Let’s Say Someone Did Drop the Bomb. Then What?

That’s the cold-sweat-inducing premise of the two books, Annie Jacobsen’s “Nuclear War” and Sarah Scoles’s “Countdown”–Barry Gewen, a longtime editor at the NY Times Book Review who retired in 2022, writes a trenchant review:

When it comes to nuclear catastrophe, there is a large and ever-expanding body of books and films. Movies have an obvious visual advantage (what is more photogenic than a mushroom cloud?), but books like Annie Jacobsen’s gripping “Nuclear War: A Scenario” are essential if you want to understand the complex and disturbing details that go into a civilization-destroying decision to drop the Bomb on an enemy.

Jacobsen, the author of “The Pentagon’s Brain,” has done her homework. She has spent more than a decade interviewing dozens of experts while mastering the voluminous literature on the subject, some of it declassified only in recent years. “Nuclear war is insane,” she writes. “Every person I interviewed for this book knows this.” Yet the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads remains unsheathed.

Numbers tell the terrifying story by themselves. A one-megaton bomb dropped on the Pentagon would kill about a million people in the first two minutes, and the subsequent war would be a march toward Armageddon. She estimates that, by its end, at least two billion individuals would lose their lives.

Jacobsen calls this genocide, but then goes further, describing a mass extinction event from the postwar impact of nuclear winter and the degradation of the ozone layer. “As long as nuclear war exists as a possibility,” she says, “the survival of the human species hangs in the balance.”

More here.