Like a certain type of liberal, patrician British newspaper columnist, Professor John Mueller specialises in allaying fears deliberately sown among the credulous mob by sundry alarmists and doom-mongers with a professional interest in worst-case scenarios. The title of an earlier book, Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them, indicates his general approach. In Atomic Obsession Mueller seeks to persuade us that ‘nuclear weapons have had at best a quite limited effect on history, have been a substantial waste of money and effort, do not seem to have been terribly appealing to most states that do not have them, are out of reach for terrorists, and are unlikely to materially shape much of our future’. ‘Sleep well,’ he adds.
As an All Souls Prize Fellowship essay, Mueller’s book would be a creditable exercise in a higher kind of academic perversity, were it not littered with such infelicities as ICBMs ‘embroidered’ with multiple warheads and a Cold War that ‘flowered’. Rather than contenting himself with entirely legitimate criticisms