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The Twilight of the Bombs

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In a chilling chapter that reads like a Tom Clancy novel, Rhodes also takes readers inside the 1991 attempted coup in the Soviet Union and the fears it evoked about the security of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Rhodes writes favorably of former President Jimmy Carter, crediting him with preventing another Korean War – and brokering a deal on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions – by bucking the official wishes of the Clinton White House.

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.

To read “The Twilight of the Bombs” is to be reminded that its twin topics, science and diplomacy, are often creatures of acronym. Here we learn about electromagnetic isotope separation, or EMIS, as well as highly enriched uranium, or HEU, and HMX – high-melting explosive. The cast of characters also includes the DNA (Defense Nuclear Agency), UNSCOM (the United Nations Special Commission), IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), and NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).

Like an account of the New Deal, Rhodes’s “Twilight” understandably ladles out a lot of alphabet soup. He handles this unobtrusively, although a small glossary of terms might have helped refresh the reader’s memory on key abbreviations.

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