Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Bizarre Bazaar

Of the things I've seen on sale at the local Dollar Tree, William Langewiesche's The Atomic Bazaar is probably one of the strangest finds I've seen. And the store had an aboslute ton of these books, too. Maybe somebody figured they'd be good sellers in this nuclear territory. Maybe they just wanted to dump the books. But I bought a copy.

It's somewhat a good read. Most of it I've heard or read before, certainly the stuff about A. Q. Kahn and this Pakistani's ability to sell complete nuclear weapons production packages to any willing buyers. There are also echoes of what Max Hastings writes in Nemesis about the United States' overreliance on technology, rather than street smarts, in controlling what needs to be controlled. Langewiesche's description of technolgy-heavy installations in Russia and former Soviet republics, paid for by the Americans, is almost comical in how the money has been wasted -- trick is, the cameras and computers are there, but nobody seems to be using them. What's more disturbing, as he reports, is that the general attitude of Europe and European companies when nonproliferation issues come up is that if America wants nonproliferation, it's so they can corner the market in nuclear fuel production, not because of the altruistic motive of, say, nonproliferation.

Langewiesche's book is a collection of articles he's written for other publications, and it shows. While they're on the same subject, there's nothing completely writerly about merging them into a whole. And his journalistic profile of another journalist is bland to the point I skimmed most of it.

The book also details one of the most overblown friendly-author back cover blurbs I've seen in recent memory: "One-stop shopping for the future where nations you fear will have weapons you dread. And there is little you can do about it except to read this excellent book and face the facts your government keeps secret and your leaders fail to comprehend," says Charles Bowden, who gets his own book hyped thanks to the quote.

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