In January 1997, President Boris Yeltsin opened his nuclear suitcase. Russian observers had mistaken a Norwegian weather satellite for an incoming missile, and his advisers told him that he had only minutes to launch retaliation. A catastrophic major war and a nuclear winter could have begun – by accident. Like other similar near misses, this epitomises the enduring terrors of nukes. It shows the susceptibility of a deterrence system to human error; the extremely short windows in which leaders must make decisions about the future of the species; and the hair-trigger alert status of these weapons. Such dangers are explored in Mohamed ElBaradei’s forthright The Age of Deception and Ron Rosenbaum’s more textured, idiosyncratic and interesting How the End Begins.