Book Review: “British Nuclear Culture” by Jonathan Hogg

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I have been reading this book carefully for a few weeks now, but it’s appropriate that I reached the end this week. I first came across the book when I heard the author, Jonathan Hogg, speak at Troubling Anniversaries Conference in 2021. Now, like coming full circle, I’ve just finished the book having given a presentation on aspects of the visualization of nuclear culture at a conference in Cologne (see Splitting Atomic Symbolism: Words, Images, and Sounds of a Nuclear World and “Hiroshima – Nagasaki – Fukushima – Articulations of the Nuclear. The Case of Japan” Conference) and am now working on developing my presentation into a publication (a further version will also appear in my book about Visual Packaging Culture – but that’s a few years away yet).

“British Nuclear Culture” takes us on a journey through from 1898 to 2015, with the chapters being based on chronological periods. There are many ways that the subject could have been approached – such as having chapters on particular themes – but there is no doubt that the chronological approach worked really well.

Given my personal interests in the nuclear topic – I particularly enjoyed the discussions in the chapter on the 1975-1989 period, and while “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood perhaps didn’t get as much attention as it deserved (the Annihilation Mix in particular is worthy of a few sentences), it did, naturally, cover Threads in some detail.

For my research, there was so much of use in this book. It has alerted me to many more movies and TV programmes that I can include in my study (see Nuclear Imagery and Looking for Movies and TV Programmes for details of those in my study now). On top of this, the discussion, particularly in the final few pages about the use of the image of the mushroom cloud really fits neatly with what I was arguing in my paper and has some wonderful text which I will be able to reference in the version of my paper for publication. Of course, the book has also provided references to further books and articles that are likely to be useful for my research.

For anyone wanting to study not only British nuclear culture, but also aspects of British life in the various periods (especially after World War II), I would say that this book is a must read. Having just experienced what a nuclear shelter is like in Germany and seeing that plans there were just as dreadful as this book (and programmes it refers to) points out for the UK (and of course there are others – including the film The Atomic Café – which point out how poor the plans were in the USA), there is much which will be useful for cross cultural comparisons on government leadership (not only in relation to nuclear issues), how the media behaves, and what the responses of the public can be like.

Given how terrifying the subject matter is, the book is written in a very engaging and not overtly graphic way. I’m sure to be turning back to it again and again.

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