PRINT April 1989


Nuclear Fear

Nuclear Fear: A History of Images, by Spencer R. Weart, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988, 535 pp.

NUCLEAR FEAR IS BOMB SHELTERS in middle-class neighborhoods. It’s a year’s supply of canned food and hunting rifles to keep the neighbors out—if it should come to that. Nuclear fear is staged in Doom Town, a row of mannequin-filled houses set up near a test site. After the nuclear blast, the living rooms are photographed to show twisted plastic bodies covered with glass. Nuclear fear structures our social space. Even suburbia can be understood as a response to the 1950s notion that new cities must stretch out along narrow strips for easy evacuation. For Spencer R. Weart, nuclear fear is most of all the fear that the nuclear imagination can create war, as anxious fantasies affect policy and push people to make decisions they wouldn’t ordinarily make.

In Nuclear Fear, Weart attempts to

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