Bookmarks Issue: 

Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons

A-The Twilight of the BombsAmerican journalist and historian Richard Rhodes won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for the first installment of his four-volume The Making of the Nuclear Age: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (1995), and Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race ( 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2008). The Twilight of the Bombs is the last of the four volumes.

The Topic: Examining the events of the last 20 years, Richard Rhodes explores the new role nuclear weapons play in our current, post–Cold War era. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, American scientists and politicians joined forces with their Russian counterparts to secure the former Soviet Union's scattered munitions. Although additional efforts to curb nuclear proliferation have since failed (in North Korea, for example), some countries have been persuaded to neutralize their stockpiles (South Africa, for example) or abandon their nascent nuclear programs (Brazil, for example). Terrorists and fanatical dictators now pose the greatest threat, and Rhodes detects subtle, almost imperceptible signs that humankind may be ready to consider total global disarmament. "The world," he writes, "faces a stark choice: eliminate nuclear weapons and secure their fissile explosives or expect them to be used."
Knopf. 384 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9780307267542

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"His volume may be amply stuffed with charts and diagrams but remains engaging and comprehensible to the lay reader. Indeed, in an unusual alchemy of physics and politics, Rhodes explains both the science and the culture of the nuclear age." David M. Shribman

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Advertised as Rhodes' final word on the matter, The Twilight of the Bombs is an apt conclusion to an epic undertaking. Inevitably, the book covers some familiar ground--the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, the flawed intelligence and decision-making that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq--but at each step Rhodes offers fresh perspective on the historical record." Kevin Canfield

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Rhodes writes in his new book that he originally intended the book's material to be part of Arsenals of Folly, and he has made a sound decision in letting it stand on its own. The difference in tone between this volume and the other three seems, in this context, appropriate--indeed, required--because giving this history such searching scrutiny without reaching for intellectual and moral conclusions would be somehow unnatural." Tim Rutten

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Packed with revealing, documented information, scientific facts and acute insights, The Twilight of the Bombs is a thorough examination of the last 25 years of the world's nuclear conundrum. It is compelling reading of the highest importance." Chris Patsilelis

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In Rhodes's telling, big personalities clash and cooperate, jokes and epiphanies punctuate the debate, and offbeat details energize the narrative. ... Rhodes's great strength is storytelling. He is less convincing when he tries to predict the future." George Perkovich

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As in his previous books on nuclear policy, Rhodes necessarily concerns himself with the technology behind the weapons, a subject of unavoidable complexity. He does a fine job of distilling the nuances of nuclear physics, but Rhodes's careful writing on the subject demands equally careful reading." Danny Heitman

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"For some readers, the entire book will seem fresh, will cram the brain with previously unknown information. For readers of Rhodes' previous three books on the topic, parts of the new book will seem a bit warmed over." Steve Weinberg

Critical Summary

Merging a scientist's attention to detail with a storyteller's flair for narrative drive and characterization, Rhodes has penned "an apt conclusion to an epic undertaking" (Kansas City Star). Filled with fascinating facts and anecdotes, The Twilight of the Bombs not only provides a fresh perspective on otherwise familiar recent events but also reveals significant, little-known episodes in the struggle for nonproliferation, reading at times "like a Tom Clancy novel" (Christian Science Monitor). The critics unanimously praised Rhodes's engaging style, meticulous research, and clear scientific explanations, but they diverged in their opinions of the optimistic conclusions he draws. While the final chapter on the world's nuclear weapons has yet to be written, Rhodes's four volumes remain unsurpassed in their scope and importance, and The Twilight of the Bombs is a splendid close to the story thus far.