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Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 9, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
This is the third volume in a history of nuclear weaponry that began with the award-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but despite its subtitle, this installment might also be described as a chronicle of the unmaking of the arms race. Paralleling the careers of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, Rhodes builds up to a detailed account of the 1986 Reykjavik summit, at which the two leaders—both eager to achieve peace—nearly came to an agreement on eliminating their nuclear arsenals, before the accord, he says, was sabotaged by then-assistant secretary of defense Richard Perle. The insistence of Perle and other advisers that the U.S. required a strong deterrent against the Soviet Union is held up for particular contempt. There has never been a realistic military justification for accumulating large, expensive stockpiles of nuclear arms, Rhodes argues. Far from keeping America strong, decades of nuclear arms production have seriously eroded the nation's domestic infrastructure and diminished its citizens' quality of life, he believes. The clarity of the historical record reinforces Rhodes's fiercely held political convictions, ensuring widespread attention as he returns to this critically and commercially successful subject. (Oct. 11)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Richard Rhodes digs deep into the workings of the Cold War to explain how and why, between 1949 and 1991, apocalyptic nuclear war could easily have occurredâ"and how and why it was avoided. Through dramatic narrative and readable prose, Rhodes reveals the disjointed policies, bureaucratic infighting, and paranoia that marked this era, while profiling Soviet and American leaders (including Richard Perle, who nearly derailed the summit talks). Rhodes portrays Gorbachev, who advocated mutual security, as the eraâs hero; Reagan, while sympathetic, comes across as more naÃ¯ve. While a few critics noted some sections of the book as repetitive and slow and others described Rhodesâs first two volumes as more magisterial, Arsenals of Folly provides an important, timely lesson: the cost of the nuclear arms race was a waste of resources, Rhodes concludes, and since then, there has been "no reasonable gain in security."
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Richard Rhodes is a fine writer. His style is lucid. He is supremely informed about his subject. Juggling the technical, social, historical and personal aspects of the story, he creates a clear and disturbing picture of two groups of men trying to reach an agreement not to commit world suicide.
It is noteworthy that, for all his careless "evil empire" rhetoric, Reagan comes through the narrative as having a strikingly clear understanding of the unacceptable hazards attending two gargantuan nuclear arsenals. Indeed, some of the people around him in government seem to have been working to defeat his purpose, which, to all intents, was to draw-down the level of assurance in MAD to something less-precarious than what prevailed when he took office. One is left thinking that perhaps Reagan's impossible concept of a "star wars defense shield" was not born just of a desire to spend more money on weapons, but was perhaps indeed a product of his genuine fear of and appreciation of the unacceptable destructive power of nuclear weapons.
Two matters prevent me giving this book five stars. At times, Rhodes' account slows to a point approaching tedium, a problem that really should not exist with such a ... well ... explosive subject. And the matter-of-fact, understated presentation of the situation that Rhodes chooses to employ understates the idiocy of the nuclear arms race. "Arsenals of Folly"; how about "Arsenals of Insanity"? How could any human beings ever have thought that the effective destruction or poisoning of the entire earth was preferable to living in a socialist economic system, no matter how undesirable one might consider a socialist economic system? You would choose the vaporization of civilization over central economic planning? Really?
Yeah, I guess you would. Alas, the folly remains!