If I had to choose a two word phrase to sum up this book, it would be ‘wasted opportunity.’ So often in the popular science field, a good writer can take a subject that really has little relevance to the world around us (Fermat’s Last Theorem, for instance) and turn it into a cracking read. Here Jeffrey Richelson has taken what should have been a real page-turner of a subject – the story of the semi-secret US meta-organization tasked with dealing with nuclear threats, from accidents to terrorist attacks – and made it dull as the proverbial ditchwater. (Why is ditchwater dull? I bet it’s teeming with pond life.)
Okay, there is one thing Richelson is working against. The vast majority of occasions that NEST (said meta-organization) has swung into action have been hoaxes, false alarms and drills – for which we should all be truly thankful. But that’s not enough to explain why this book is so dull. Richelson insists on listing every mission, every piece of equipment, as if he were writing a civil service manual rather than a book for a general audience. Even the photographs are of dull people we don’t really identify. We don’t get any sense of characters here, just names on the ID badges.
This would make an excellent source book for anyone researching the attempts to keep America (and to some extent the rest of the world) safe from nuclear disaster, but it’s best use for the general reader is as a way to get to sleep very quickly.