The best books about preventing nuclear war

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

Who am I?

I have worn two hats for many decades: evolutionary biology and antinuclear activism. The former appeals to my scientific self and the latter, to my political and emotional passions (although I pride myself in applying science and reason to my antinuclear work as well). The danger of nuclear war has NOT disappeared — or even notably diminished — with the end of the Cold War, and yet, public awareness of this situation has plummeted. Fortunately, there are many technically accurate and yet accessible book-based treatments of this topic, which I am happy to recommend ... my own not least!

I wrote...

Threats: Intimidation and Its Discontents

By David P. Barash,

Book cover of Threats: Intimidation and Its Discontents

What is my book about?

"It's a rare author who can combine literary erudition and an easy fluency of style together with expert knowledge of psychology and evolutionary biology. David Barash adds to all this a far-seeing wisdom and a humane decency that shines through on every page. The concluding section on the senseless and dangerous futility of nuclear deterrence theory is an irrefutable tour de force which should be read by every politician and senior military officer. If only!" - Richard Dawkins

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Why did I love 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.

By Daniel Ellsberg,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Doomsday Machine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction

From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, the first insider expose of the awful dangers of America's hidden, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that is chillingly still extant

At the same time former presidential advisor Daniel Ellsberg famously took the top-secret Pentagon Papers, he also took with him a chilling cache of top-secret documents related to America's nuclear program in the 1960s. Here for the first time he reveals the contents of those now-declassified documents and makes clear their shocking relevance for today.

The Doomsday Machine is Ellsberg's hair-raising…

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

Why did I love 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!

By Fred Kaplan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bomb as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of the classic The Wizards of Armageddon and Pulitzer Prize finalist comes the definitive history of American policy on nuclear war-and Presidents' actions in nuclear crises-from Truman to Trump.

Fred Kaplan, hailed by The New York Times as "a rare combination of defense intellectual and pugnacious reporter," takes us into the White House Situation Room, the Joint Chiefs of Staff's "Tank" in the Pentagon, and the vast chambers of Strategic Command to bring us the untold stories-based on exclusive interviews and previously classified documents-of how America's presidents and generals have thought about, threatened, broached, and just barely…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Eric Schlosser,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Command and Control as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Oscar-shortlisted documentary Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner, finds its origins in Eric Schlosser's book and continues to explore the little-known history of the management and safety concerns of America's nuclear aresenal.

"A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. Fascinating." -Lev Grossman, TIME Magazine

"Perilous and gripping . . . Schlosser skillfully weaves together an engrossing account of both the science and the politics of nuclear weapons safety." -San Francisco Chronicle

A myth-shattering expose of America's nuclear weapons

Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Martin J. Sherwin,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Gambling with Armageddon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Prometheus comes the first effort to set the Cuban Missile Crisis, with its potential for nuclear holocaust, in a wider historical narrative of the Cold War—how such a crisis arose, and why at the very last possible moment it didn't happen.

In this groundbreaking look at the Cuban Missile Crisis, Martin Sherwin not only gives us a riveting sometimes hour-by-hour explanation of the crisis itself, but also explores the origins, scope, and consequences of the evolving place of nuclear weapons in the post-World War II world. Mining new sources and materials, and going…

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

Why did I love 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.”

By William J. Perry, Tom Z. Collina,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Button as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The President has the power to end the world in minutes. Right now, no one can stop him.

Since the Truman administration, America has been one "push of a button" away from nuclear war-a decision that rests solely in the hands of the President. Without waiting for approval from Congress or even the Secretary of Defense, the President can unleash America's entire nuclear arsenal.

Almost every governmental process is subject to institutional checks and balances. Why is potential nuclear annihilation the exception to the rule? For decades, glitches and slip-ups have threatened to trigger nuclear winter: misinformation, false alarms, hacked…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in nuclear weapons, nuclear warfare, and military policy?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about nuclear weapons, nuclear warfare, and military policy.

Nuclear Weapons Explore 44 books about nuclear weapons
Nuclear Warfare Explore 35 books about nuclear warfare
Military Policy Explore 29 books about military policy

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Midnight in Chernobyl, KGB, and The Wizards of Armageddon if you like this list.