The best books about preventing nuclear war

David P. Barash Author Of Threats: Intimidation and Its Discontents
By David P. Barash

The Books I Picked & Why

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

By Daniel Ellsberg

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Why this book?

Dan Ellsberg was intimately involved with highly classified (and utterly despicable) nuclear war planning. He describes its history and reality in accessible and authoritative prose. It is the most personal memoir from a former Cold Warrior and is both intellectually powerful and deeply engaging on an interpersonal level.


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The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

By Fred Kaplan

The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War

Why this book?

Kaplan does a marvelous job describing, as the subtitle indicates, “the secret history of nuclear war.” It is in a sense a sequel to Kaplan’s earlier The Wizards of Armageddon, which examined theorists of nuclear annihilation. In The Bomb, Kaplan takes us on a deep dive into the bowels of actual doomsday planning; an unforgettable and darkly educational trip!


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Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

By Eric Schlosser

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

Why this book?

A disquieting but riveting book that includes a detailed account of a real-life but little-known nuclear accident, and then looks at every aspect of nuclear risk, examining problems with the command and control systems that in theory were supposed to provide presidents with the information they would need to make the decision on whether the United States should retaliate against a Soviet strike but that were and probably still are well beyond the capacity of any human beings to deal with safely.


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Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Martin J. Sherwin

Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis

Why this book?

A noted historian gives us a gripping hour-by-hour account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, including a variety of terrifying details that have largely been suppressed until now. We get to meet several unsung heroes, American and Soviet, who may well have literally saved the world, and also to understand how unbelievably dangerous and downright bullheadedly stupid was much (indeed, most!) of the “advice” given to JFK during that time. It’s a crucially needed cautionary tale.


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The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump

By William J. Perry, Tom Z. Collina

The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump

Why this book?

Bill Perry served as Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, after a distinguished prior career in science and engineering. There is probably no one better qualified to describe how we got into our current nuclear dilemma, more clear-eyed about the problems we are now confronting, and more realistic in advising how best to get out of it. He emphasizes that in our paranoia to avoid being attacked by a nuclear-armed opponent, we have created a system that, ironically, threatens us far more than any possible “enemy.”


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