Exploring Histories of Risk and Knowledge

Editorial note: The editors wish to acknowledge that the date of this post about risk cultures, highlighting the example of fire-fighting technologies, marks the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which took the lives of so many firefighters and other first responders. While we often honor the people involved in emergency response, we frequently forget to also analyze the constraints of modern risk cultures.


When Ulrich Beck published Risk Society in 1986, the sociologist could have hardly known how influential his work would become for scholars studying risk. The idea that industrial modernity undermined itself through the very means of technological advancement proved exceptionally relevant. At the time of publication, chemical industries and nuclear energy presented paramount environmental and societal challenges.1 Continue reading “Exploring Histories of Risk and Knowledge”

Spinning the Risk: ‘The Effects of Nuclear Weapons’ Handbook

The Effects of Nuclear Weapons was by far the most popular handbook of nuclear defense during the Cold War. Adapted from an original publication of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (1950),1 the handbook was amended and made commercially available for popular use (1957),2 revised (1962),3 reprinted (1964),4 expanded (1977),5 and even illicitly translated into Russian for use in the Soviet Union (1960).6 Edited by Samuel Glasstone, a prolific author of science textbooks, The Effects of Nuclear Weapons was described as a “comprehensive summary of current knowledge on the effects of nuclear weapons” and commended by the Federal Civil Defense Administration as “the definitive source of information on the effects of nuclear weapons.”7

Continue reading “Spinning the Risk: ‘The Effects of Nuclear Weapons’ Handbook”