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The Bomb

Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War
Written by: Fred Kaplan
Narrated by: Edward Bauer
Length: 11 hrs and 14 mins
Categories: History, Military
4.5 out of 5 stars (5 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

From the author 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 avoided nuclear war from the dawn of the atomic age until today.

Kaplan’s historical research and deep reporting will stand as the permanent record of politics. Discussing theories that have dominated nightmare scenarios from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kaplan presents the unthinkable in terms of mass destruction and demonstrates how the nuclear war reality will not go away, regardless of the dire consequences.

©2020 Fred Kaplan (P)2020 Simon & Schuster Audio

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Bogged down in details

I found the book tedious. At times it seemed to be just a recitation of trivia. I didn't care for the narrator's performance either. I did the return it, but was tempted.

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  • Richard L. Hubbell
  • 2020-02-06

Excellent, important book, bad narration.

The book is fascinating. I’ve been in the government for years, and this is an important history of which I was unaware. And a frightening story it is. The insanity of how willing the military was to nonchalantly use nuclear weapons at the beginning of any repeat any conflict is frightening. The same issues remain today.

An excellent book, with an important and timely message. Highly recommended.

The narration, unfortunately, is pretty bad. It’s clear the narrator knows nothing about the subject. For example, the acronym SAC for Strategic Air Command is called “SAC” (pronounced like “sack”); here the narrator spells it the letters, like with the FBI. This is a small error, but since SAC is the major player in this history it becomes increasing irritating and each times he makes the error it is a constant reminder the narrator knows nothing about the subject. They clearly did not bother to check with somebody familiar with the subject.

Second, like too many narrators of non/fiction, he reads it as if he feels the need to make it dramatic: rising and falling pitch, dramatic pauses, etc. Instead of just letting the words speak for themselves, he treats it like reading a story to an audience who need to be entertained.

This has happened to me before. It’s my own fault. From now on I’m going to listen to the sample before buying.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Rachelle Dietz
  • 2020-03-06

Mild Trump bashing

Little disappointed I didn't see the ending was a Trump bashing book. That's too bad.

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  • Aero91
  • 2020-03-06

Was good until the author started lecturing

until author started lecturing Orange man bad. I don't listen to history books to hear about current presidents. in 20 years we will see how the current administration actually performed.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-02-14

Much opinion scarce facts

You may be able to eek out some history from listening to this, but only if you are really careful. In terms of getting Mr. Kaplans 'opinion', that will not be a problem, but just in case Mr. Kaplan's opinion is 'not' clear:

Obama was the second coming of Jesus Christ. Thank god for JFK, who kept the military nuts under control and had nothing to do with the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon knew nothing about foreign policy, lucked into ending the Vietnam war in spite of his bungling good thing he had Kissinger to help him out, Trump is a dangerous crazy, ignorant lunatic. The officers who built an maintained our nuclear arsenal are lunatics and idiots.
We would all be much better off without our nuclear arsenal.

If you are of this line of thinking and would like to read something that massages your preconceived notions, please read listen to this diatribe. You'll feel much better about yourself.

If you are open minded and want to learn some history, you will learn 'some' history but only one side of the story.

1 person found this helpful

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  • C.W.O.
  • 2020-02-27

Good summary of the topic some interesting historical insights.

An interesting book, and if the listener is interested in the topic, a compelling listen. It explains how national nuclear weapons policy evolved, after development and use during WWII; Truman’s decision to place initial control in civil hands under the AEC; the consequence of loss of monopoly after the Berlin crisis; massive retaliation on civil population (where leadership and war industries existed); counter force, focusing on potential first strike in order to destroy Soviet attack capacity; the development of the Single Integrated Operating Plan (SIOP) that produces its own strange logic, and, perhaps by design ignored successive presidential guidance on the subject until late in the Cold War, and many other interesting twists and turns. One of the biggest surprise is the author’s apparent assessment that some of our presidential leaders perceived as doves (Carter, Clinton, and to a lesser degree Obama) have been more successful at nonproliferation efforts than some of our perceived Republican hawks. Indeed, it describes circumstances concerning North Korea during the run up to the Iraq War, which is the best evidence I’ve heard yet for avoiding what some have called wars of choice, and I was there and supported the effort. The book, however, seemed surprisingly kind to Reagan and Bush and complimentary of Obama, but if you are a Trump fan, you probably wont appreciate the author’s characterization of him in the last chapter. To be clear, this book covers the topic described. The author’s discussion and characterization of presidential leadership is a minor and probably inevitable part of the story, as the office of president provides the final guidance on setting nuclear weapons policy, and the person of the president is vested with the ultimate power to decide if and when to use such weapons. As the world returns to an era of potential armed conflict between Great Powers, the US, Russia and China, this book should be of interest to any concerned citizen seeking to understand the policy, and remaining areas of debate: first strike or no first strike, development and use of tactical theater nuclear weapons to counter Russia’s development of the same. All in all, a good listen. My only disappointment is that the author offered no comment on how developing weapons technologies, hypersonic missiles, which would seem to threaten land based ICBMs and aircraft carriers, and super fast nuclear armed torpedos, which could possibly threaten out boomer fleet, affected current strategy. Maybe in a second book.

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  • Frank
  • 2020-02-25

Eye opening

I've been opposed to nuclear weapons since I saw the pictures of charred children in Japan. What's so horrifying is just how poorly these weapons have been managed, and how the turf wars between the service branches caused bloat and waste. I'm also horrified to learn that nuclear weapons are no longer under civilian control.