cover image Countdown: The Blinding Future of Nuclear Weapons

Countdown: The Blinding Future of Nuclear Weapons

Sarah Scoles. Bold Type, $30 (272p) ISBN 978-1-64503-005-8

“The United States is currently in the middle of a giant nuclear modernization program, reinvesting in its atomic infrastructure like it hasn’t in decades” to keep up with the “modernization of China’s and Russia’s weapons,” according to this evenhanded investigation. Science journalist Scoles (They Are Already Here) sheds light on how those within the nuclear establishment view America’s efforts to update its arsenal. She profiles such figures as Tess Light, a physicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who monitors for possible foreign nuclear detonation tests and believes her work helps ward off conflict by ensuring nuclear treaties are obeyed, even as her colleagues at the lab upgrade America’s nuclear weapons in preparation for their possible deployment. Interrogating opponents of the nuclear program, Scoles discusses the work of activist Marylia Kelley, who formed a watchdog group that “investigates the health and environmental effects” that the Lawrence Livermore lab in Livermore, Calif., has on those who live nearby. Scoles capably addresses the tension between these camps, providing nuanced portraits of nuclear scientists that find most “are neither hawks nor total doves.” Scoles’s measured final analysis occupies a similar middle ground, suggesting that upgrading America’s nuclear weapons probably does discourage other countries from using theirs, even as doing so threatens to “foment a never-ending arms race.” Readers on both sides of the debate will find much to ponder. Agent: Zoe Sandler, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Feb.)