Front Book Cover --The Worlds of Herman Kahn The Intuitive Science of Thermonuclear War by Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi

"...[an] LSD-trip of a book ..."
- Robert Matthews, New Scientist

"...adventurous approach and rewarding..."
- Louis Menand, The New Yorker

"... a stunningly researched and entertaining book..."
- Bill Geerhart,

Read the full reviews and more...


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Advanced Praise for The Worlds of Herman Kahn

Ghamari-Tabrizi is superb at providing, in compelling narrative, the cultural context for Kahn, his work and some of his more outlandish statements... Ghamari-Tabrizi provides a fascinating look at a complex man--at once ‘visionary’ and ‘quixotic’ – who was thinking, as the author says, about the unthinkable.”

– Starred Review, “The Worlds of Herman Kahn,” Publishers Weekly, February 28, 2005.

“If it seems strange to treat theories of nuclear warfare as an art form, the fantastical scenarios that Kahn batted around justify Ghamari-Tabrizi’s approach. Her exploration of Kahn falls in line with the contemporary fad for demented comedy, and a Ghamari-Tabrizi unbounded by a political-science stricture will attract readership beyond the wonks.”

– Gilbert Taylor, Booklist, April 15, 2005.

“Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi’s study is valuable not only for its insights into a figure now rapidly fading into a footnote to the Cold War, but for her chapters of social history. …. Ghamari-Tabrizi has written a fine study of an unusual genius and of a crucial period of American history.”

– Three Stars, Frank Day, “Book Reviews,” MagillOnLiterature and Ebsco Publishing/EBSCO Host.

One of the smartest, most engaging and informed Cold War books I’ve read.

– Professor Michael S. Sherry, Richard W. Leopold Professor of History, History Department, Northwestern University, author of Preparing for the Next War: American Plans for Postwar Defense, 1941-45 (Yale University Press, 1977); The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (Yale University Press, 1987); In the Shadow of War: The United States since the 1930s (Yale University Press, 1995).

“A sober, fabulous, research-rich portrait of Herman Kahn and the eruption of nuclear war-gaming and strategic futurology.”

– Professor Donna Haraway, History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Crystals, Fabrics and Fields: Metaphors of Organicism in Twentieth-Century Developmental Biology (Yale University Press, 1976); Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (Routledge, 1989); Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (Routledge, 1991); Modest_Witness @Second_Millennium. FemaleMan(c) Meets OncoMouse(tm). Feminism and Technoscience (Routledge, 1997); When Species Meet (University of Minnesota Press, 2008)

“Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi has delivered to us a riveting, original and troubling image of the calculus of modern war.”

– Professor Peter L. Galison, Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and Physics, History of Science Department, Harvard University, author of How Experiments End (University of Chicago, 1992); Image and Logic (University of Chicago, 1997); Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps (W. W. Norton, 2003); Objectivity (Zone Books, 2007).

“Ghamari-Tabrizi has produced a stunningly researched and entertaining book that anyone with an interest in the Cold War should pick up and read immediately. You’ll never watch Dr. Strangelove again in quite the same way.”

– Bill Geerhart, “Conelrad Read Alert,”



“Searching for answers in Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi’s The Worlds of Herman Kahn is like hunting for grains of sugar in a vat of syrup. … [an] LSD-trip of a book …"

– Robert Matthews, “Thinking the Unthinkable,” New Scientist, May 28, 2005.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi’s fascinating and sparklingly written book is one of the best examples of how the genre of biography is developing as focal social history. This kind of biography considers the individual as a point at which broader social, institutional, and cultural dynamics and conflicts intersect. To uncover the individual life is simultaneously to analyze a broader social and cultural condition. Kahn serves Ghamari-Tabrizi as just such a point of convergence, allowing her to draw together transformations of consciousness and authority within the American State and in the culture more generally.

– Charles Thorpe, Journal of Historical Biography, 3, Spring, 2008..

“Ghamari-Tabrizi’s The Worlds of Herman Kahn is an attempt to look at Kahn as a cultural phenomenon. … She is interested mainly in the feel of the moment, the moods and tastes of a time when the Cold War, and the anxious talk that swirled around it, had many Americans scared almost to death. It is an adventurous approach and rewarding when it works.

– Louis Menand, “Fat Man,” The New Yorker, June 27, 2005.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi is at her most creative when trying to place Kahn’s bizarre style into a broader cultural context ... in an effort to discern how readers at the time might have encountered Kahn’s strange book. These sections are where The Worlds of Herman Kahn no doubt represents one of the most original and thought-provoking books about science, culture, and politics during the Cold War.”

– David Kaiser, Isis, the Journal of the History of Science Society, 97(2), 2006.

