Top positive review
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Brilliant - if now somewhat dated - overview of what would happen to London in an all out nuclear war
on 25 August 2014
The authors - a group of concerned scientists - took as their primary aim to educate the general public about the likely consequences of a nuclear attack on London (or nuclear war more widely) and to dispel some very problematic 'myths' that were being propagated at the time. And the concise and very aptly balanced book manages to pack lots of then current research into something a layperson could easily understand - with all the likely consequences possibly shocking the contemporary readership to the core.
British government - possibly for reasons of avoiding mass hysteria - tended to downplay the consequences of a nuclear attack somewhat, or put differently, painted a much brighter picture of possible survival and aftermath than was actually realistic. The authors - well versed in the subject matter quote a raft of research from publicly available American sources on nuclear testing (all producing much bleaker results), to internal British government memos (again with completely different messages than the material produced for public consumption).
The readers get to understand various aspects, from how nuclear weapons work, to the likely use under differing scenarios, to the direct and indirect consequences of a nuclear war. The ghastly consequences and the meagre survival chances from even a limited attack on the UK - as simulated in the 'Square Leg' simulation (where only a fraction of the warheads actually destined for the UK would be used) - are brought across perhaps even more vividly due to the authors' neutral, scientific style (a more alarmist style could probably not accomplish a similar effect).
The authors - in addition to describing all the consequences - also cover briefly the likely country organization post nuclear war. If you felt that sci-fi authors from the early post WW2 era had a dystopian outlook (for instance in The Day of the Triffids (Penguin Modern Classics)), the likely reality - as described in the book - is probably far worse. A nuclear war would signal an immediate return to a fairly ruthless, brutal military dictatorship overnight (and not because of some conspiracy theory reasons - just due to the sheer necessity for making decisions that no civilian government has been forced to make even in times of war so far, and the better survivability of the military overall), with little hope to an ordered return to democracy as we know it for decades or centuries thereafter. The few survivors would find themselves in a world, where the civic institutions they were used to practically disappear and disintegrate overnight, with no real chances of them being rebuilt in the foreseeable future.
Concepts such as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) and the associated deterrence are critically examined, too - with huge doubts expressed in the - for the period - quite sophisticated but potentially very 'buggy' computer controlled launch mechanisms; the authors concerned opinion being that a full scale nuclear holocaust could result simply out of a mistake or computer / programming error.
The only feasible solution is seen in nuclear disarmament and this is the section of the book least well developed. But if the authors' aim (at least the stated one) was to jolt the public from complacency and a sense of false security was achieved - and the book definitely has the potential for it (not sure how widespread the readership was at the time) - than this is a small criticism of an otherwise excellent work.
The spectre of a nuclear war may be somewhat more remote at the moment than in the period of the Cold War and as a result the book somewhat less topical. Irrespective, I find it very important for future generations to understand the genie of nuclear conflict that could still easily be summoned out of the bottle and all the horrendous consequences, before potentially rash decisions are even contemplated - therefore this remains a very important, if increasingly hard to get hold of, book.