Winner of the 2021 The Michael H. Hunt Prize for International History, sponsored by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR).
Political Fallout is the story of one of the first human-driven, truly global environmental crises—radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War—and the international response. Beginning in 1945, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union detonated hundreds of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, scattering a massive amount of radioactivity across the globe. The scale of contamination was so vast, and radioactive decay so slow, that the cumulative effect on humans and the environment is still difficult to fully comprehend.
The international debate over nuclear fallout turned global radioactive contamination into an environmental issue, eventually leading the nuclear superpowers to sign the landmark Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963. Bringing together environmental history and Cold War history, Toshihiro Higuchi argues that the PTBT, originally proposed as an arms control measure, transformed into a dual-purpose initiative to check the nuclear arms race and radioactive pollution simultaneously. Higuchi draws on sources in English, Russian, and Japanese, considering both the epistemic differences that emerged in different scientific communities in the 1950s and the way that public consciousness around the risks of radioactive fallout influenced policy in turn. Political Fallout addresses the implications of science and policymaking in the Anthropocene—an era in which humans are confronting environmental changes of their own making.
About the author
Toshihiro Higuchi is Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University.
"Political Fallout shows how the superpowers took it upon themselves to determine acceptable risks of nuclear fallout for the entire globe by turning values and opinion into statements of fact. An insightful analysis of how international governance and environmental regulation configured understandings of risk and pollution in the Anthropocene."
—Kate Brown, author of Plutopia and Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future
"Higuchi has written a superb study that articulates the role of fallout in ways we have not seen before, showing us how state power shaped our understanding of environmental risks. It is clear that this Cold War story, while forgotten by most, still frames how we imagine the challenges of the so-called Anthropocene."
—Jacob Darwin Hamblin, author of Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism
"Political Fallout is an excellent book, both for academic readers and for a general audience... It is a must read for anyone interested in nuclear policies at both the national and international levels."
—Richard M. Filipink, Cold War History
"[Political Fallout] provides an intelligent and engaging story and can be considered the most comprehensive analysis of the nuclear test fallout controversy to date. Academically solid, the book will surely interest a broad range of historians of Cold War science, environment, and medicine. Historians of technology could also find the book intriguing, as it can be read as a study of the political and scientific work that led to the suppression or 'uninvention' of atmospheric nuclear testing as technological practice."
—Néstor Herran, Technology and Culture