Eight Essential Poolside Books on Nuclear Weapons

As negotiations with Iran continue into the summer, what better way to stay involved than cracking open a book on the beach? To help you parse the ongoing news around negotiations, we have updated our summer reading list with a variety of topics ranging from history to a deeper look at some of the countries at the center of nuclear tensions.

  1. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, Denise Kiernan. Best known for building planes, tanks and ships in factories in World War II, Rosie the Riveter also played a significant role in the development of the atomic bomb. This book explores women’s important role at a secret nuclear research facility in Tennessee.
  1. Command and Control, Eric Schlosser. There’s a nuclear bomb somewhere off the coast of Savannah, Georgia and no one knows where? Despite extensive safeguards, nuclear weapons still pose a risk from accidents, human error and their sheer technical complexity. Schlosser highlights some truly frightening incidents over the past decades. The hardcopy of this book won several awards last year and was mentioned as a New York Times best book of 2013. The paperback, appearing at the end of the summer, might be just the right size to tuck in your Labor Day vacation carry-on.
  1. Voices from Chernobyl – The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, Svetlana Alexievich. Even 28 years after the Chernobyl nuclear incident, its lessons still vividly illustrate the human tragedy and risks posed by nuclear accidents.  
  1. Five Myths about Nuclear Weapons, Ward Wilson. How many times has someone told you that the genie of nuclear weapons will never be put back in the bottle? Let nuclear expert Ward Wilson give you new insights why common beliefs about nuclear weapons may not be true. Described as “accessible, short and breathless,” this book debunks five common myths about nuclear weapons while livening up the debate about them.
  1. Avoiding Armageddon: America, India, Pakistan to the Brink and Back, Bruce Riedel. South Asia is home to the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenals and the site of the world’s most likely regional nuclear war. Focusing on the twisted history between South Asia’s two nuclear rivals, Riedel gives insightful context into the strategic dimensions that shape India and Pakistan’s fractured relationship, the United States’ policy toward the region and efforts to prevent a nuclear war.
  1. The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, Don Oberdorfer and Robert Carlin. While North Korea is well known for its aggressive rhetoric and pursuit of nuclear weapons, less is known about the history and internal politics that influence its complex relations with the rest of the world. This thoroughly revised and updated version of the original book gives an excellent understanding of and context to North Korea’s seemingly incomprehensible behavior.
  1. The Iranian Labyrinth: Journeys through Theocratic Iran and its Furies, Dilip Hiro. With tense negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 dominating the headlines, it is easy to overlook the people and society involved. Hiro looks beyond the stereotypes of Iran and reveals a complex society that is rich in culture, history, contradictions and a government struggling for legitimacy.
  1. Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, Joseph Cirincione. Last, but not least, a book by one of our own, the president of Ploughshares Fund. In this up-to-date examination of the state of nuclear weapons, Cirincione looks at the risks nuclear weapons still pose, efforts to reduce/eliminate the world’s nuclear weapons stockpile and if the world is on the verge of another arms race.

Still Hungry for More Books?

Then click here for the 11 essential books on nuclear weapons from a previous Ploughshares Fund list.

Short on Reading Time?

Then watch a related movie. Here are some classics that are available for streaming:  

  1. Dr. Strangelove (1964) – A true classic that needs no introduction. (Netflix)
  2. The Day After (1983) – A made for TV movie centering on a war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact escalates into a nuclear war and follows the citizens of two Midwestern towns in the aftermath. (YouTube)
  3. Godzilla (1956) – Sure, the remake is now in the theaters but here is an early adaptation of the classic Japanese movie where nuclear testing awakens a 400 foot amphibian. (Netflix)
  4. WarGames (1983) – A young hacker finds a way into military computers and may accidentally be starting World War III. (iTunes store)
  5. Hiroshima: BBC History of World War II (2005) – Winner of an Emmy and three BAFTA awards, this docudrama features historical reenactments to chronicle America’s bombing of Hiroshima. (Netflix)
  6. Radio Bikini (1988) – An Oscar-nominated documentary focusing on the aftermath of US atomic bomb testing on the Bikini Atoll rendering it uninhabitable for 40 years. (Netflix)


Original Photo by White House Flickr


In 1961 I entered the U.S.N. in hopes to be a "boatswainsmate. I was informed that I had scored too well on the entry exams ! I would be a gunnersmate Technician. I was taught how to store, maintain, prepare for launch, and in some cases how to detonate such weapons. As late as 2010 while driving through Alabama I was stopped by a train crossing. As the train passed there was 5 flat cars with military containers that held what I knew to be particular nuclear weapons. fortunately now all of what I knew is now out of classified information. As such any discussion of that material is of no interest to anyone. It is only frustrating to have been exposed to such top secret info that is of NO use to me or anyone else today.

I certainly hope that those of you in San Clemente/Oceanside, in Morro Bay, Eureka, Hanford and anywhere along the Columbia, and those back East sitting by the side of the nuke plant radioactive cooling pools, will enjoy learning more about the poisoning of the Black Hills/Wyoming prairie, and US Southwest "sacrifice" zones, where uranium mining and processing occurred and is still planned. Learn about the discovery of Yucca Mt., for instance, where it was found that it only takes 50 years for corrosive water would begin the process of eating away at supposedly sequestered high-level waste containment, instead of the thousands originally though by engineers gone. We hopefully convinced Obi to stop that for good, as the poisoning of all life organisms in tens or hundreds of thousands of years should matter as much as the poisoning of any that are out of your sight today. Learn of the immense political corruption involved the nuclear and other rationale for war created by overly hubristic people clamoring to get their Halliburton and other stocks to rise with endless war, devastating on the other side of Earth with future drones, claiming that no death to anyone important to you occurs. The Dine'/Navajo, the Lakota and other people and life are right now enjoying the cancers and other illness generated by the wonderful ingredients of your pools, and the energy keeping you and your favorite toxic waste so cool poolside.

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