Just in case you worry that we are running out of things to worry about, Fred Kaplan’s lively and chilling account of how the White House and the Pentagon have handled (and nearly mishandled) the country’s nuclear arsenal over the decades should ease your concern. Kaplan brings fresh detail and nuance to the most important narrative of our time, and with Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un playing touch football, The Bomb is timely as well. An especially frightening scene involves not so much Trump as it does several members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who, Kaplan says, in 2017 learned to their dismay that the president could order a nuclear first strike without congressional approval, a policy in effect for decades. So much for orientation week on Capitol Hill.
An enduring appeal of The Economist (and for a newspaper founded in 1843, “enduring” may be an understatement) is that it promises you the world every week, offering its tempered views on politics, business, science, and the arts, capped at the end with an obituary so beautifully crafted you (almost) envy the corpse. So why, then, would you pick up Alexander Zevin’s hefty history when the weekly dosage seems plenty? For starters, Zevin is a wonderful writer, who brings alive the personalities (Kim Philby served as a correspondent in Beirut before his defection to Moscow) and newsroom battles that shaped a publication that shuns bylines and mastheads. What Zevin does especially well is show how events shaped The Economistand its definition of liberalism over the last 175 years, along the way serving up history with brisk style.