The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

S. & S. Jan. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9781982107291. $30. POL SCI
Kaplan (The Wizards of Armageddon) presents a taut, detailed history of how nuclear war has been both made possible and avoided since the invention and use of the atomic bomb during World War II. Readers will find much to like (or dislike) in Kaplan’s analysis and characterizations of key American decision-makers, notably generals, defense personnel, and presidents. But such is the story that Kaplan intends to tell: how various decisions, personalities, politics, and bureaucratic processes have kept the possibility of nuclear conflict alive in our world, but most importantly, have also prevented such horror from taking place. He begins with the last moments of World War II, focusing on the Army Air Forces and the birth of Strategic Air Command, and brings the narrative forward to the present day. Kaplan’s work is supported by a variety of government documents and research interviews, and while this is a strength of the work, Kaplan has a tendency to recite some documents, when summarizing might suffice.
VERDICT Overall, a well-written and compulsively readable account that will keep military history and Cold War buffs up past their bedtime.
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