy world development of Pakistan's atomic bomb and subsequent proliferation to other Third World nations. This is a perfect example of the lack of NPT enforcement. A nation proceeds with its atomic program; despite wide spread poverty, to counter its arch-enemy's bomb development to insure its own security. Both Khans of Pakistan involved with its national atomic drive were trained in the West (notably the Netherlands). They were able to use knowledge and contacts they gained to acquire the essential technology to successfully develop their nation's atomic device.

The author repeatedly refers to politically driven and discriminating enforcement of the NPT. His book reveals the history of the path the world has gone down to a much more dangerous world.

It is almost impossible to return the genie to the bottle once it is released, and can be dangerous if not done properly.
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