Select Literature on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy and Nuclear History

The literature of scholarly articles and books on U.S. nuclear policy is not as copious as the primary sources, but abundant enough. Determining which books on any given subject are most valuable and illuminating is a matter of subjective judgment, shaped by experience, including education, research, and other reading. The following list of articles and books is not meant to be comprehensive, but only to highlight those secondary sources that the editor finds especially worthwhile.



Joseph Cirincione, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons (New York, Columbia University Press, 2007). One of the best and most comprehensive studies.

David A. Rosenberg, "The History of World War III 1945-1990: A Conceptual Framework," in Robert David Johnson, ed., On Cultural Ground: Essays in International History (Chicago: Imprint Publications, 1994), 197-235. Overview of U.S. nuclear history by one of the deans of the field.

Stephen Schwartz, et al. Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940 (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1998). Perhaps the most thorough study yet of the U.S. nuclear establishment, with its major functions and operations described and cost-out in detail. [Note: Two Archive staffers participated in this project].


The World War II Origins and First Use

Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb (New York, Knopf, 1995). A major entry in the controversy over the degree to which the atomic bombings represented the last act of World War II or a first step in the Cold War.

Barton J. Bernstein, "The Atomic Bombings Reconsidered," Foreign Affairs, January-February 1995: 135-152. One of many important studies by a major researcher in the history of the bombings, the article usefully summarizes Bernstein's thinking.

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005). The first major study drawing on U.S., Japanese, and Russian primary sources.

------------------, ed., The End of the Pacific War: Reappraisals (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007). Essays by Hasegawa and others on the considerations driving Japanís surrender decision.

Robert S. Norris, Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie S. Groves, The Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man (South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 2002). An essential study of the Manhattan project and its director.

Martin Sherwin, A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and the Origins of the Arm Race (New York, Vintage Books, 1987). Thoughtful study on key nuclear policy decisions made by President Roosevelt and their implications for developments under Truman and the origins of the Cold War.

J. Samuel Walker, Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004)). Outstanding succinct review of the events and the historiography.


Nuclear Strategists, War Plans and Planning

Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi, The Worlds of Herman Kahn: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2005). Incisive study of one the inspirations for Dr. Strangelove.

Fred Kaplan, The Wizards of Armageddon (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1983). This remains one of the best overviews of U.S. policy and strategy during the first decades of the Cold War.

David A. Rosenberg, "The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960," in Steven Miller, ed., Strategy and Nuclear Deterrence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984): 113-182. Seminal account of early U.S. nuclear planning and the creation of the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP).

-------------------------, "Nuclear War Planning," in Michael Howard et al., The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1994).

Marc Trachtenberg, "A 'Wasting Asset': American Strategy and the Shifting Nuclear Balance, 1949-1954," History and Strategy (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1991): 100-152. Fascinating study of preventive-war thinking during the first years of the Cold War.


Nuclear Weapons and Cold War Crises

Roger Dingman, "Atomic Diplomacy During the Korean War," International Security 13 (Winter 1988/1989): 50-91. An early account of the Truman administration's attempts to use nuclear deployments for signaling purposes, but skeptical of the impact of nuclear threats on the war's conclusion.

Rosemary Foot, "Nuclear Coercion and the Ending of the Korean Conflict," International Security 13 (Winter 1988/1989): 92-112. An argument that atomic threats had a greater impact on the Korean War endgame.

Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, We All Lost the Cold War (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1994). The Cuban Missile Crisis and the October War in light of theories of deterrence and compellence.

Sheldon M. Stern, Averting 'The Final Failure': John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2003). Careful study of Kennedy's leadership during a nuclear crisis.


Command and Control

Bruce Blair, The Logic of Accidental Nuclear War (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 1993). Stunning analysis of the danger of a launch-on-warning posture.

Peter Feaver, Guarding the Guardians: Civilian Control of Nuclear Weapons in the United States (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992). Thoughtful survey of nuclear weapons custody from the early days of the Cold War.

Scott Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1993). Detailed study of nuclear weapons accidents analyzed using the lens of organization theory.


Nuclear Intelligence

Jeffrey Richelson, Spying on the Bomb: American Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea (New York, W.W. Norton, 2006). The most comprehensive study to date.

Charles A. Ziegler and David Jacobson, Spying Without Spies: Origin of America's Secret Nuclear Surveillance System (Westport, CT, Praeger, 1995). The origin of the Atomic Energy Detection System (AEDS) and the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC).


