Skip to main content

Defusing Armageddon – Jeffrey T. Richelson ***

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.
Hardback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…

Crashing Heaven (SF) - Al Robertson ****

There's an engaging mix of powerful thriller and science fiction in this impressive novel. After the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, human life is limited to vast space station. Our central character, Jack, has a symbiotic artificial intelligence, Hugo Fist, designed to destroy other AIs in a mysterious collective that is said to have committed an atrocity - but with a kick in the tail that because of an unbreakable contract, Fist will take over Jack's body in a few weeks' time.

Al Robertson packs remarkable technology concepts into the cyber side of this story, from AI corporations that act as a pantheon of gods to the 'puppet' that is Fist (he usually come across as a virtual cross between Mr Punch and an evil ventriloquist's dummy). Robertson does all the cyber stuff so well that it's easy to miss that this is, in effect, a myth in electronic clothing - you could substitute the myths of 'real' Greek gods and magic for what happens here. Alt…

The Science of Food - Marty Jopson ****

This is a tasty little volume, packed with kitchen-based science. I must admit, when I saw that the author was the One Show's science expert and Marty Jopson's author photo has that 'Hey, I'm a mad scientist, kids!' look, my heart fell - I was sure the book would be the written equivalent of a 'Wow, look, aren't I clever, I can make this go bang!' science show - but, in fact, it's packed full of (appropriately) meaty scientific content.

I was really pleased that Jopson didn't stick purely to the chemistry of cooking, but launched with the working of some familiar kitchen gadgets - there was genuinely fascinating reading to be had about apparently humdrum equipment in the form of the physics and materials science of a knife and chopping board. And Jopson took us into industrial kitchens too, to reveal, for example, the remarkable process required to make puffed wheat.

Inevitably, the chemistry of cooking - how, for example, proteins denature and em…