Book: The Atomic Bazaar

Every now and then I read a book that terrifies me.  The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor is one such book.  I’m not entirely sure why I grabbed it at the bookstore last week – it might have been that I recognized the author’s name (William Langewiesche) or that it wasn’t a very long book. 

I sat outside yesterday afternoon and read it as the sun went down and my dogs played.  As I turned each page, I felt myself getting more and more anxious.  The core story is that of Abdul Qadeer Khan and Pakistan’s rise as a nuclear power, but all the usual characters (Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and Russia) are a deep part of the story.  Oh – and the United States.

Langewiesche is an incredible storyteller.  This could easily have been a tedious book.  It moved along more rapidly than most of the junk nuclear crisis fiction crap that I read as part of my mental floss program.  I was also introduced to a new journalistic hero – Mark Hibbs.  Hibbs writes for McGraw-Hill / Platts publications such as Megawatt Daily, Emissions Daily, and Dirty TankerwireWhile these could be the titles of porn sites, they are most definitely not.  Hibbs has been digging in the nuclear dirt for a long time and some of his discoveries are amazing.  Frightening, but amazing.

This book reinforces that it could all be gone in a flash.  Langewiesche does an awesome job of not being alarmist – he’s very pragmatic – both about the underlying facts around the global nuclear weapon industry as well the challenges of “bad guys” creating an atomic bomb.  At the same time, he shows how utterly chaotic, messed up, and bureaucratic the existing global nuclear infrastructure is and why the dynamics that the US and Russia have unleased on the world – first in World War II – and then during the cold war – is outside our fundamental control (and containment) at this point.

Langewiesche has written a balanced, detailed, riveting, and terrifying book that should be read by any child of the atomic age who hid under his desk at school during an atomic bomb drill.  Wow – boom.  Time to go for a run and enjoy this planet.

  • I agree that William Langewiesche is an excellent writer. His work is often featured in one of my favorite magazines, The Atlantic Monthly. In fact, an article on this very topic was featured not long ago. I presume either it was taken from his book or, like his very excellent writing on the cleanup of the World Trade Center, was later expanded to the book you cite. At any rate, I highly recommend anything he has ever written in The Atlantic.

  • There is an interesting article about Global Arms Market Share here:

    The Military Industrial Complex has gone global and it is not in the interest of any arms dealing country in the world to have Peace break out. Peace means bad business. So go prop up all sides with weapons and watch the fun!

    There are no Good Guys and Bad Guys in this world. Only Bad Guys who supply the arms and Stupid Guys who swallow the arms bait, hook, line and sinker!