BOOK REVIEW: Peter Watson’s “Fallout” shows how the nuclear world we got didn’t have to be this way—and doesn’t

As the Justice Department investigations and Congressional hearings into Watergate closed in, Richard Nixon—as a brag—once said something to the effect of, “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.”

That was when he was sober. In the depths of his stress and depression, the U.S. president was also mixing alcohol and sleeping pills, and his natural paranoia became even worse.

“He really got paranoid when he got three drinks in him. There are things I’m not even going to discuss that were said, but they were the result of drinking. He could not handle drink,” one of Nixon’s political strategists said.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Peter Watson’s “Fallout” shows how the nuclear world we got didn’t have to be this way—and doesn’t”

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BOOK REVIEW: “The Future of War: A History” could be a bit more forward-looking

The saying “all is fair in love and war” has passed into platitude, but it’s true that with romance as well as bloodshed, we prepare for the next one mainly by worrying about the mistakes of the last conflict.

Lawrence Freedman’s The Future of War: A History is only about the more martial of the two human endeavors, but there’s a lot to love in it.

Across 287 pages of prose, Freedman’s book is part retro-futurism, part dissertation on the difficulties of determining what actually is a war and who died in one, and, finally, part looking forward at the sort of armed conflicts yet to come.

It doesn’t all fit together seamlessly, or read equally engagingly, but Freedman shows his homework regardless of topic, and there’s an additional 45 pages of notes and 28 pages just devoted to bibliography if warfare of the recent past, present, and future pique your interest.

For non-specialists, the most enjoyable portion is, thankfully, the first bit.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “The Future of War: A History” could be a bit more forward-looking”

BOOK REVIEW: Lynda V. Mapes’ ‘Witness Tree’ gives you new eyes to look at the world around you

If humanity doesn’t immediately reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other climate-warming air pollutants, global temperatures could rise by as much as 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most pessimistic forecasts.

For some reason, this knowledge isn’t as frightening to us as the prospect of a Cold War-style apocalyptic thermonuclear exchange — in the same way that the inevitability of lung cancer from smoking tobacco isn’t as frightening as the idea that, hypothetically, electronic cigarettes might have a one in 100,000 chance of blowing off their vaper’s head. Our risk assessment faculties aren’t adapted to gradual but certain peril the way they ought to be. So here we are.

In that context comes Lynda V. Mapes’ book Witness Tree. The Seattle Times reporter spent a year studying a particular hundred-odd-year-old red oak in north-central Massachusetts while researching its surroundings, using it as a lens to view the effects of global warming and ecology in general.  Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Lynda V. Mapes’ ‘Witness Tree’ gives you new eyes to look at the world around you”