The Fate of the Earth

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The Fate of the Earth
Author Jonathan Schell
Subject consequences of nuclear war
Genre non-fiction
Publisher Knopf
Publication date
Pages 244 pages
ISBN 0394525590
OCLC 8280571

The Fate of the Earth is a 1982 book by Jonathan Schell. This "seminal" description of the consequences of nuclear war "forces even the most reluctant person to confront the unthinkable: the destruction of humanity and possibly most life on Earth". The book is regarded as a key document in the nuclear disarmament movement.[1][2]

The book is composed of three essays. The third and final, “The Choice,” is an argument that the source of the nuclear threat is the nation-state system, and that the choice is between survival and national sovereignty.


In his review of The Fate of the Earth, Brian Martin demonstrated that the argument that “most people” would die in the nuclear war is highly exaggerated, especially for the Global South. He explains the discrepancy:

“The perplexity is explained by Shell’s process of continually taking worst interpretations and bending the evidence to give the worst impression … And usually when he spells out a worst case as a possibility—for example… a 10,000 Mt attack on the United States—this becomes implicitly a certainty for later discussion, with qualifications dropped”[3]

Brian Martin offers explanation for the constant tendency to exaggerate the effect of nuclear war:

“’Pushing’ of an argument to support a particular conclusion is a common phenomenon in science, and Shell, perhaps, should not be blamed overly much for doing this, especially since in many of his arguments he relies heavily on quotes from specialists who do the same thing. What is more important are the political implications of a conclusion about the likelihood of extinction from nuclear war. There are many potential [political] reasons why the effects of nuclear war are exaggerated… Indeed, Shell explicitly advocates use of the fear of extinction as the basis for inspiring the ‘complete rearrangement of world politics.’”[4]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the 1985 Infocom interactive fiction game A Mind Forever Voyaging, The Fate of the Earth is on the list of banned books, tapes, and programs, issued by the Morality Bureau of the government in Rockvil's Main Library in the 2071 simulation; the reason is that it has something to do with nuclear war and the Cold War.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Smoking Guns and Mushroom Clouds
  2. ^ Gerald H. Clarfield and William M. Wiecek (1984). Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States 1940-1980, Harper & Row, New York, p. 477.
  3. ^ Brian Martin, “The Fate of Extinction Arguments,” unpublished paper, (1983),
  4. ^ Brian Martin, “The Fate of Extinction Arguments,” unpublished paper, (1983),

External links[edit]