Picks and Pans Review: The Fate of the Earth

updated 05/17/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/17/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jonathan Schell

Already this book, which appeared as a three-part New Yorker series in February, has become the unofficial bible of the revived nuclear disarmament movement. Schell argues, in great detail and with passion, that the use of nuclear weapons would destroy most, if not all, life on earth. A nuclear holocaust, he writes, "appears to confront us with an action that we can perform but cannot quite conceive." To remedy that, Schell cites various scientists' projections about likely effects of nuclear warfare, and recites the terrifying testimony of Hiroshima survivors. Schell's arguments are provocative. If there is such a thing as a book that should be read, this is it. Schell himself, however, has made his case less powerful than it might be. For one thing, he belabors his argument, pointlessly dragging in Dostoevski, Kafka and Freud. More important, he leaves critics an opening by not establishing his own credentials for interpreting the incredibly complex, controversial scientific ideas he discusses. Identified on the jacket only as "a staff writer for the New Yorker," he has refused interviews on the grounds that his words should speak for themselves—a foolish, arrogant position for someone whose personal credibility is vital to his cause. (Knopf, $11.95)

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