How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III recounts several instances when the world came close to nuclear war. The author, Ron Rosenbaum, maintains that even with the demise of the Soviet Union, the threat of nuclear war is rising due to the proliferation of nuclear weapons among unstable/aggressive countries such as Pakistan and Iran. The fact that Russia and the United States continue to keep their respective nuclear forces on a hair-trigger alert is also of great concern to the author.
Rosenbaum does a good job surveying several cases where nuclear war almost occurred, including the Cuban missile crisis and the Yom Kippur War (1973). On occasion he becomes overwrought as when he speculates that the 2007 Israeli Air Force raid on the Syrian nuclear reactor could have provoked Russia to threaten to launch a nuclear attack against Israel. Rosenbaum does a better job, however, in his interviews of various people who have held jobs in the nuclear arms field. He asks each of them to evaluate the ethics of launching a retaliatory nuclear strike killing tens of millions of people following a devastating nuclear attack against the United States. The crux of the ethical dilemma is that if nuclear deterrence failed and the population of the United States was wiped out, what would be the point of launching a retaliatory strike that would result in the loss of tens of millions of additional lives?
Much of the book focuses on this ethical question and the answers that various people provide. It is interesting to hear the responses of those who were tasked with possibly launching a nuclear retaliatory strike.