Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi's Herman Kahn: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War]The Worlds of Herman Kahn: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War

THE WORLDS OF HERMAN KAHN: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War

"Herman Kahn" is a name unlikely to evoke much recognition from the average person today, but this now deceased physicist / Cold War theorist was quite a celebrity in his day during the early Sixties. Indeed, Kahn's pop cultural presence is preserved for the ages on celluloid in the classic characters of Dr. Strangelove (as immortalized by the great Peter Sellers in 1964'S DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB) and the creepy Professor Groeteschele (embodied by Walter Matthau in 1964's FAIL-SAFE).

The independent scholar Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi has written a fascinating and highly accessible study of Kahn and his times entitled The Worlds of Herman Kahn: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War . Ghamari-Tabrizi is not interested in boring the reader with a dry recitation of the facts of Kahn's life and career as the celebrated author of the book On Thermonuclear War (Princeton, 1960) and war gaming strategist at the RAND Corporation. A Ground Observers Corps pamphlet - One CallThe amount of research and care that went into this book is obvious from the first page and it is refreshing to find an author who can offer fresh insights into a man who is as well documented as Kahn is. Who knew, for instance, that the defense analyst admired the counterculture and was on the record about his profound enjoyment of LSD? Kahn's fascination with the utility of mineshafts in civil defense and his proposal for a deterrent "Doomsday Machine" (two concepts used in STRANGELOVE) are also presented in the book.

Another welcome surprise in Ghamari-Tabrizi's book is a look at the panicky times in which Kahn came to prominence. A small, but intriguing section of the volume is devoted to the Ground Observer Corps (GOC), a civilian organization whose volunteers "watched the skies" for Soviet bombers for much of the Fifties. CONELRAD was delighted to learn from reading The Worlds of Herman Kahn that the GOC had its own magazine ("The Aircraft Flash") that chronicled some of the group's more bizarre recruitment efforts (a beauty pageant?!).

Ghamari-Tabrizi has produced a stunningly researched and entertaining book that anyone with an interest in the Cold War should pick up and read immediately. You'll never watch DR. STRANGELOVE again in quite the same way.
September 1995 - The Aircraft Flash

THE WORLDS OF HERMAN KAHN: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War
By Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi
Copyright 2005 by Harvard University Press
387 pp

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