27 books directly related to nuclear weapons 📚

All 27 nuclear weapons books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

By Daniel Ellsberg,

Why this book?

Russia and the U.S. each possess a Doomsday Machine: a weapon that could wipe out our species. If either launched their thousands of nuclear ICMBs, that would probably doom us, even if the other did not retaliate. So argues Ellsberg, who confesses his role in creating the menace.  (None of the seven other nuclear nations have more than a few hundred, as a deterrent.) The book’s invaluable history includes multiple occasions when either Russia or the U.S. came perilously close to triggering Armageddon. When I was flying in the Strategic Air Command, we launched three times. Barely before it was…

From the list:

The best books on urgent menaces to the human species

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

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

By William J. Perry, Tom Z. Collina,

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.”

From the list:

The best books about preventing nuclear war

Book cover of Voices From Ground Zero: Recollections and Feelings of Nuclear Test Veterans

Voices From Ground Zero: Recollections and Feelings of Nuclear Test Veterans

By Lincoln F. Grahlfs,

Why this book?

The author of this book was also a Crossroads participant and today is regarded as one of the foremost experts on the effects of ionizing radiation. His book is a collection of interviews with atomic veterans of tests in the Pacific and Nevada. I am grateful to Dr. Grahlfs for agreeing to write the Foreword to my Crossroads memoir.

From the list:

The best books on the first postwar atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946 (Operations Crossroads)

Book cover of Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age

Almighty: Courage, Resistance, and Existential Peril in the Nuclear Age

By Dan Zak,

Why this book?

Zak is an award-winning reporter for the Washington Post where his gift for prose is on regular display. When he turned his skillful journalist’s eye toward nuclear weaponry and present-day anti-nuclear activism, the result was a book that takes readers through the night and aftermath of a break-in at one of the most secure facilities in the country, and a look at the moments and forces in history that shaped the people involved.

From the list:

The best books on the Manhattan Project and the making of the atomic bomb

Book cover of Agent Sonya: Moscow's Most Daring Wartime Spy

Agent Sonya: Moscow's Most Daring Wartime Spy

By Ben Macintyre,

Why this book?

Ben Macintyre obtained unique access to diaries and personal letters for this astounding story of one of the most consequential spies in history. Agent Sonya got her start as a Soviet spy in 1930s Shanghai while in her early twenties. On top of spying, she was a wizard with the high technology of her day: long-distance radio communications. On each assignment, she would assemble a high-powered radio from parts acquired at local shops (several different ones, to avoid suspicion), and in no time be transmitting all the way to Moscow. Sonya was in daily danger as she ran agents…

From the list:

The best spy books set in Asia

Book cover of The Place of Artists' Cinema: Space, Site and Screen

The Place of Artists' Cinema: Space, Site and Screen

By Maeve Connolly,

Why this book?

Connolly’s book traces recent historical shifts in artists’ cinema via a number of overlapping trends; multi-screen video projections in galleries, work that ‘references an earlier event through documentation, re-enactment or remaking’ and that which explores the relationship between cinema, screen architecture, and the museum or gallery space. The implications of these trends; the mobile as opposed to seated spectator or the making of work designed to run as continuous short loops, is considered via detailed discussion of works by a small number of key artists. Connolly, unusually and refreshingly, is not afraid to criticise, as in her discussion of Douglas…

From the list:

The best books on artists’ film and video

Book cover of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

By Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin,

Why this book?

A Pulitzer Prize-winning study of the scientist who led the effort to create the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer was a complicated character, a fine physicist but an even better leader with the perfect temperament to lead a group of scientists with giant egos and even more giant intellects to create the world’s first atomic bombs. Bird and Sherwin tell that story extremely well, and also the subsequent tragic story of his fall from grace during the McCarthy era. 

From the list:

The best books on the lives of 20th century physicists

Book cover of Fail-Safe

Fail-Safe

By Eugene Burdick, Harvey Wheeler,

Why this book?

As a Washington journalist time and again I watched sources rely too much on assurances that situations were under control, surprises would probably never happen and technology was utterly reliable. Airplane cockpits were safe. Climate change would never disrupt the world. Disease was under control. Fail-Safe terrified the world and helped ignite a global movement by asking the question, what if – in the nuclear age – the assurances we are fed are wrong. 

From the list:

The best thriller novels that affected the real world

Book cover of Connections

Connections

By James Burke,

Why this book?

James Burke is a genius who had his own PBS series based on his book, Connections. Right from the get-go, he convinced me that one small malfunction can cripple our entire technologically-based system. This interdependence is typical of almost every aspect of life in the modern world.

