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Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda

3.9 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews
ISBN-10: 019538136X
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Editorial Reviews


"His witty and unmerciful intellectual attack on the doomsayers, who have been arguing for the past 50 years that rapid proliferation is just around the corner, that we stand on the brink of a new nuclear age, or that it is a few minutes to midnight, is a refreshing one."--Survival

"The narrative is liberally seasoned with striking facts and a dash of wry humour."--Times Literary Supplement

"This is both a well written book and an important scholarly contribution...Policy makers and their staffs could benefit from this piece." --Choice

"With his rare combination of wit and meticulous scholarship, John Mueller diagnoses that America is paralyzed by atomaphobia and prescribes a fifteen-chapter treatment to help us recognize that we have blown reasonable concerns about weapons of mass destruction and terrorism out of proportion and that many of our policy responses actually make things worse. Atomic Obsession is recommended bed-time reading for nervous Nellies both inside and outside of government."--Michael C. Desch, Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, and author of Power and Military Effectiveness

"John Mueller's argument will almost certainly change your interpretation of some significant events of the past half-century, and likely of some expected in the next. It did with mine."--Thomas C. Schelling, 2005 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics, and author of Arms and Influence

"With clear-eyed logic and characteristic wit, John Mueller provides an antidote for the fear-mongering delusions that have shaped nuclear weapons policy for over fifty years. Atomic Obsession casts a skeptical eye on the nuclear mythology purveyed by hawks, doves, realists, and alarmists alike, and shows why nuclear weapons deserve a minor role in national security policymaking and virtually no role in our nightmares. It is the most reassuring book ever written about nuclear weapons, and one of the most enjoyable to read."--Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, and author of Taming American Power

"How much should we worry about nuclear terrorism? How far should we go to stop Iran (or North Korea) from acquiring nuclear weapons? In this fascinating and provocative book, John Mueller addresses such questions. Policymakers, scholars, students--indeed all Americans who are concerned about threats and the allocation of scarce resources--must read this volume, ponder its conclusions, and debate what now needs to be done."--Melvyn P. Leffler, Professor of History, University of Virginia, and author of For the Soul of Mankind

"...the book will certainly make you think. Added bonus: It's immensely fun to read." -- Stephen M. Walt, ForeignPolicy.com

"Mueller's achievement deserves admiration even by those inclined to resist his central thesis. The book is meticulously researched and punctuated with a dry wit that seems the perfect riposte to the pomposity of security experts who have so far tyrannized debate. Although by no means the last word on nuclear weapons, Mueller deserves praise for having the guts to shout that the atomic emperor has no clothes... the book should nevertheless be packaged up and sent to Presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Gordon Brown with a simple message: 'Please calm down.'" --Arms Control Today

"There is much to agree with in the book. Mueller performs an important service in puncturing some of the inflated rhetoric about nuclear weapons...Mueller provides
an unusual and fruitful perspective on nuclear history." --Science Magazine

"...this book is lively and provocative and a useful corrective to much of the mainstream consensus."--Foreign Affairs

About the Author

John Mueller is the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies and Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University. He is the author of Overblown and The Remnants of War, winner of the Joseph P. Lepgold Prize for the best book on international relations in 2004, awarded by Georgetown University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (November 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019538136X
  • ASIN: B0062GKNGC
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,462,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tung Yin VINE VOICE on November 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ohio State professor John Mueller has his work cut out for him: in the post-9/11 world, with North Korea and Iran working toward developing nuclear weapons, and with al Qaeda's Osama bin laden and Ayman al-Zawahari still hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan somewhere, no doubt plotting against us, Mueller argues in "Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to al-Qaeda" that nuclear weapons are expensive, largely useless, and virtually impossible for terrorists to steal or build.

He develops his analysis in three parts. Part 1 looks at the actual effect of nuclear weapons and, along the way, points out that the casual lumping of chemical and biological weapons with nuclear ones into a category of "weapons of mass destruction" is something of a hysterical overreaction; conventional weapons (bullets, bombs) are far more effective at killing than chemical or biological weapons, and thus it doesn't really make sense to classify the latter with nuclear weapons. He's very persuasive on this point. As for nuclear weapons, they're bad, but Mueller explains why the detonation of one or even two atomic bombs wouldn't destroy the country. In short, we shouldn't overestimate the damage that a nuclear weapon would cause.

In Part 2, he turns his attention to history and suggests that nuclear weapons have played very little role in international politics and diplomacy, apart from wasting colossal resources and talent.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Atomic Obsession is a book that produces contradictions. It manages to both make its case and miss its mark at the same time.

The strongest points of the book are the scientific, the evaluation of the actual damage the atomic bomb. In terms of quantitative terms he is right on the money. His evaluation of the kinds of damage an actual terrorist attack would do to the country is also pretty sober and should be required reading for those seized in panic.

His evaluation of the actual difficulties involved for either a rogue nation or a terrorist organization is also pretty good. In particular his 20 tasks that a terrorist has to accomplish in order to deliver the bomb is first rate and I certainly hope our foes ignore his cost benefit analysis on some of these issues.

The book gets weaker when it deals with certain historical and political situations. He tends toward historical revisionism in dealing with Japan and WW II and this points on the fallacy of panic over nuclear war and the soviet threat during the cold war comes chiefly through hindsight, yet he fails to notes the failures in hindsight of those who assured us that the Soviets were strong and here to stay.

His ignorance of the Soviet Unions involvement "Nuclear Freeze" movement is horrifying. Yet his information on Chemical and biological war in history are again must reads, as he soberly takes a look at them in their historical context. He gives both Reagan and Cheney some of their due and he does correctly state that rouge nations will often use the "nuclear" threat to get financial and political advantage, yet he also totally discounts the religious motivation that makes some actors less than rational today.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
John Mueller is a provocateur. As a political scientist he is a Realist, and from this stance he often launches acerbic volleys against rival schools as well as popular conceptions and misconceptions about foreign policy and international affairs.

I often agree with Mueller's arguments, as in Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them, an excellent debunking of the terrorist threat and the Global War on Terror.

But in this case I think Mueller's case is just that -- a one-sided argument against nuclear alarmism that goes too far. I spent the 1980s as a peace educator and organizer, and at that time I was certainly a nuclear alarmist. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. were building massive nuclear arsenals big enough to destroy the world many times over, and the U.S. was working toward a first-strike capability, including the Star Wars program. The nuclear superpowers were on a constant state of alert, with B-52s in the air at all times. Arguing that the hair-trigger situation that existed during the Cold War was nothing to be alarmed about strains credulity. On this point Robert Jervis's 1989 book The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon is much stronger than Mueller in arguing that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) was a fact, not a policy, and that despite periodic brinksmanship and nuclear accidents, World War III was not as likely as many of us thought at the time.
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