"To stem the rising tide of nuclear risks in world politics, the ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the wider International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement [launched] a global campaign. The video campaign aims to draw further attention of the public to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of a nuclear war, and ultimately encourage people to urge their governments to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons."
Staying engaged in the effort to prevent nuclear war requires an understanding of the history of nuclear weapons and the impact their use and production has had on people and the planet. View this list from Ploughshares Fund of some of the best books about nuclear weapons. From well-loved classics to warnings from the past few years, we hope that this selection sheds some light on the need to prevent the spread and further use of nuclear weapons.
Not for the Faint of Heart: Lessons in Courage, Power, and Persistence, Amb. Wendy R. Sherman. The lead negotiator of the Iran nuclear agreement takes readers inside the world of international diplomacy. An autobiography of one of our most effective negotiators — often the only woman in the room. She shows how we can learn to apply core skills of diplomacy to the challenges in our own lives and to the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.
Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom, Elaine Scarry. Literary critic and social theorist makes the case that the US president’s unchecked power to order a nuclear weapons launch is a violation of the Constitution, and is fundamentally incompatible with the deliberative principles of democracy.
The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel, Jeffrey Lewis. Middlebury College professor, nuclear expert and Ploughshares Fund grantee explores a hypothetical nuclear war involving the United States, North Korea, South Korea and Japan rooted in real historical events, quotes, and facts about nuclear weapons technology. This work of fiction is presented in the style of a report from a government commission charged with investigating the events.
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, Daniel Ellsberg. Former United States military analyst offers his recollections and analysis of a cache of secret documents related to the US nuclear arsenal. The book contains chilling details about narrowly-avoided disasters, flawed launch protocols, and philosophies and strategies regarding the true purpose of the US nuclear arsenal.
My Journey at the Nuclear Brink, William J. Perry. The 19th US Secretary of Defense tells the story of his coming of age during the nuclear era, and reflects on how his experiences over the past 70 years have shaped his thinking about the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, Kristen Iversen. The author, who grew up near the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility, presents a detailed account of the government’s efforts to hide the effects of the toxic and radioactive waste released by Rocky Flats, and of local residents’ attempts to seek justice in court.
Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser. Acclaimed author and producer explores the history of nuclear weapons systems in the United States. Sobering accounts of nuclear accidents, near misses, and technological developments raise questions about the management and safety of the US nuclear arsenal. Eric Schlosser is a member of the Ploughshares Fund Board of Directors.
African Americans Against the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons, Colonialism, and the Black Freedom Movement, Vincent Intondi. Associate Professor of African-American Studies at Montgomery College chronicles the history of African-American involvement in the nuclear disarmament movement. and explores the connection between nuclear issues and the fight for racial equality.
Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, Richard Rhodes. This Pulitzer Prize-winning author chronicles events during the Ronald Reagan administration that led to the US and the Soviet Union coming within minutes of nuclear war, setting the stage for the 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Able Archer 83: The Secret History of the NATO Exercise That Almost Triggered Nuclear War, Nate Jones. National Security Archive staffer writes about a NATO military exercise that the Soviet Union initially mistook for a real nuclear first-strike.
Hiroshima, John Hersey. Required reading for any aspiring journalist, nuclear policy analyst, or anyone interested in the history, this short book collects essays originally published in the New Yorker written about survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.
Stay engaged in the effort to prevent nuclear war. Read these 11 essential books on nuclear weapons.
A graphic novel by Andy Kirk with artist Kristian Purcell
“The U.S. tested nearly a thousand atomic weapons in the Nevada desert 125 miles north of Las Vegas…. Did they really build fake towns out in the desert and then blow the whole place up with atomic bombs? And the answer is yes, in fact, they did do that…
“The purpose as stated by the civil defense agencies of creating these “Doom Towns” and then widely disseminating on film their being destroyed was to encourage Americans to be concerned about the possibility of civilians being the target of nuclear attack.”
