Bookmarks Issue: 

The Rise of the Nuclear Poor

A-The Atomic BazaarThe end of the Cold War heralded the end of the superpowers’ monopoly on nuclear arms, and recent technological advances have made them more affordable for Third World countries aspiring to join the "Nuclear Club." Journalist William Langewiesche examines the advent and implications of nuclear proliferation and provides an in-depth account of the relative ease with which terrorists might acquire the raw materials necessary to assemble a nuclear bomb. He also follows the career of Abdul Qadeer Khan, who stole nuclear secrets from the West and used them to establish a nuclear program in his native Pakistan before selling the information to North Korea, Iran, and Libya. "The nuclearization of the world has become the human condition," Langewiesche concludes, "and it cannot be changed."
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 192 pages. $22. ISBN: 0374106789

Denver Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"There is no other way to say it: The Atomic Bazaar is an important book. An urgent book. … Langewiesche’s narrative is chilling." Steve Weinberg

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"[Langewiesche] is an outstanding reporter of the old-fashioned, shoe-leather variety. He goes to places (such as Pakistan, Turkey and Holland), interviews relevant people (scientists, diplomats, tribal warlords, European industrialists), doggedly asks great questions and writes it all down in a straightforward, elegantly concise narrative." Chuck Leddy

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[Langewiesche’s] book insightfully examines the perils created by this leveling of the global playing field. … Buried within that grim assessment is a curious kind of optimism, bolstered by the kind of tenacious reporting for which this author is well known." Janet Maslin

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Measured acceptance, rather than hysterical fear, is the author’s response to a fraying nonproliferation regime. … In providing an overview of the current state of proliferation, The Atomic Bazaar is a valuable addition to the burgeoning literature on national security." Elbert Ventura

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Most of Atomic Bazaar first appeared as a series of articles in the Atlantic magazine in late 2005 and early 2006. It’s valuable to have them as a book, though it does make for rough transitions from one story to the next." Jim Landers

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Khan takes up some two-thirds of Langewiesche’s book. This makes for an odd skewing of structure, as the preceding material is in many respects both richer and even more troubling." Mark Feeney

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Like its predecessors, The Atomic Bazaar comes with the curse of The Atlantic Monthly all too visible on its pages, its chapters like free-standing boxcars, loosely coupled by a large general theme—much as they appeared in separate issues of the magazine between November 2005 and December 2006. … This is a serious pity, for Langewiesche is such an outstandingly able writer that he owes the world a proper book, and not another piece of bookmaking whose individual parts are splendid but ultimately fail to compose a shapely, aesthetically satisfying and conclusive whole." Jonathan Raban

Critical Summary

In this sobering report, William Langewiesche (formerly at The Atlantic Monthly and now at Vanity Fair) asserts that there is no way to prevent Third World countries from obtaining nuclear weapons. We can only "accept the equalities of a maturing world in which many countries have acquired atomic bombs, and some may use them," he claims. Critics praised Langewiesche’s concise, clearheaded prose and rigorous investigation techniques. However, they were disappointed that the previously published articles comprising the book had not been more thoroughly reworked into a fluid narrative, which results in an awkward structure, clumsy transitions, and multiple repetitions. A few also questioned his choice to end the book with a chapter on Mark Hibbs, a journalist covering the nuclear industry. Although The Atomic Bazaar is not a perfect book, critics agreed that it is an extremely important one.

Supplementary Reading

Shopping for Bombs Nuclear Proliferation, Global Insecurity, and the Rise and Fall of the A.Q. Khan Network | Gordon Corera (2006): Gordon Corera, a security correspondent for the BBC, provides a chilling account of how Abdul Qadeer Khan single-handedly established the post–Cold War black market for nuclear weapons.

Bomb Scare The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons | Joseph Cirincione (2007): Written by the former director of the Nonproliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, this book argues that the international community must remove the underlying political motives countries have for developing nuclear programs before nonproliferation and disarmament policies can truly succeed.