Peter Hennessy is widely acknowledged to be one of the most entertaining British historians now writing. But the subject of his new book is far from conventionally engaging. Based on primary archival research and interviews with participants, for which Hennessy is also renowned, it examines in detail the top-secret retaliation procedures that were put in place should the UK be attacked in a nuclear war, and what the planners thought the consequences of such a war might be. Using recently declassified material from the Joint Intelligence Committee and its analysts, Hennessy reconstructs the picture of the Soviet threat that was presented to ministers from the last days of the Second World War to the 1960s. He maps the size and shape of the Cold War state which was built in response to that perceived threat, and traces the arguments which successive generations of ministers, the military and civil servants have used to justify the British nuclear capability. In which circumstances would the Prime Minister authorize the use of nuclear force and how would his orders be carried out? At which stage in a thermonuclear exchange would the government and the country break down? Who would have gone underground with the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet and where was the immensely secret installation they would have gone to? What was the Queen told - and when - about the possible end of her kingdom? The memory of these questions, and of the nuclear threat over their lives, is still very vivid to every adult in Britain. Peter Hennessy provides the best answers we have yet had to them.
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Peter Hennessy is Professor of Contemporary history at Queen Mary and Westfield College. His previous books include The Prime Minister: The Office and Its Holders Since 1945, Never Again: Britain 1945-1951 (winner of the 1993 NCR Prize) and Whitehall.Review:
Using recently declassified material, Hennessy reconstructs the picture of the Soviet threat which was presented to ministers from the last days of the Second World War to the 1960s. Includes previously unseen photographs of a secret government installation.
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