The Fate of the Earth Critical Context - Essay

Jonathan Schell

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The first book dealing with nuclear awareness to capture the popular consciousness in the United States was John Hersey’s Hiroshima, first published in 1946 after its serialization in The New Yorker. Hiroshima ran through eight printings in hardcover, fifty-six printings in the Bantam paperback edition, and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection during its first year in print. In 1985, Knopf published an expanded edition which included material written after the author’s return to Japan forty years later; Bantam published the expanded paperback edition in 1986. No doubt the success of Schell’s The Fate of the Earth helped to renew interest in the nuclear predicament during the 1980’s, preparing the way for the anniversary edition of Hersey’s nuclear classic.

During the intervening years, nuclear menace also influenced effective works of fiction. In 1957 Nevil Shute’s best-seller On the Beach dramatized the story of Australian survivors of a nuclear holocaust, grimly awaiting extinction as radioactive poisoning slowly moved into the Southern Hemisphere. Shute’s novel was then made into a popular film by Stanley Kramer in 1959. In 1962 the novel Fail-Safe, by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, posed the question of accidental nuclear war and sold more than two million copies. It occasioned a polemical attack by Sidney Hook entitled The Fail-Safe Fallacy, published in 1963 and...

(The entire section is 497 words.)