It’s a really interesting book. The Times’ review speculates that the direction of the book changed mid-stream, and I can see that. The really “hot” years of the cold war are skipped through very quickly. But the sections on Chernobyl are really harrowing. Some of this detail has been published elsewhere, but Rhodes puts it all together here in full brutal detail.
What’s also interesting is who — to me at least — comes out smelling like a rose and who comes out smelling like fertilizer. As the USSR was in its last throes, if you will, there was a group within the Bush I White House that insisted it was all a ruse. They couldn’t be trusted and we should take advantage, and absolutely not fall for anything like arms control treaties. History has of course shown that these guys — names of Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld — were dead wrong. Familiar names. How many more chances will they get to get it right?
Who comes out in high estimation is Ronald Reagan. Despite all the heated cold-war rhetoric (my apologies for using that same metaphor twice) he was truly idealistic about ending the arms race and abolishing nukes once and for all. The Soviet generals didn’t quite see it that way, and the period of the “zero option” in Europe saw us coming much to close to a blowup. But to his credit he was able to see Gorbachev for what he was — a fellow idealist and a true reformer — and they were able to get right up to the brink of success. In fact, it was only a small semantic difference that kept Reykjavik from succeeding.
I’d almost be ready to accept Reagan as one of the Great Presidents if he wasn’t so hard right (and wrong) on everything else. He was willing to go far beyond what any of his advisors thought prudent or even possible, and almost made it.
So not as good as “The Making of the Atomic Bomb,” but few books are. An outstanding read by any measure.