“Historians have long been mining the darker terrain of American Cold War culture, but now we have a big, chunky diamond. The Worlds of Herman Kahn is a brilliant account of Kahn’s own intellectual history and also the weird world of modernist American social science that he bestrode during the tense years of the late1950s and early 1960s.”

– Cambell Craig, 2008, The Journal of American Studies, 42(3), December. Web only review.

“[In her] … highly engaging book, … Ghamari-Tabrizi sets out with gusto to attack what she calls Kahn’s ‘comic metaphysics.’”

– Christopher Coker, “A Good Defective,” TLS (The Times Literary Supplement), June 10, 2005.

“This is a thoroughly researched and well-written and argued book – much more readable than either of Kahn’s ponderous tomes.”

– Jack Harris, “Prophet of doom who saw hell on earth,” The Times Higher Education Supplement, July 8, 2005.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi succeeds admirably … The book is peppered with amusing, startling, and unsettling artifacts of Kahn’s world.”

– Andrew Wilson, “How to Think the Unthinkable,” Book of the Week, Christianity Today, August 1, 2005.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi …. tracks [Kahn’s] uncanny ideas and public meanings and in the process excavates the Cold War in ways that resonate eerily with the present war on terror. … Ghamari-Tabrizi has produced an affecting and intelligent portrait of a Cold War figure who can still puzzle and amaze.”

– Susan Lindee, “Science as Comic Metaphysics,” Science, 309, July 15, 2005.

Well-written and straddling the worlds of wonk-talk and pop culture, the narrative meanders comfortably – it is Kahn … against a colorful, shifting … backdrop, a time when nuclear war was a thing people really worried about. …Ghamari-Tabrizi’s own tone, irreverent and incisive, is a perfect match for her fascinating subject.”

– Catherine Auer, “Book Roundup: Inquiring Mind,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December 2005.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi’s suitably macabre The Worlds of Herman Kahn shows us both the clownish appearance and the deadly serious mind.”

– Warren Bass, “Giggling at the Apocalypse,” Washington Post, March 20, 2005.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi exposes the direct line of descent between Kahn’s confections and Donald Rumsfeld. ... On Kahn’s nuclear world, her book is a tour de force, so to speak.”

– Frank Campbell, “Dr. Strangelove, the unknown virtuoso,” The Australian, July 16, 2005.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi weaves back and forth through the history of the early Cold War, situating Kahn within its various cultural and intellectual worlds … with evocative and elegant prose.”

– Shane J. Maddock, The Journal of American History, 95(2), September 2008.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi’s book ... is an outstanding cultural and social history, a reconstruction of the ‘atmospheric mood and style’ of the Cold War. ... A sincere, thoughtful, sophisticated and largely successful attempt to escape the intellectual and academic clichés of the moment regarding war, military, strategic thinking and the human condition in conflict situations, Ghamari-Tabrizi’s book is a remarkable endeavor both in its arguable shortcomings and its incontestable achievements.”

– Paul Dragos Aligica, Comparative Strategy, 25, 2006.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi’s analysis of [RAND’s] culture and the broader context in which Kahn flourished is fascinating.”

– Howard P. Segal, 2009, “Recommended Books,” Peace Review, 21(2), 2009.

“As Dr Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi makes clear in her new biography of Kahn, The Worlds of Herman Kahn, his insouciance unleashed a firestorm of controversy. Kahn’s book dealt with the question everyone wanted answered but few felt brave enough to ask: just how bad would a thermonuclear war be? …What prompted [public] outrage was not so much Kahn’s aim but his methods. In his book, he pointed out that, dreadful as an exchange of H-bombs might be, there were degrees of dreadfulness - arguing that just as having one loose lion roaming the city streets is worrying but survivable, a hundred lions could really ruin your day.”

– Robert Matthews, “Clinical Humor,” Telegraph, UK, June 15, 2005.

“Ghamari-Tabrizi’s approach is unusual and refreshing. While her work is not easily pigeonholed as biography or history, she succeeds in capturing a unique twentieth century cultural and political milieu in which the cataclysmic end of human civilization within the space of a few hours ... was a possibility. ... The Worlds of Herman Kahn is a thought-provoking and enjoyable work about an enigmatic though influential figure in Cold War history.”

– John A. Brown, Intelligence and National Security, 20(4), 2005.

“In her… artfully written study, Ghamari-Tabrizi evokes the intellectual climate at RAND and paints a vivid picture of Kahn in action. …[She is] … on the mark when she sees traces of Kahn’s ‘strategic futurology’ in Donald Rumsfeld’s fear of ‘unknown unknowns.’”

