“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
– 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 Emerita 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) Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (University of Minnesota Press, 2017)
“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); writer/producer of The Ultimate Weapon: The H-Bomb Dilemma (2000), producer/director with Robb Moss, Secrecy (2008), producer/director with Robb Moss, Containment (2015)
“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,” Conelrad.com
“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,
“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,”
“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,
“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 artifact 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
“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
“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
“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
– 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
– James P. Pinkerton, “Clown Prince of Nuclear War,”
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
– “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
– 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,
“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,
“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,”
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.”
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
– “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