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How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III Hardcover – March 1, 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rosenbaum (The Shakespeare Wars), an investigative reporter and Slate columnist, examines the potential for and consequences of nuclear conflict in this sobering, well-argued study. Drawing on decades of study in the field, the author points to a new world that will feature multiple nuclear powers that pose a threat for "touching off a regional nuclear war that could escalate to global scale." Nuclear weapons in the hands of such unstable regimes as Pakistan, North Korea, or Iran is not Rosenbaum's only concern. He worries about Russia's "new bellicosity" and its shoring up and modernization of its nuclear arsenal. Moreover, he argues that the Obama administration's new START treaty preserves a dangerous status quo that leaves in place a "rickety" nuclear command and control system with a "one percent per year" risk of failure. After examining and reluctantly dismissing the prospects for nuclear disarmament, the author concludes with a stark warning: "It's all about luck now. I'm a pessimist." In clear, crisp language, Rosenbaum not only vividly details his personal odyssey "to map out the terra incognita... of the new nuclear landscape," but also challenges the rest of us to confront the gathering storm. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

It�s time to rethink the unthinkable, says Rosenbaum. Impelled by his advocacy to abolish nuclear weapons, he interviewed former and current military officials, academic strategists, and philosophers, who ponder the reliability of nuclear command and control and contingencies that contemplate using nuclear weapons. Providing readers summaries of the cold war�s nuclear close calls, Rosenbaum quizzes defenders and critics of nuclear deterrence. He is naturally sympathetic to arguments that deterrence is an unstable mind game destined to fail. How it might takes Rosenbaum into scenarios involving a country regularly assailed by threats of annihilation, Israel. What if, despite Israel�s atomic arsenal, Iranian menaces eventuate in a nuclear attack (which Rosenbaum pessimistically predicts). Rosenbaum asks several interlocutors if Israeli retaliation that would kill millions of innocents could be ethically justified. Shifting the problem from seminar abstraction to air-raid reality, Rosenbaum discusses war risks run by Israel�s acts of preemption, as in its 2007 destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor. With the bomb proliferating, Rosenbaum is an alarming herald of current and possibly future events. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416594213
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416594215
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,257,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Graham DeShazo on March 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is long on supposition, conjecture, and theory (as well as a heavy-handed dose of personal morality), and short on facts and the type of stories and details I was looking for. To the extent that stories and examples were given, they were oversold.
I respect the author's opinion, but I think it is poorly defended and subject to considerable question.

In addition, the book digresses way too far into subjects of religion and philosophy.

Finally, and I hate to say this part the most, the book is kind of boring. The prose is (again) heavy-handed as well as long-winded. I found myself skipping ahead, which is something I never do.

I did manage to finish the book, but I was left with a sense of buyer's remorse.

If you describe yourself as a "zeroer", you will find much to your liking. Otherwise, you will probably find little to change your mind.
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Format: Hardcover
This book strikes me as a great New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly article that was streched into a book with less than optimal results. You get some really chilling information and assessments, which are unfortunately wrapped around Rosenbaum basically debating morality with himself. There's a great deal missing here - it's a shame, because it is such a compelling topic, but it isn't done justice here.
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Format: Hardcover
The author starts by assuming that most nations build nuclear weapons not because they wish to use them but because they wish to deter others from using theirs. The central question explored in this book is, what would be the morality of nuclear retaliation if a day comes when deterrence has failed?

This is a somewhat circular argument, in that deterrence depends upon convincing one's potential enemies that retaliation is certain. Submarine-launched missiles can provide a second strike capability, as subs could launch devastating attacks even if the nation that owns them no longer exists.

And yet ... if your country has already been destroyed, then what is there to gain from launching your nuclear weapons-- other than to kill tens or hundreds of millions who otherwise might live?

And yet, and yet: if one is not willing to implement a nuclear policy that ensures retaliation after an attack, are one's enemies not likely to discern this? And when they do, won't they be more likely to attack? And if so, wouldn't implementing such a policy increase the probability of nuclear war?

All of this assumes there are people in the world who would choose to commit mass murder. The author clearly believes there are, as his reference is Hitler and the holocaust. Further, he recognizes that Israel could be totally destroyed by just one or two nuclear bombs, and that it is surrounded by many who speak openly of extermination.

But then he runs up against the morality of retaliation after deterrence has failed, and his moral principles just will not let him go there. As he sees it, once all is lost then retaliation can never be justified. And if retaliation cannot be justified, then a policy based on it must be immoral and should be abandoned.
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Format: Hardcover
The basic problem with nuclear weapons is that they exist. You can build them with 1940s technology, if you want an intercontinental ballistic missile, you can build that with 1950s technology. Over time as the world gets richer and technology improves it gets easier to make these. Right now, many countries if they wanted to, could develop nuclear weapons and a variety of WMD. Despite the best efforts of scientist and engineers, there is no credible defense against these weapons so the only policy that has worked up to now is assured retaliation (MAD). In this debate steps in the author of this book.

The major question that seems to concern the author is once someone launches nuclear weapons. What is the morality of nuclear retaliation? Say side A does an atomic strike on side B, is it moral for side B to retaliate? Of course, the real problem here is if side A thinks that side B will not retaliate; they may be very tempted to strike.

I think the writer, is dishonest with his facts. For example, he must know that it is questionable whether Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov's decision had much to do with preventing nuclear war as plenty is available on the net about it.
I am sure he is misrepresenting the facts on purpose about the US nuclear triad policy. It is expensive, but the point of it is not for first strike. The idea is by having a variety of methods of retaliations it makes it harder for the other side to make a successful first-strike on the US so giving the US a more credible threat of a second strike. If, for example, say the USSR did develop the blue-green laser that could detect submarines, which people had been working on?
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I hope Ron Rosenbaum donates his brain to science. I suspect it's an extra-large. But the difference between him and your garden-variety genius is that Rosenbaum's intellect is impassioned through and through. And he manages to pull those same emotions out of the reader as he parses the greatest question of our time: whether we are, by basic design, self-destructive. Taking on the big topics is Rosenbaum's beat: the existence of evil in his book "Explaining Hitler," and the miracle of genius in his book on Shakespeare. These are not dry exegeses; they are not merely researched but fully experienced by the author as he, for example, travels to a nuclear command center in Omaha or meets with key industry characters. He identifies the humans who hold the keys to our annihilation. And he scares us silly. This book is a warning, a Cassandra cry, and a must-read.
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