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War of Nerves


War of Nerves Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Statesmen, generals, and diplomats have long debated the military utility and morality of chemical warfare. In 1925, the use of chemical weapons in war was prohibited by international treaty; in 1997 the ban on the use of chemical weapons was extended to cover their development, production, and stockpiling. Nevertheless, Iraq employed chemical weapons on a large scale as recently as the 1980s, first during its eight-year war with Iran and then against its rebellious Kurdish minority.

In War of Nerves, Jonathan Tucker, a leading expert on chemical and biological weapons, writes about chemical warfare from World War I to the present.

The author makes clear how, at the turn of the twentieth century, the large-scale use of toxic chemicals on the battlefield became feasible and cheap; how Germany first developed and employed toxic weapons during World War I, burying some 6,000 cylinders (containing 168 tons of chlorine) opposite the Allied trenches defending the town of Ypres, in Belgium. German troops simultaneously opened the chlorine cylinders, panicking two French divisions and tearing a gap four miles wide in the Ypres front.

Chemical warfare had begun: five months later, the Allies retaliated with their own use of chlorine gas. By the end of the war, chemical warfare had inflicted roughly one million casualties, 90,000 of them fatal.

Tucker writes about the synthesis of the first nerve agent—Tabun—in 1936 by a German industrial chemist developing new pesticides how its high toxicity made it unusable as a pesticide but viable as a weapon for the Nazi regime. A few years later, two even more toxic nerve agents—Sarin and Soman—were developed for military use. Hitler never employed this secret weapon; German intelligence concluded—incorrectly—that the Allies had developed a similar capability.

Following World War II, we see the rise of a Cold War chemical competition between the United States and the Soviet Union that paralleled the nuclear arms race, as each pursued the secrets of the German nerve agents; how the United States and Britain planned to mass-produce Sarin (only the United States did); how the superpowers developed and mass-produced V-agents, a new generation of nerve agents of extraordinary potency; and how nerve agents spread to the Third World, including their suspected use by Egypt during the Yemen Civil War (1963—1967), as well as Iraq’s use of nerve agents in its war against Iran and on its own people. Iraq’s use of nerve agents hastened the negotiation of an international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons, which went into effect in 1997. Although the treaty now has more than 175 member-states, al-Qaeda and related terrorist groups are seeking to acquire nerve agents.

In this important and revelatory book, Jonathan Tucker makes clear that we are at a crossroads that could lead either to the further spread of these weapons or to their ultimate abolition.


"On March 20, 1995, the deft choreography of Tokyo's Monday morning commute collapsed into terrifying chaos. Thousands of people fell to the floor, gasping for breath, pupils dilated. Some vomited, their bodies wracked by convulsions that marked their last moments on Earth.

This attack by a Japanese doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, was the first use of nerve gas by terrorists. It left a dozen... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)


From an internationally recognized expert on chemical and biological warfare (author of "Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox") comes a history of chemical weapons, including nerve agents, the most lethal means of chemical warfare.

About the Author

Jonathan B. Tucker received a B.S. in biology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in political science, specializing in defense and arms control studies, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For the past ten years, he has been a chemical and biological weapons specialist at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Dr. Tucker previously worked as an arms control specialist for Congress and the State Department and as an editor at Scientific American and at High Technology magazine, where he wrote about biomedical research, biotechnology, and military technologies. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Product Details

Tucker, Jonathan B.
Random House
Chemical warfare
Military - Biological & Chemical Warfare
Publication Date:
February 2006
9.56x6.50x1.53 in. 1.88 lbs.

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Military » Weapons » General

War of Nerves Used Hardcover
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$14.95 In Stock
Product details 479 pages Pantheon Books - English 9780375422294 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , From an internationally recognized expert on chemical and biological warfare (author of "Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox") comes a history of chemical weapons, including nerve agents, the most lethal means of chemical warfare.
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