Seventy-five years after the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki seems an appropriate time to revisit a decision that has the potential to be even more consequential for our future: President Harry Truman's approval in January 1950 of plans to develop the fission bomb's bigger, more terrifying brother, the hydrogen “superbomb.”

The new book by Ken Young and Warner Schilling originated with 66 interviews that the latter, a distinguished professor of international relations at Columbia University, conducted more than a half century ago. Schilling intended the interviews for a book on the hydrogen bomb, but classification concerns and other academic business delayed the project until 2011, when Young, a Cold War historian at King's College in London, joined the effort, updating it with the many declassified documents and secondary works on the subject that had surfaced in the interim.

Sadly, both Schilling and Young died before the manuscript could be...

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