Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State
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Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State

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by Garry Wills
     
 

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A groundbreaking examination of how the atomic bomb profoundly altered the nature of American democracy.

In Bomb Power, bestselling author Garry Wills presents a blistering critique of excessive executive power and official secrecy, drawing a direct line from the Manhattan Project to the usurpations of George W. Bush. He reveals how the atomic

Overview

A groundbreaking examination of how the atomic bomb profoundly altered the nature of American democracy.

In Bomb Power, bestselling author Garry Wills presents a blistering critique of excessive executive power and official secrecy, drawing a direct line from the Manhattan Project to the usurpations of George W. Bush. He reveals how the atomic bomb transformed our nation down to its deepest constitutional roots-by dramatically increasing the power of the modern presidency and redefining the government as a national security state-leaving us in a state of continuous war alert for nearly seven decades. Bold and incisive, Bomb Power casts the history of the postwar period in a new light and sounds an alarm about the continued threat to our Constitution.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The demands of nuclear weapons policy have poisoned the American polity, according to this unfocused jeremiad. Historian Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg) argues that the project of deploying and defending against nuclear weapons transformed America into a “national security state” mired in permanent semi-emergency, with swollen military forces, unaccountable spy agencies, a Byzantine apparatus of state secrecy, and an empire of overseas bases. Worse, he writes, the aura of “bomb power” that presidents gleaned from their prerogative to initiate nuclear holocaust made the presidency into an “American monarch[y]” that sneers at constitutional restraints. Wills's is a provocative and at times insightful analysis of how presidential status and mystique hypertrophied alongside the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, it's a rickety framework for his scattershot account of foreign and security policy in the nuclear age, which meanders from the Manhattan Project to George Bush's “war on terror” to gay marriage. It's often hard to see the connections he insinuates between nuclear obsessions and misdeeds like the 1954 CIA-organized coup in Guatemala. Wills's conception of “bomb power” is a weak explanatory principle for this sketchy take on post-war American history. (Feb.)
Vanity Fair
pungent, confident, fluid, steeped in learning.
Library Journal
Wills (history, emeritus, Northwestern Univ.; Lincoln at Gettysburg) expands upon an idea he raised ten years ago in A Necessary Evil, that the atomic bomb utterly changed the nature of our government. The "monopoly on use of nuclear weaponry" first given to President Truman in 1945 has since contributed to the growth of presidential power, enveloping too many acts in an extraconstitutional secrecy grown steadily more routine. Wills starts with the story of the bomb's development at Los Alamos and other sites and goes on to outline how, as the Cold War took shape between 1945 and 1952, a national security state was constructed out of components such as the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency. The consequences and further causes of official "permanent war in peace" are examined here in episodes of entwined presidential secrecy and power ranging from the Korean War to the War on Terror. In an afterword already published in the New York Review of Books, Wills expresses doubts that the presidency of Barack Obama will be much different than those of his postwar predecessors. VERDICT The original premise is often lost here, but any tract from Wills will delight his readership. This book is among his most timely, if not among his best. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/09.]—Bob Nardini, Nashville
Kirkus Reviews
Pulitzer Prize winner Wills (What the Gospels Meant, 2008, etc.) traces a vast distortion of the Constitution and the origins of the national-security state to the product and process of the Manhattan Project. In 1942, Gen. Leslie Groves headed the atomic-bomb program, a mission so clandestine even Vice President Truman didn't know it existed. The atomic bomb was something altogether new. In the mix of unconstrained authority, hidden money and absolute secrecy that attended its creation, the author detects the blueprint for a redefined, outsized presidency and the institutions and policies of the national-security state. With the bomb central to the country's military policy, Wills argues, Americans have grown dangerously accustomed to lodging "the fate of the world" in one man's hands. This cedes to the president war-making power that properly belongs to Congress, foreclosing any debate over White House decision-making as enfeebling the president, "too dangerous" in a nuclear world. Accordingly, presidents from Truman to George W. Bush, without informing Congress or the American people, have used executive orders, the theory of the unitary executive and the vast national-security apparatus to concentrate their power. Relying on a series of seminal speeches, memos, articles and orders, Wills explains just how the instruments for permanent war in peace were assembled. He cites a number of national humiliations-the Bay of Pigs, the secret Cambodian bombing, the Pentagon Papers, Iran-Contra, etc.-to show that presidents, regardless of party, have been permitted too much unchecked authority, bomb power, handed them by Groves and the scientists at Los Alamos. With the cult of the Commander inChief has come the expansion of state secrets, making accountability doubly difficult. Elaborate classification and clearance systems, in place ostensibly for security reasons, have become instead a cover for government embarrassment, deception, even crime, and often cripple policy by keeping important information from knowledgeable critics. As usual with Wills, provocatively argued and elegantly written.
From the Publisher
"Wills knows how to marshal his arguments...grounding them in the factual record." —The Christian Science Monitor

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594202407
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/21/2010
Pages:
278
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 - 17 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Wills knows how to marshal his arguments...grounding them in the factual record." —-The Christian Science Monitor

Meet the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine’s Childhood, Saint Augustine’s Memory, and Saint Augustine’s Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include “Negro President”: Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
May 22, 1934
Place of Birth:
Atlanta, GA
Education:
St. Louis University, B.A., 1957; Xavier University, M.A., 1958; Yale University, Ph.D., 1961

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Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
JPotestivo More than 1 year ago
Concise, well researched and hard-hitting, Wills' "Bomb Power" is an engaging read from start to finish. Though the book takes aim at an oft-written about time and subject - the post-war presidency and the nuclear age - it manages to find an (to my knowledge) original thesis; the executive secrecy which gave birth to the atom bomb, and the grant of sole custody of its product and that product's heirs to the president, launched an Article II power grab that culminated in the disastrous George W. Bush presidency. Wills takes no prisoners from the post-war presidential roster roasting Kennedy and Reagan alike. While the construction flirts with redundancy in the books final chapters, it's well worth it. Writing for the February 2010 issue of Harpers, editor Roger Hodge wishes Wills didn't let up on the young Obama presidency as he seems to do, but I got the impression that he is willing to simply add chapters as the information comes in. For Wills the dye was cast at Los Alamos and its up to the other two branches of our government to reclaim the powers ceded to the executive over the past 60-years. The president, be he actor, farmer, statesman or professor, in Wills' account seems capable of acting, but incapable of acting differently.
Brian Jones More than 1 year ago
As it should be. More about executive power than the bomb but good read nonetheless.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago