THE WORLDS OF HERMAN KAHN

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, 2005 - Biography & Autobiography - 387 pages
5 Reviews

Herman Kahn was the only nuclear strategist in America who might have made a living as a standup comedian. Indeed, galumphing around stages across the country, joking his way through one grotesque thermonuclear scenario after another, he came frighteningly close. In telling the story of Herman Kahn, whose 1960 book On Thermonuclear War catapulted him into celebrity, Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi captures an era that is still very much with us--a time whose innocence, gruesome nuclear humor, and outrageous but deadly serious visions of annihilation have their echoes in the "known unknowns and unknown unknowns" that guide policymakers in our own embattled world.

Portraying a life that combined aspects of Lenny Bruce, Hitchcock, and Kubrick, Ghamari-Tabrizi presents not one Herman Kahn, but many--one who spoke the suffocatingly dry argot of the nuclear experts, another whose buffoonery conveyed the ingenious absurdity of it all, and countless others who capered before the public, ambiguous, baffling, always open to interpretation. This, then, is a story of one thoroughly strange and captivating man as well as a cultural history of our moment. In Herman Kahn's world is a critical lesson about how Cold War analysts learned to fill in the ciphers of strategic uncertainty, and thus how we as a nation learned to live with the peculiarly inventive quality of strategy, in which uncertainty generates extravagant threat scenarios.

Revealing the metaphysical behind the dryly deliberate, apparently practical discussion of nuclear strategy, this book depicts the creation of a world where clever men fashion Something out of Nothing--and establishes Herman Kahn as our first virtuoso of the unknown unknowns.

  

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
2
4 stars
1
3 stars
2
2 stars
0
1 star
0

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Shrike58 - LibraryThing

If history repeats twice, as tragedy and then as farce, this life and times begins with that bizarre moment back in 2002 when Donald Rumsfeld was holding forth in public on "unknown unknowns" while ... Read full review

Review: The Worlds of Herman Kahn: The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War

User Review  - The American Conservative - Goodreads

'So, sadly, Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi's book, which offers significant insight into Kahn, is more than just a chronicle of the past. It is an account, too, of the present, in which many of Kahn's self ... Read full review

Contents

A Matter of Faith
1
How Many Kahns Can There Be?
10
The Cold War AvantGrade at RAND
46
The Real Dr Strangelove
61
An Operational but Undetected Capability
83
How to Build a World with Artful Intuition
124
Faith and Insight in WarGaming
149
The Mineshaft Gap
181
Comedy of the Unspeakable
236
Mass Murder or the Spirit of Humanism
281
A Comic Philosophy
310
Abbreviations
319
Notes
321
Acknowledgments
371
Index
375
Copyright

On Thermonuclear War
203

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (2005)

Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi is an independent scholar living in Florida.

Bibliographic information