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Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War [Paperback]

Hugh Gusterson
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

9 Mar 1998
Based on fieldwork at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - the facility that designed the neutron bomb and the warhead for the MX missile - "Nuclear Rites" takes the reader deep inside the top-secret culture of a nuclear weapons lab. Exploring the scientists' world of dark humor, ritualized secrecy, and disciplined emotions, anthropologist Hugh Gusterson uncovers the beliefs and values that animate their work. He discovers that many of the scientists are Christians, deeply convinced of the morality of their work, and a number are liberals who opposed the Vietnam War and the Reagan-Bush agenda. Gusterson also examines the anti-nuclear movement, concluding that the scientists and protesters are alike in surprising ways, with both cultures reflecting the hopes and anxieties of an increasingly threatened middle class. In a lively, wide-ranging account, Gusterson analyzes the ethics and politics of laboratory employees, the effects of security regulations on the scientists' private lives, and the role of nuclear tests - beyond the obvious scientific one - as rituals of initiation and transcendence. He shows how the scientists learn to identify in an almost romantic way with the power of the machines they design - machines they do not fear. In the 1980s the 'world behind the fence' was thrown into crisis by massive anti-nuclear protests at the gates of the lab and by the end of the Cold War. Gusterson links the emergence of the anti-nuclear movement to shifting gender roles and the development of postindustrial capitalism.


Product details

  • Paperback: 370 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; New Ed edition (9 Mar 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520213734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520213739
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.3 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 962,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Reading this fascinating and fairly written book is the best way to understand the moral dilemma that has haunted the inventors of high explosives, from Alfred Nobel to J. Robert Oppenheimer. . . . An anthropologist with a keen sense of humor, Gusterson illuminates this thorough study with poignant details."--Roger Rapoport, "San Francisco Chronicle

About the Author

Hugh Gusterson is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Science Studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In a context in which policy makers, international relations experts, nuclear weapons scientists, and antinuclear activists have sought to persuade us that there is only one way to understand the world and that they knew what it is, the contribution of anthropology is to disturb comfortable understandings of the world by showing the simultaneous plausibility and arbitrariness of multiple ways of understanding and living in it. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A phenomenal read 5 Mar 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
An anthropologist looks at a nuclear weapons plant. Instead of making an exotic culture familiar, Gusterson takes apart the social workings of Livermore. In doing so, he shows that scientists aren't always rational, that there are elements of hazing rituals in an FBI background check, and that employees internalize their training to a fundamental level.
Intelligent, thorough, and an 8 out of 10 on the readability scale, this is a must for anyone skeptical that anything in the US is rational - least of all our nuclear weapons program. Five stars.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A phenomenal read 5 Mar 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An anthropologist looks at a nuclear weapons plant. Instead of making an exotic culture familiar, Gusterson takes apart the social workings of Livermore. In doing so, he shows that scientists aren't always rational, that there are elements of hazing rituals in an FBI background check, and that employees internalize their training to a fundamental level.
Intelligent, thorough, and an 8 out of 10 on the readability scale, this is a must for anyone skeptical that anything in the US is rational - least of all our nuclear weapons program. Five stars.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Look at the Soul of Nuclear Weapons Lab 4 Aug 2001
By Serap - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have been working across the street from Lawrence Livermore National Labs (LLNL) as an intern at Sandia National Labs, and picked this book up in Sandia's library to get a better sense for the community around me.
The culture in a nuclear weapons lab is utterly unique. Coming from a background where most of my friends are against nuclear weapons, it is interesting to work among people who believe with their heart that what they're doing is good for society.
Hugh Gusterson does a great job at documenting the culture of the LLNL and how it fits in with the culture of Livermore, CA, and how it clashes with the culture of anti-nuclear weapons activists. Gusterson's objectivity is refreshing, and the material is fascinating.
If you've worked at a national lab, want to get into the minds of a nuclear weapons scientist, or just want to learn a bit about one of the US's biggest national laboratories, I highly recommend this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Look at the Soul of Nuclear Weapons Lab 4 Aug 2001
By Serap - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have been working across the street from Lawrence Livermore National Labs (LLNL) as an intern at Sandia National Labs, and picked this book up in Sandia's library to get a better sense for the community around me.
Hugh Gusterson does a great job at documenting the culture of the LLNL scientists and how they face their jobs and those who protest them. This is a fascinating work by a keen anthropologist who has researched a culture that is foreign in its secrecy.
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book 25 Nov 2012
By H. A. Grant - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A fascinating, well-researched book. I know I will reread it several times. The realistic psychological descriptions of both the workers in the weapons lab and the protesters in the civil disobedience movement really struck me.

Our denial and cultural hypnosis will be our final undoing. I found out about nuclear bombs when I was six years old during the Cuban missile crisis. We were made to hide under our desks when the air raid sirens went off, which was absurd; I knew at the time the desks wouldn't protect us from a nuclear bomb. I've believed ever since that we're a defective species that will become extinct in my lifetime. I applaud authors like Mr. Gusterson for taking on the horror of our primitive nature.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shows This Small Town! 30 July 2002
By Diana Stegall - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While I enjoyed this book and all it's talk about nuclear weapons, I had to add a side note that I love the way it really does capture this small town.
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