Smith, P.D. 1965- (Peter D. Smith)

views updated

Smith, P.D. 1965- (Peter D. Smith)


Born 1965. Education: University of Kent, B.A., 1992; University College, London, England, M.A., 1993, Ph.D., 1997; also attended Munich University.


Author. Former editorial photographer for newspapers and magazines, including Daily Telegraph (London, England) and Homes and Gardens. Assistant to Liz Calder, Bloomsbury Publishing. Instructor, University College, London, 2003-04, and honorary research fellow.

Columnist for Web logs, including 3 Quarks Daily and The Nervous Breakdown.


(As Peter D. Smith) Metaphor and Materiality: German Literature and the World-View of Science 1780-1955, Legenda (Oxford, England), 2000.

(As Peter D. Smith) Einstein, Haus Publishing (London, England), 2005.

Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.


In Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon, science writer P.D. Smith wrote for his home page, P.D. Smith Kafka's Mouse, "I tell the true story of the Doomsday Bomb, an ultimate weapon that terrified people in the cold war." "In 1950, the Hungarian-born scientist Leo Szilard made a dramatic announcement on American radio: science was on the verge of creating a doomsday bomb. Humankind now had the power to end life on earth," according to Smith's profile on "The shockwave from his statement reverberated across the following decade and beyond. Szilard's doomsday device—a huge cobalt-clad H-bomb—features in countless stories, films and articles, including atomic-war best seller On the Beach by Nevil Shute and Stanley Kubrick's classic film, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." "My book," Smith wrote for his home page, "reveals how the history of weapons of mass destruction is not just one of soldiers and scientists, but also about journalists and pulp fiction writers using their talents to inspire people with tales about saviour scientists and the dream of the superweapon. Later, in the atomic age, that dream became a nightmare and people began viewing scientists not as saviours, but as Dr. Strangeloves."

For much of the Cold War, the doomsday device remained a metaphor for the destructive power of atomic weaponry in the later twentieth century. "The Cobalt bomb was largely forgotten after the Cuban Missile Crisis came and went," explained Christopher Coker, in a review for the Times Literary Supplement. "So too disappeared the fear of a Doomsday machine that could not be overridden by human intervention. Only after the Berlin Wall had been breached and the ice of the Cold War had begun to thaw did military analysts realize the Russians had actually built a version of the device. The details of this top-secret Soviet system were first revealed in 1993 by Bruce G. Blair, a former American ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] launch control officer, [and] … one of the country's foremost experts on Russian arms." The weapon, code-named Perimetr, was made active in 1985 and, quite possibly, is still waiting to send the Russian nuclear arsenal out on a path of destruction. "Szilard began as one of the scientific optimists … [but] it was not to be," stated New York Times Book Review contributor William Grimes. "The genie of atomic power, once released, immediately took up arms. And it showed a remarkable resistance to being controlled. In his later years an appalled Szilard, barred for security reasons from working on atomic energy, addressed the threat in the only way open to him: He began writing science fiction."

Alex Stevenson, in a review of Doomsday Men for InTheNews, stated that Smith's "attempts to intersperse [literature and science] in this book are questionable." Dominick Donald commented the Guardian, "Smith's principal claim—that ‘the dream of the superweapon is a fantasy which goes to the heart of our culture’—is undermined by the fact that the literature and film that he has explored so exhaustively is (HG Wells and Neville Shute, Dr. Strangelove and Godzilla aside) unknown today." Although some reviewers questioned the results of Smith's attempt to show a relationship between literature and science, many also recognized the importance of his subject. "Smith's impressive research," a Kirkus Reviews contributor stated, "turns up innumerable end-of-the-world thrillers, apocalyptic science fiction and clueless journalism." In effect, declared Gilbert Taylor in a Booklist review, Smith "puts science's Faustian bargain through its literary paces." "With the Cold War fading into history, Doomsday Men offers a valuable reminder of the period's fears and foibles," concluded Paul Halpern in a review for the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It provides an outstanding guide to a pivotal era when humanity first faced the terrifying prospect of annihilation by its own hand."



Booklist, December 15, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon, p. 12.

Guardian (London, England), July 14, 2007, Dominick Donald, "Nuke Nemesis?," Doomsday Men. Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of Doomsday Men.

National Post, September 8, 2007, Tibor Fischer, review of Doomsday Men, p. 11.

Nature, August 23, 2007, "Mankind's Strange Love of Superweapons," review of Doomsday Men, p. 868.

New Scientist, June 2, 2007, "Worst Intentions," review of Doomsday Men, p. 56.

New York Times Book Review, December 28, 2007, William Grimes, "Sci-Fi Dream Turns World's Worst Nightmare," review of Doomsday Men.

Philadelphia Inquirer, January 30, 2008, Paul Halpern, "British Historian Explores the Development of Nuclear Weaponry and Its Impact on Society in Doomsday Men."

Times Higher Education Supplement (London, England), July 20, 2007, "Scientists Who Met Madness with Reason," review of Doomsday Men, p. 21.

Times Literary Supplement (London, England), August 10, 2007, Christopher Coker, "Deadly Devices," review of Doomsday Men, p. 7.


InTheNews, (July 24, 2008), Alex Stevenson, review of Doomsday Men.

P.D. Smith Kafka's Mouse, (July 24, 2008).

P.D. Smith MySpace page, (July 24, 2008).

About this article

Smith, P.D. 1965- (Peter D. Smith)

Updated About content Print Article