Book Review: The Bomb: A New History by Stephen M. Younger

Review by Elizabeth Quill

Nuclear policy in the United States has yet to escape the Cold War’s shadow. In this account of the atomic bomb, a former director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency makes a case for a reanalysis of the nation’s nuclear needs. “Our nuclear weapons stockpile is optimized for a threat that no longer exists,” Younger writes.

Younger offers a straightforward account of nuclear weapons: how they were developed, how they work and how they forced humankind into constant vulnerability, straddling the line between mutually assured destruction and peace.

Because the weapons cannot be uninvented, Younger argues, the United States should take a close look at what to do with the ones it has. Maintaining current stockpiles indefinitely, he says, will be impossible without testing the weapons to make sure that they still work after years of sitting around.

Though Younger takes a middle-of-the-road approach and his tone is mild-mannered, his position as a former nuclear weapons developer gives his insight authority. He explains what types of weapons are effective for what types of targets. He also emphasizes the importance of accurate intelligence and precision in delivery. New non-nuclear technologies, he says, are superior in some cases.

The Bomb
is probably too broad for A-bomb buffs or others with detailed weapons knowledge. But it does offer a good introduction and explores considerations for future policy.

Ecco, 2009, 238 p., $26.99.