One Oops From Armageddon

'Command and Control,' 'Thermonuclear Monarchy'

Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
Eric Schlosser
The Penguin Press, $36, 631 pp.

Choosing Between Democracy and Doom
Elaine Scarry
W.W. Norton & Company, $35, 593 pp.

It is not as though we haven’t been warned. In April 1945—three months before their invention was tested, and before they could know if it even worked—the scientists who had built the first atomic bomb warned American policymakers that it was likely others, too, would soon make a nuclear weapon: “As a result, it is extremely probable that the future will make it possible to be constructed by smaller nations or even groups.”

It is a warning that has gone unheeded ever since. During the...

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About the Author

Gregg Herken is an emeritus professor of American history at the University of California, and author of Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller. His next book, The Georgetown Set: The Friends and Rivals Who Waged—and Won—the Cold War, will be published by Knopf this fall.