Nuclear Weapons and Delivery Systems

Lynn Eden, Whole World on Fire: Organizations, Knowledge, and Nuclear Weapons Devastation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004). How and why war planners underestimated the damage caused by nuclear weapons fire effects.

Donald McKenzie, Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990). The interrelations of technology, organizations, and strategy, in creating inertial guidance.

Jacob Neufeld, Ballistic Missiles in the United States Air Forces, 1945-1960 (Washington, D.C., Office of Air Force History, 1990). Readable official account of the origins of Atlas, Titan, Thor, Jupiter, and Minuteman missiles.

Graham Spinardi, From Polaris to Trident: The Development of US Fleet Ballistic Missile Technology (New York, Cambridge University Press, 1994). Another valuable study by an historical sociologist.

David K. Stumpf, Titan II: A History of a Cold War Missile Program (Fayetteville, The University of Arkansas Press, 2000). Detailed study of the largest liquid-fueled weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal (and the only U.S. nuclear-tipped missile whose silo exploded).


U.S. Allies and Nuclear Weapons

John Clearwater, Canadian Nuclear Weapons: The Untold Story of Canada's Cold War Arsenal (Toronto, The Dundurn Group, 1998). U.S. nuclear sharing arrangements with Canada in North America and NATO Europe.

---------------------, U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Canada (Toronto, The Dundurn Group, 1999). Still treated as a secret by the Pentagon, declassified Canadian sources document the story of the U.S. nuclear presence there.

Philip Nash, The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Jupiters, 1957-1963 (Chapel Hill, NC, University of North Carolina Press, 1997). The deep background to the Cuban missile crisis end-game.

Marc Trachtenberg, A Constructed Peace: The Making of the European Settlement, 1945-1963 (Princeton, NJ. Princeton University Press, 1999). As part of the author's argument about the Cold War in Europe, a major section of this book provides a detailed study of U.S. nuclear deployments in NATO Europe and the early years of U.S. nuclear sharing programs.

Stephen Twigge and Len Scott, Planning Armageddon: Britain, the United States & the Command of Western Nuclear Forces, 1945-1964 (Amsterdam, Gordon & Breach Publishers, 2000). Important study on Anglo-American nuclear cooperation and the British nuclear program.



Peter Gallison and Barton Bernstein, "In Any Light: Scientists and the Decision to Build the Superbomb," Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Science, vol. 19, Part 2, 1989.

Priscilla Macmillan, The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race (New York, Viking, 2005)

Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird, American Prometheus, The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (New York, Knopf, 2005). Pulitzer-prize winning biography.

Greg Herken, Cardinal Choices: Presidential Science Advising from the Atomic Bomb to SDI (New York, Oxford University Press, 1992). Fine study of the scientists at the White House.

Herbert York, Making Weapons, Talking Peace: A Physicist's Odyssey from Hiroshima to Geneva (New York, Basic Books, 1987)


Missile Defense

Frances Fitzgerald, Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War (New York : Simon & Schuster, 2000)

William J. Broad, Teller's War: The Top-Secret Story Behind the Star Wars Deception (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992)


Soviet and Chinese Nuclear Programs

David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956 (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1994). The roles of espionage and scientific-technological prowess in the early Soviet nuclear program.

John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, China Builds the Bomb (Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1988). Developments leading up to the October 1964 atomic test.

----------------------------------------, China's Strategic Seapower (Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1994). The long-march to submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Robert S. Norris, Andrew S. Burrows, and Richard W. Fieldhouse, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol. 5: British, French and Chinese Nuclear Weapons (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994).

Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001). Significant account of Cold War and post-Cold War developments and deployments.

Steven Zaloga, The Kremlin's Nuclear Sword: The Rise and Fall of Russia's Strategic Nuclear Forces, 1945-2000 (Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002). Important study drawing on Russian-language sources.



Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb (New York, Perennial Library, 1987)

Rupert Jenkins, ed., Nagasaki Journey: The Photography of Yosuke Yamahata, August 10, 1945 (San Francisco, Pomegranate Artbooks, 1995)

Michael Light, 100 Suns, 1945-1962 (New York, Alfred Knopf, 2003)

Paul Shambroom, Face to Face with the Bomb: Nuclear Reality after the Cold War (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003)