WEAPONS GRADE: How Modern Warfare Gave Birth to Our High-Tech World

Alan Sillitoe, Author . Carroll & Graf $25 (624p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1476-6

Exhaustingly extensive and well-researched, this study of developments in contemporary weapons technology evinces a gee-whiz love of military widgets. It also contains journalist Hambling's desire to explore the murkily overlapping scientific, military and corporate worlds. The result is a book that is for short stretches a breezy guide to everything from vortex cannons to tasers, and everyone from Tesla to Turing. Hambling describes complex procedures and devices in a lucid, uncondescending way, and a reader seeking a quick description of, say, how a rocket plane works or what an E-bomb is need look no further. But the scale and scope of the book indicate an ambition to be something other than a supplementary reference to the novels of Tom Clancy and the press briefings of Donald Rumsfeld. Hambling's underlying thesis is that advances in military technology eventually benefit civilian life (e.g., the Internet), and that the domestic technologies and business opportunities of the future, like nanotechnology, are already to be found in today's military hardware. While gently and inconclusively touched on, the moral implications of this are never really explored in any depth, and the military-industrial complex is seen mostly as an ethically neutral dispenser of fascinatingly nasty devices. The lack of broader context, along with a wearyingly episodic structure, create frustrating limits. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/14/2005
Release date: 12/01/2004
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