Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Jonathan Schell’s The Fate of the Earth addresses the foremost problem of the twentieth century, the issue of human survival in the face of a worldwide nuclear cataclysm. Such a disaster could, at the least, destroy the fabric of civilization that provides order and stability; at worst, it could destroy all human life on the planet. Though certainly not the first book of nuclear warning, Schell’s work quickly came to be regarded as the bible of the antinuclear movement during the 1980’s.

Schell’s approach is digestive and comprehensive. It is particularly useful in the way it translates technical information available in other sources—such as The Effects of Nuclear Weapons (1950), edited by Samuel Glasstone and Philip J. Dolan and published in several updated editions by the Department of Defense and the Energy Research and Development Administration—into language comprehensible to laypersons.

Besides The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, which Schell considers a classic textbook on the subject of thermonuclear weapons, Schell has consulted other specialized surveys, such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki, prepared by Japanese scientists and published in the United States in 1981, and the National Academy of Sciences 1975 report “Long-Term Worldwide Effects of Multiple Nuclear-Weapons Detonations.” The purpose of the first chapter is informative; later chapters become increasingly reflective,...

(The entire section is 556 words.)