Richard Rhodes’ Arsenals of Folly is the third book in what is now a series of “Making of” books about the atomic age, picking up where The Making of the Atomic Bomb (for which Rhodes won the Pulitzer) and Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (which should have won a Pulitzer and is one of my favorite non-fiction books ever) left off.
In a narrative that reads like a thriller, Rhodes reveals how the Reagan administration’s unprecedented arms buildup in the early 1980s led ailing Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to conclude that Reagan must be preparing for a nuclear war. In the fall of 1983, when NATO staged a larger than usual series of field exercises that included, uniquely, a practice run-up to a nuclear attack, the Soviet military came very close to launching a defensive first strike on Europe and North America. With Soviet aircraft loaded with nuclear bombs warming up on East German runways, U.S. intelligence organizations finally realized the danger.
Random House has posted a portion of the first chapter from which I won’t quote because Rhodes’ storytelling style is nigh impossible to excerpt; he starts the story on page one and doesn’t relent until the final paragraphs. Like the above quote says, his nonfiction reads like a novel…reminds me of Tom Clancy’s books but meticulously researched and true.