Burke made me realize that we live surrounded by objects and systems that we take for granted, but they profoundly affect the way we behave, think, work, play and run our lives and those of our children. If you doubt his assertion, he says, look around you. How many machines could you…

From the list:

The best books to help manage projects

Book cover of The Making of the Atomic Bomb

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

By Richard Rhodes,

Why this book?

The invention of the A-bomb was the most intensive, expensive, and extensive weapons development program in history. Rhodes’ book is a magisterial, gripping telling of this story—from nascent ideas to the terrors of Nagasaki. Pulitzer prize-winner, it’s essential reading to understand the birth of today’s big science.

From the list:

The best books on how science won World War Two

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

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

By Eric Schlosser,

Why this book?

More recent than Kaplan’s Wizards and more episodic but making it clear how close we came to destruction in the Cold War. With journalistic flair, he drives the narrative with real hair-raising episodes most notably a blow-by-blow account of an accident at a Titan II missile silo in Arkansas, in 1980. It’s a book that every student should read as the new generation needs to know how close to disaster we came in between 1947 and 1991 and the world could easily revert into a new Cold War. 

From the list:

The best books on the madness of the Cold War

Book cover of Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record

Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record

By Joint Task Force One,

Why this book?

The book was published in November 1946 by the U.S. Government, just months after Tests Able and Baker in July at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Serious safety concerns about radiation contamination were coming to light and the book was withdrawn from circulation shortly after publication. In 1947, a re-write of the book was published and titled Bombs at Bikini: The Official Report of Operation Crossroads. This book had fewer photographs and of a less graphic nature. However, for my memoir as a Crossroads participant, I was glad to find a copy of the original out-of-print book for…

From the list:

The best books on the first postwar atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946 (Operations Crossroads)

Book cover of The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technological Revolution

The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technological Revolution

By Robert Buderi,

Why this book?

To paraphrase Buderi, radar won the war, the atomic bomb ended it. This isn’t hyperbole. Rushed into service, radar saved Britain from invasion in the summer of 1941 and was a decisive tool in every major theatre of war, from directing night bombers to attacking U-boats.

From the list:

The best books on how science won World War Two

Book cover of The Pinch Runner Memorandum

The Pinch Runner Memorandum

By Kenzaburō Ōe, Michiko N. Wilson (translator), Michael K. Wilson (translator)

Why this book?

An ex-nuclear researcher takes his mentally handicapped son out of school because he fails to convince the teachers and parents that the children should be trained in combat for when society inevitably decides to kill all handicapped children in Japan. So, naturally, they set off on a divine mission concerning warring student political factions, an atomic bomb, terrorism, and a shadowy mastermind named Big Shot. Their adventure is absolutely absurd, a demented dark comedy. Yet Ōe uses his profound ability to write with dire seriousness, which results in a mind-bending story.

From the list:

The best books to violently bludgeon reality

Book cover of Arms and Influence: With a New Preface and Afterword

Arms and Influence: With a New Preface and Afterword

By Thomas C. Schelling,

Why this book?

In the whole of military history, no year was more important than 1945. Why? Because it introduced nuclear weapons to the world and the world to nuclear weapons. Both before and after Hiroshima new weapons have always affected the way war is waged; whereas nuclear ones, by threatening to turn even the “victor” into a radioactive desert, have cast doubt on the purpose for which may be waged and even whether it can be waged at all. 

As the current war in Ukraine has shown once again, provided both sides have a credible second-strike capability using nuclear weapons to win…

From the list:

The best books on war, full stop

Book cover of Alex Sparrow & The Really Big Stink

Alex Sparrow & The Really Big Stink

By Jennifer Killick,

Why this book?

This story made me laugh so much. It’s funny, crazy, and packed full of imagination. Jennifer Killick writes in such a friendly way that you can’t help but get drawn into the mad adventure. The main reason a young reader will engage with a story is if it’s fun and this book is non-stop fun.

Alex Sparrow is a self-styled secret agent with the ability to tell if someone is lying – in the most unusual (and smelly) way. Alex and his friend Jess must solve the most bonkers of mysteries. It’s an absolute hoot!

From the list:

The best books to encourage reluctant readers to discover a love of reading

Book cover of The Bomb And Its Deadly Shadow: A Memoir

The Bomb And Its Deadly Shadow: A Memoir

By Dean Warren,

Why this book?

The author of this book was a Crossroads participant. Furthermore, the author’s father, Dr. Stafford L. Warren, was head of the Medical Section of the Manhattan Project; then headed up the postwar survey of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and was then appointed by the Navy to serve as Chief Radsafe (Radiologic Safety Section) at Crossroads. Mr. Dean Warren and I had several phone conversations before his passing and shared our respective health problems that may — or may not — have been caused by exposure to ionizing radiation at Crossroads.

From the list:

The best books on the first postwar atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in 1946 (Operations Crossroads)

Book cover of Truman

Truman

By David McCullough,

Why this book?

