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Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al Qaeda Hardcover – 12 Nov 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (12 Nov. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019538136X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195381368
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.5 x 16 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,035,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


The narrative is liberally seasoned with striking facts and a dash of wry humour. (Richard Lea, TLS)

Thought-provoking book. (David Holloway, Science)

Some books are written to be read, others to be put in a connon and blasted at the seat of power...sensational. (Simon Jenkins, The Guardian)

About the Author

John Mueller is the Woody Hayes Chair of National Security Studies and Professor of Political Science, Ohio State University. He is the author of Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them 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. Visit his webpage at:

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Format: Hardcover
Every once in a while a book arrives that challenges many of our most deeply-held assumptions, and makes us reconsider some aspects of our worldview. For the better part of the last sixty five years one such assumption has been the imminent threat to the survival of the entire World posed by the nuclear weapons. With the end of the Cold War this threat seemed to be receding fast, only to be rekindled in the first decade of the 21st century by the rise of various rogue regimes around the world, and even more ominously, by the rise of non-state agents that aim to destroy as much of the modern Western civilization as possible. However, according to John Mueller much of that threat is way overblown (pardon the pun) and in "Atomic Obsession" he aims to refute most of our prejudices when it comes to nuclear weapons.

This is a very well researched book as sixty pages of references at the end clearly testify. Mueller brings up many good arguments and for the most part he seems very convincing. I am particularly swayed by the quick -calculation arguments that, for instance, refute notions such as that of a "suitcase bomb" that can be used to bring devastation to a major US city. The probably impact of one such device would be far smaller than what had transpired on 9/11, with the cost in development and resources that far exceed anything that any terrorist group is likely to have. There are several well constructed arguments like that one, and for the most part I am willing to be swayed.

However, there are some problems with the kind and range of sources that are consulted. It is hard to escape the impression that Mueller is rather selective in terms of sources that he cites. Most of the best-argued quotations are from the sources that support his claims.
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Format: Paperback
In 'Atomic Obsession' John Mueller takes a cool look at the rhetoric and reality of nuclear threat. His conclusion is that the threat from nuclear warfare, nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism or nuclear accident has been persistently exaggerated since 1945. Even the effects of the weapons themselves have been represented as apocalyptic – civilisation- or world-ending – rather than being compared with known threats in scale and severity. As this apocalyptic rhetoric, favoured by the media and politicians, has spread to assessment of biological and chemical threats, the danger has arisen that this rhetoric alone will achieve some of the ends of terrorists and rogue states by frightening citizens and their governments into irrational and antidemocratic actions.

Mueller's book is closely and objectively argued, and leavened with dry humour. Some might feel that his analysis of the possibilities for nuclear accident is cursory: everything else is covered. For Mueller, such problems with nukes as are substantial – in his reading, many are not – are essentially political and cultural, rather than military or technological. Somewhat to my surprise, I found it difficult to argue with his conclusions. Anyone might benefit from a reading of this book: but I would particularly recommend it to the reader hypnotised by talk of megadeaths, who may have thought that the threat to humanity posed by the development and insidious spread of nuclear weapons could be met only by a complete ban.

The book has a proper index, full notes, and extensive bibliography to 2009 ('Atomic Obsession' appeared in 2010).
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By F Henwood TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 3 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From the time the bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, there has been no end of hyperbole and doom mongering, on both left and right, about the calamitous prospects nuclear weapons pose. The purpose of this book is not to say there is no nuclear threat, it is to say that the threat has been overblown. From this simple premise, he makes a series of provocative contentions, most of them to my mind highly plausible, and contrary to a lot of conventional wisdom. He shows that the doom mongers have been wrong in their analyses of the issue in the past and most likely be wrong in their analyses of the issue in the present.

Historically, Mueller argues that the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons in preventing world war III or major war between industrialized nations has been greatly exaggerated. Even during the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was deterred less by nuclear weapons but by political and military containment (the Americans' nuclear monopoly in the early years of the Cold War scarcely affected Soviet behaviour). In any case, the Soviet Union itself was not committed to war a means to spread its influence. It sought to expand via political means. Its withdrawal from its global ideological contest was an expression of its own internal political development, with the West's nuclear deterrent scarcely figuring in its calculations (although the burden of conventional military expenditure must have been great).

In today's world, nuclear weapons are irrelevant for most countries in procuring security. Canada needs no nuclear deterrent to stave off an American invasion, for instance. Wars are not caused by arms races.
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