Peter B. Lerner’s response
One of the French greats, Balzac or Stendhal, suggested that the author’s professed opinion about his own book must be given as much consideration as the courtesan’s opinion about her current lover. Having a vague idea of the private lives of the two French greats, I doubt that either of them could find this statement derogatory to the authors, courtesans, or their lovers for that matter.
Equally, I do not see anything diminutive in my characterization of the general outlook of the authors on nuclear disarmament as “reiterating the existing consensus of academic physical scientists.” This group includes, among others, H. Bethe, R. Garwin, S. Drell, and W. Panofsky, all of whom had first-hand knowledge of nuclear weapons research. This characterization was evoked only to emphasize that even the views of well-meaning and competent Americans concerning military applications of nuclear technology can be very remote from the rest of the world.
As far as the number and choice of topics is concerned, I stand by my opinion that the treatment is chaotic and confusing. Careful selection of material and organization of ideas is a high art. For instance, writers of encyclopedia entries have typical limitations of 500-1000 words and 4-6 main references, in which they must squeeze sometimes very complex and specialized subjects (e.g. “Philosophy, Greek, Hellenistic period.”). There are different strategies to cope with the challenge of a burgeoning subject, e.g., mathematicians frequently choose one central idea or method, ignoring competing approaches, etc. etc. But no coping strategies seem have worked for the authors. Also, contradictions such as the appearance of two numbers for the same quantity on adjacent pages does not contribute to better understanding.
Finally, I am glad that my assessment of the statement: “The economic well-being of the Russian population is considered secondary. President Putin understands well that [Great Power] status cannot be returned through great economic achievements; there is no widespread entrepreneurial spirit of the Western type in Russian culture (p. xii, Vol. 1)” as stupid and racist passed under the editor's radar screen. The fact that such statements abound in the current (especially British) press does not make them more accurate or less repugnant. It is also laughable in view of how much effort is made by the EU to prohibit the sale of European companies to the Russians. Certainly, 30+ Russian billionaires would laugh all the way to the bank at their lack of “entrepreneurial spirit”.
If the four authors found my modestly critical comments of their book offensive, they must have been very lucky with the anonymous referees of their technical papers. In these litigious times even the screenwriting agents are afraid to speak their minds. Criticisms restricted to platitudes such as “…we feel that your work provides an insufficient match to the demands of our clients,” such reviews leave the readers and anybody else with nothing to learn. Finally, if the controversy is the mother of sales, the authors of “Nuclear Shadowboxing” must thank me for increasing their sales, which they grudgingly do.