I cannot imagine a book that David McCullough might write that I would not want to read. This impeccably researched and wonderfully intriguing book about President Harry. S. Truman—who was in the White House when the decisions to release the first-ever atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were made—gives an intimate and informative look at one of the key figures in both the Manhattan Project and World War II history.

From the list:

The best books on the Manhattan Project and the making of the atomic bomb

Book cover of Day of Trinity

Day of Trinity

By Lansing Lamont,

Why this book?

Published in 1965 and written by then Washington and foreign correspondent of Time Magazine Lamont, this book remains for me an exceptionally compelling narrative history. The lens here is focused tightly on the events leading up to the first-ever test of an atomic bomb, which was codenamed “Trinity.” Obsessively researched, yes, but it’s Lamont’s writing that makes readers feel as though they are there, in the vastness of the desert, witnessing a happening that changed the world forever.

From the list:

The best books on the Manhattan Project and the making of the atomic bomb

Book cover of The Wizards of Armageddon

The Wizards of Armageddon

By Fred Kaplan,

Why this book?

Kaplan’s book captured the mindset of the Cold Warriors and how the concept of a nuclear holocaust became accepted. Brilliantly researched and written with a dispassionate eye, it remains one of the most insightful accounts of the nuclear weapons race and how it was exploited by the military to build their own empires. It was a great influence on my film Baiting the Bear about General Curtis 'Bomb them back to the Stone Age’ Lemay that I made for BBC's Timewatch in 1996. I haven’t yet read Kaplan’s latest book, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear…

From the list:

The best books on the madness of the Cold War

Book cover of World War II Almanac 1931-1945

World War II Almanac 1931-1945

By Robert Goralski,

Why this book?

The Second World War was the largest inter-state conflict to date, and largely informs contemporary patterns of geopolitics, international institutions, and military technology, like nuclear weapons. Knowledge of the Second World War, which is nevertheless complex, is therefore vital. The World War II Almanac’s format as a day-by-day chronological account of the conflict provides unique political, strategic, diplomatic, economic, and military insights, which would otherwise be inaccessible without having read at least ten times as many sources. Because the book covers events from 1931 to 1945, it describes the early Japanese policies in China as well as the crucial…

From the list:

The best strategic studies books that bring a deeper understanding of war

Book cover of Secrets of the Foreign Office

Secrets of the Foreign Office

By William Le Queux,

Why this book?

William Le Queux’s Duckworth Drew was a secret agent working for British embassies around Europe reporting to the Marquis of Macclesfield, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Like many such agents to follow, he worked in diplomatic and aristocratic circles with finesse and had considerable luck with the ladies.

In short stories like “The Secret of the Submarine,” Drew starred in adventures that were precursors to later yarns focused on new technology as when he encountered an "electronic eye," an Italian device that detonated mines. Such playfulness with then cutting-edge tech reflected the author’s interest in merging adventure with…

From the list:

The best novels containing the origins of Spy-fi

Book cover of Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle

By Kurt Vonnegut,

Why this book?

Ice-nine is a substance that freezes any liquid water into more ice-nine, created for military use, and so obviously overpowered and out of control that any actual use of it would mean the end of the world as we know it. But humans, being the stupid, greedy beings that we are, will find a way...

Vonnegut wrote this novel in 1963 yet it remains as grimly relevant to the world of today. A true classic.

From the list:

The best speculative fiction novels about authority and its abuses

Book cover of Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb

Genius in the Shadows: A Biography of Leo Szilard, the Man Behind the Bomb

By William Lanouette, Bela Silard,

Why this book?

Leo Szilard was one of the most interesting people of the 20th century. His first love was physics, and he is given credit for being the first to think about what would happen if someone could create a nuclear chain reaction. He worked closely with Fermi to make that chain reaction actually happen in Chicago in 1942, and was one of those who was able to see the great tragedy of the discovery, leading efforts in 1945 to try and prevent the use of the weapon against Japan. He was a colorful man, a bon vivant who loved to…

From the list:

The best books on the lives of 20th century physicists

Book cover of The Japanese Merchant Marine in World War II

The Japanese Merchant Marine in World War II

By Mark P. Parillo,

Why this book?

This book doesn’t have a catchy title and sounds rather pedestrian, but we are told never to judge a book by its cover and in this case it’s true about the title as well! Mark Parillo’s magisterial thesis taught me a great deal about why the Japanese lost the Pacific War. He explains why they stubbornly refused to convoy their merchant fleet even when, by failing to do so, they were aiding the enemy’s cause. Japan needed to import most of its war material, but once the US submarine campaign began to decimate the ships that were bringing in those…

From the list:

The best books about the Asian theatre in the Second World War