Taylor Downing, Da Capo Press, 4/24/18
Recently, a declassified report lifted the veil on the events of a week in November 1983, the year KAL007 was shot down and America watched “The Day After”, when we had in fact, a very close brush with World Death. The Able Archer story is a timely and important reminder of the variety of things that can happen to drive a situation to the brink of nuclear disaster when there is posturing and provocation and no trust.
Excerpts from the Christian Science Monitor book review:
“Able Archer 83 was sparked by a routine NATO military exercise. But, as writer Taylor Downing documents in “1983: Reagan, Andropov and a World on the Brink”, a carefully-researched and absorbing book, it occurred when mistrust and suspicion between the superpowers was sky-high. Indeed, relations were so tense that Soviet political and military leadership believed the exercise was a ruse to enable NATO to launch a pre-emptive strike… The Soviets concluded that this was not an exercise but the real thing and put their own military on the highest readiness level. So fully armed fighter planes sat continuously idling on runways waiting for a signal to take off. Meanwhile, in Washington, nothing seemed amiss. Only much later did the United States realize that Soviet leaders had been petrified with fear. A top-secret US report concluded, “We may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger.” (source: CSM)
More on Able Archer: Slate’s cover story from April 2017:
The Week the World Almost Ended- In 1983, the U.S. simulated a nuclear war with Russia- and narrowly avoided starting a real one. We might not be so lucky next time..
Ron Rosenbaum, in his fascinating and highly readable “How The End Begins” (2011) notes that when Kissinger told Nixon that Ellsberg was “the most dangerous man in America” he wasn’t referring to the Pentagon Papers but to what Ellsberg knew about top secret nuclear war plans from his work at RAND. Ellsberg had also made off with thousands of nuclear war-fighting strategy documents in addition to the Pentagon Papers, but decided to release the latter first. As it turned out much of the nuclear papers were lost during the turmoil following the Pentagon Papers release. This book, long overdue, is about what he learned then.
Ellsberg recalls being tasked to review the strategic war-fighting plans in effect under Eisenhower, and discovering that they called for “hitting every city, actually every town, above 25,000 population” in Russia and China and to some extent East Europe. Pressed for an estimate of death toll, the pentagon came back with 600 million dead. And that was not counting US and West European death tolls. “I thought, ‘This is the most evil plan that has ever existed. It’s insane.'”
Referring to US and Russian ICBM forces still to this day on alert: “Here is what we now know: the United States and Russia each have an actual Doomsday Machine.”
Military scientists exposed American civilians to radiation without their knowledge or consent.
“Behind the Fog” documents a dark chapter of “large-scale organizational deviance”…
From the publisher:
“Martino-Taylor documents the coordinated efforts of a small group of military scientists who advanced a four-pronged secret program of human-subject radiation studies that targeted unsuspecting Americans for Cold War military purposes… Agency and academic partnerships advanced, supported, and concealed the studies from the public at large who ultimately served as unwitting test subjects.
‘They targeted the most vulnerable in society… They targeted children. They targeted pregnant women in Nashville. People who were ill in hospitals. They targeted wards of the state. And they targeted minority populations.’
Martino-Taylor’s comprehensive research illuminates a dark chapter of government secrecy, the military-industrial-academic complex, and large-scale organizational deviance in American history. In its critical approach, Behind the Fog effectively examines the mechanisms that allow large-scale elite deviance to take place in modern society.”
By award-winning documentary filmmaker Deborah Cammissa
“The City of St. Louis has a little known nuclear past as a uranium-processing center for the Atomic bomb. Government and corporate negligence led to the dumping of Manhattan Project uranium, thorium, and radium, thus contaminating North St. Louis suburbs, specifically in two communities: those nestled along Coldwater Creek – and in Bridgeton, Missouri adjacent to the West Lake-Bridgeton landfill…”
“Raven Rock is this massive, hollowed-out mountain. It’s a free-standing city… with individual buildings, three-story buildings, built inside of this mountain. It has everything that a small city would- there’s a fire department there, there’s a police department, medical facilities, dining halls. The dining facility serves four meals a day, it’s a 24 hour facility, and it was sort of mothballed to a certain extent during the 1990s as the Cold War ended and then was restarted in a hurry after Sept. 11 and has been pretty dramatically expanded over the last 15 years, and today could hold as many as 5,000 people in the event of an emergency.”
Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age
By Dan Zak, reviewed by Kai Bird
“Zak’s narrative is a perfectly measured blend of biography, suspense and history. He skillfully uses the small, finite story of the Y-12 protest [the break-in 4 years ago by Sister Rice and friends] to explore our national identity as a people whose culture is now intimately connected with things nuclear. Our bomb culture has not come cheap; the environmental costs have been devastating for many communities. And even though scores of governments- but not our own- are on record supporting a treaty that would ban nuclear weapons, Zak shows this is still an outlier dream. He quotes a United States admiral intoning: ‘I don’t see us being nuclear-free in my lifetime. Or in yours.’
We are stuck with Armageddon in our dreams. And in the meantime the Sister Megans of our bomb culture will no doubt try again and again to cry out against our complacency. But truly, it seems hopeless. As Billy Pilgrim laments repeatedly in Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, ‘So it goes.'”
Interview with Dan Zak, “Almighty” author
A Texas public radio interview with the very knowledgable and thoughtful Dan Zak, author of “Almighty”. Dan discusses The Lieu-Markey bills to restrict presidential authority to launch nuclear war, the B61-12 nuclear bomb and its new capabilities, the planned trillion-dollar “modernization” of the US nuclear arsenal, North Korea, deterrence, and the Oak Ridge Y-12 break-in of 2012.
William J. Perry [Former Secretary of Defense]
Published by Stanford Security Studies, Nov. 2015
Perry argues that nuclear weapons now “endanger our society rather than securing it.” He is one of the founders, along with Sam Nunn, George Schultz, and Henry Kissinger, of the Nuclear Security Project.
In his own words:
“This book is a selective memoir of my experiences with nuclear weapons and nuclear crises, and its purpose is to alert the public to the real and growing dangers of a nuclear catastrophe. I hope you will read this book and learn from it. But I realize that this book, even if effective, will reach only a small audience. In particular, it will reach very few of our young people. The problems I have described are going to be with us for decades, so our young people must play a key role in dealing with them.
Therefore I have undertaken to put these concepts into a form more widely accessible and available to young people. I am doing this through the William J. Perry Project, whose goal is mass education on nuclear dangers… For some years I have taught a course at Stanford about nuclear dangers, and I am now developing that course into an online course that has the potential to reach not just hundreds of students, but hundreds of thousands… The broader series of educational materials under development is called “Nuclear Weapons: 20th-Century History, 21st-Century Decisions,” or 20-21 for short. We not only want people to understand the history, but to engage in current-day issues facing the United States, such as the impending nuclear arms race and the danger of a resumption of nuclear testing.
I hope to encourage young people to take the baton I am trying to pass to them. My generation created this existential problem- their generation must find a way to solve it.”
“A shocking account of foul play, theft and abuse at our nation’s premier nuclear R&D installation, uncovering a retaliatory culture where those who dare to question pay with their careers and, potentially, their lives.
Tommy was unrecognizable. His face was swollen, bruised, and stained with blood, his eyes barely visible through ballooning eyelids and a broken jaw. On his cheek was a ghostly imprint- the tread mark of someone’s shoe. Suddenly, with a slight movement of his hand, Tommy waved me in closer to hear him. Speaking softly through lips that barely moved, he said, ‘Be careful . . . They kept telling me to keep my fucking mouth shut; they kept telling me to keep my fucking mouth shut,’ he repeated.”
Radio interview with Chuck Montaño on the book: KSFR Santa Fe.
Chuck Montaño was given the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s Whistleblower Award in Washington DC on April 19, 2016.