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The Little Black Book of Atomic War

Lynn Harrison (reviewer) — September 1984

Marc Ian Barasch, Dell Publishing Co. Inc., New York, 1983. Paperback, 107 pages, $4.95.

“It may not do much for your peace of mind, but it will send you off to the apocalypse with a knowing smile.”

Having read this teaser on the back cover of The Little Black Book of Atomic War by Marc Ian Barasch, I doubted my review would be a song of praise. I was right.

Barasch has compiled a pseudofunny pocketbook of nuclear trivia divided into sections with clever titles like “Emily Postwar’s Etiquette.” The result is not very funny at all.

Even if his intention was to coax a little laughter from the tears, I found the author’s approach inappropriate. For example, he reports on the sterility of one-fifth of male high-school students after atomic testing near a Utah city with the headline: “Problem of Teenage Pregnancy Eased.”

It doesn’t take long for quips like these to create a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach. If the sickened response stayed with the reader, the results might be beneficial. But the effect of page after page of this questionable humour is simply numbing, not enlightening.

Barasch has crammed plenty of facts into his book, and although he says that all came from ‘official U.S. government sources,’ many lack more specific references. The absence of credible sources for incredible stories could raise doubts about the authenticity of the information. In addition, cutesy paraphrasing diminishes the strength even of those facts whose authenticity is not in question.

Barasch includes portions of government relocation plans, distributed during the 1960’s, advising that in the event of crisis evacuation: “… living conditions would be austere, but remember, it will only be temporary, so be patient and cooperate.”

A quote from one U.S. Senator in 1952 reads, “the bombing of Hiroshima was the greatest event in world history since the birth of Jesus Christ. “

There’s something perversely comforting about The Little Black Book of Atomic War — as if it’s all made up. So many horrifying facts put within a humourous context are quite de-sensitizing — making the reader comfortable with the unacceptable.

“The last laugh on the war to end them all?” Personally, I’m waiting for the board game.