– Edmund Levin, “Nuclear Philosopher,” The Weekly Standard, July 28, 2005.

“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-anointed successors are still riding high. And it might also be a guide to an increasingly dangerous future….”

– James P. Pinkerton, “Clown Prince of Nuclear War,” The American Conservative, October 10, 2005.

“Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi delves into the remarkable and terrifying world of Herman Kahn, offering a unique portrait of the analyst who gleefully articulated a vision of a survivable post-nuclear war world. Highlighting Kahn’s infamous jokes about mass annihilation as well as quirks of the Cold War era—the high consumption of tranquilizers—Ghamari-Tabrizi describes the occult culture at the RAND Corporation, where Kahn and his fellow nuclear researchers sought to fill in the blanks of strategic uncertainty.”

– “Books of Note,” Arms Control Today, May 2005.

“Overall, hers is a layered text about a cold war personality who continues to fascinate and puzzle audiences…. This book should not be treated as a definitive biography, but rather as a nonlinear tale that takes the reader in unexpected directions. … The Worlds of Herman Kahn offers new insights into the planning and strategic thinking that shaped the cold war during its first two decades.”

– Jason Krupar, Technology and Culture, 2008, 49(1).

“Ghamari-Tabrizi makes the connections between Kahn’s image in pop culture and the remarkable shift that brought civilian analysts and game theorists to positions of influence at the expense of more traditional military analysts.”

– DKR, “Books, Sources, and Issues,” Weekly Intelligence Notes, #10, March 7, 2005.

A highly engaging account of Herman Kahn through 1962 as seen by a wide range of people.”

Future Survey, 27(6), June 2005.

“This eloquently penned biography of ‘our first Virtuoso of the unknown unknowns’ displays both the wit of Kahn as well as his dark genius.”

– “New and Noteworthy Books,” Futurist Book Shelf, World Future Society.

“With this engaging study of Kahn’s thinking, independent scholar Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi has produced an engaging book which is almost as idiosyncratic and colourful as Kahn himself. …Ghamari-Tabrizi certainly approaches American strategic thought from an angle rarely seen in the existing literature. …. She most certainly makes the reader think. For this she should be congratulated.”

— Robert Ayson, Contemporary Security Policy, 27(3), 2006.

The Worlds of Herman Kahn can provide the sorts of tools necessary to yield entirely fresh insights into the planning and strategic thinking that shaped the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s.”

– Rodney Carlisle, Enterprise and Society, 7(1), 2006.

“[Her] discussion of systems analysis is insightful and worth reading.”

— Thomas A. Julian, Journal of Military History, 71(1), 2007.

“This impressively researched and highly readable book offers a revealing picture of key players in the drama of American technological-societal interaction during the age of anxiety we call the Cold War. ... Ghamari-Tabrizi’s volume is well worth reading, providing a very insightful, even entertaining view of the worlds of Herman Kahn.”

– Harold A. Linstone, Technological Forecasting & Social Change, 73, 2006.

The Worlds of Herman Kahn was written for a general audience, but has enough interesting detail of Kahn and his times, that even hard core defense analysis geeks would find it useful.”

– James F. Dunnigan, The New York Military Affairs Symposium Review, 33, Winter 2004-2005.

Ghamari-Tabrizi’s aesthetic analysis … explains how RAND’s analysts garnered as much epistemic authority as they did in this period.”

– Jamie Cohen-Cole, “Cybernetics and the machinery of rationality,” The British Journal for the History of Science, 41(1) March, 2008.

The Worlds of Herman Kahn appears on essential reading lists:

Incisive study of one the inspirations for Dr. Strangelove.”

Key Readings. The National Security Archive’s Nuclear Documentation Project.

The Bulletin recommends …: This portrait ... describes one of the predominant strains of early nuclear strategy, and also the political landscape from which it emerged. ... By emphasizing the people behind the theoretical debates, Ghamari-Tabrizi deftly shows how personalities affect policy.”

– “Reading List,” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July/August 2008.

“This biography is the first major study of the life of nuclear strategist Herman Kahn. ... The book follows the life of Kahn, but also the historical situation that influenced his thinking. … The book successfully illustrates the complicated life of Kahn, who would be praised by some people as a genius and viewed by others as a malicious madman.

ALSOS Digital Library for Nuclear Issues,

“Ms. Ghamari-Tabrizi provides a fascinating look at a very complex man. ...The book carefully avoids passing judgment on his ideas. Instead, Ghamari-Tabrizi paints us a picture of the man behind these ideas and the times in which he lived. This book is an excellent examination of a world of “unknown unknowns” that still exists around us today.

The atomic archive. 12/18/05.