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The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel
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The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,337 ratings  ·  331 reviews
“A brilliantly conceived page-turner.”—Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and Command and Control

“I couldn’t put the book down, reading most of it in the course of one increasingly intense evening. If fear of nuclear war is going to keep you up at night, at least it can be a page-turner.”
New Scientist

America lost 1.4 million citizens in the North Korean attac
Paperback, 304 pages
Published August 7th 2018 by Mariner Books
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Start your review of The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States: A Speculative Novel
Michael Ferro
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jeffery Lewis has written an entirely realistic portrayal of just what might be in store for our country under the current administration concerning North Korea and possible nuclear war. Though Trump seems to be satisfied with his foolish assumption that North Korea is not a threat, this book shows just how quickly things can change in a matter of days... or, in this case, tweets.

Written as a fictitious commission report from 2023 looking back at events of 2020 in which a nuclear war happened b
Blaine DeSantis
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, this is a super Speculative novel. The entire premise is to force us to face the possibility of a nuclear attack on the US by North Korea all of which arose out of a shootdown of a South Korean jet filled with students by North Korea and how everything spirals out of control. From a questionable measured response by South Korea to false assumptions by North Korea. A novel written as a governmental report, this is a fast, and readable book that grabs you from page 1 and does not let you go ...more
Aug 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Terrific will do, for starters. Right out of the headlines will also do. The 2020 Commission Report... is written just as if it were an after-action report or investigation similar to The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States or The Warren Commission Report: The Official Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The author is a real-life nuclear arms expert especially on the system ...more
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
Interesting account of a *fictional* attack on the United States in March of 2020. Of course, it reads like a government report, and is very sparse on specific details after the attack, providing an overview of what happened in South Korea, Japan, and the United States. The amount of detail on true events going back to the Korean War was interesting, and the author tied it all together nicely in an extremely plausible account.

The only thing I really didn't like was President Trump's final statem
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
A fast-paced and surprisingly serious thought experiment, relevant to our current unstable world
According to a follow-up statement released by the White House, “consillary” is “an accepted anglicization of the Italian term consigliere” and is “commonly used by real Americans who don’t learn Italian at fancy Swiss boarding schools.”- a rectification government response to a mock-up tweet of Donald Trump

Realistic and gripping, this fictional commission report investigates the March 2020 attack of
Aug 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed this. Like a fast-paced thriller, but with political savvy. My only warning is that events will soon overtake the plot, and the book will soon lose some of its surface plausibility.
Oct 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars, rounded up

Be rest assured going into this book, Lewis knows what he's talking about. He's a nonproliferation expert specializing in North Korea, has previously worked for the Department of Defense, and hosts the Arms Control Wonk podcast. He puts all that knowledge, from big picture to minute detail, to use here.

The good:

- It reads like what it is - a government report. It felt slightly dry in the beginning but as things picked up the understated tone was an excellent contrast to the
Aug 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I wish I could have given this book 4.5 stars. Dr. Lewis’s writing is best when dealing with areas he is most comfortable: the technical and geopolitical dimensions of nuclear deterrence and war. It is weakest when it comes to projecting an essential character: President Trump. To be fair, the portrait of Trump’s actions and emotions seem insightful and well-thought out. However, imagined tweets feel like they are almost spot on; his dialogue feels further from the truth; his “statement” include ...more
Justin Weiss
Sep 23, 2018 rated it liked it
The gimmick was cool (everything accurate and sourced as of August 2018!), it was a fast read, and I loved how much the escalation reminded me of tech postmortems. Everything is already broken in 10 different ways, but it’s the 11th that causes everything to collapse.

It felt really rushed toward the end, and was missing the detail that I liked in the first half.

If you’re going to read it, read it now, because it’ll lose something as we catch up with the timeline.
Charles Haywood
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
For some time now, I have been telling my children, none of whom have ever lived through any event that significantly harmed America, that sooner or later, history will return. The older ones roll their eyes; the younger ones have no idea what I mean. This book shows what I mean, through a fictionalized look at a 2020 nuclear attack by North Korea on South Korea, Japan, and the United States.

The book is an imagined report, probably a lot less dry than most actual official reports, written by a 2
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Utterly compelling and more than a little frightening, the perfect holiday read. It probably qualifies as disaster porn, but when was the last time you read a thriller that had a full notes section at the end that includes references to articles in academic journals? It all seems terrifyingly plausible, particularly given what we seem to know about the dysfunctional Trump administration.

(And if you’re in a dark mood today about having to go back to work after the holiday, check out the ‘Nukemap’
3.5 stars, rounded up.

What's good: Fascinating idea. Fast pace for the most part. A speculative fiction novel with a solid grounding in the here and now.

What's not so good: Not a word about fallout, though the black rain may have been a description of fallout. Nothing about wind patterns bringing radiation clouds to other areas. Not a word about birth defects. Nothing about victims inadvertently sickening others (when the Chernobyl firefighters got medical attention, they had absorbed so many m
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be a weirdly fun page-turner that paints a plausible path to nuclear war based on a string of coincidences and miscommunications. The MAGA crowd will not be pleased, but the presentation of President Trump as a callous blowhard whose bluster exacerbates the situation with Kim Jong-Un seems pretty realistic. With that being said, even as someone who is no fan of the administration, some of the invented dialogue and fictional tweets from Trump are painfully unfunny, and the ja ...more
Bob H
Oct 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
A speculative novel, in the format of a U.S. government commission report, on a nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea in March 2020. It's well-written, the prose is fast-paced even in a bureaucratic framing, and the author sets the event in a real-life context: everything he describes up to mid-2018 -- our reality -- is in place. Certainly the chain of events, starting with an international incident (in this case, a shoot-down of a stray South Korean civilian airliner), the missed signals ...more
Nick Black
Incredibly disappointing. I've read Dr. Lewis's blog avidly for years (indeed, I cite it on my personal web page). His knowledge of nuclear/missile tech and especially the politics thereof is right on, hence the "armscontrolwonk" title. Unfortunately, none of that acumen or analysis is brought to bear in this "speculative novel", which isn't really much more than a skeletal draft written primarily, it seems, to take cheap and frankly grotesque shots at president trump. We get it; you don't like ...more
Jan 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
If contemplating nuclear war is fun for you, then please read this book. I enjoy this kind of exercise, and found it all terrifyingly (?) plausible.
One quibble would be maybe the Trump portrayal is a bit over-the-top....but on second thought, is that even possible??
Dec 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Ha ha, this is wonderful nightmare fuel! The author captures the mediocre intelligence and character of Donald Trump. At the end, though, the reader is left with a sense that any potential lessons for readers are pointless in the aftermath of the attacks. Oh well, what more can we expect in these fucked up times. 3.5 stars.
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
God damnit good reads app ate my review again. PoS. So not as lengthy as I had at first: interesting book, different from my usual type. Well grounded in facts up until he started the future hypothetical situation and even that is still made to sound logical by tying it back to things that did happen.
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, sci-fi, futures
There are no two ways about it, this is such an interesting book. It is a fiction, and that has to be remembered, that is based upon an interpretation of how the current White House works. The setting is that it is a report of a Commission - along the lines of the 9-11 Commission - that is investigating how a nuclear exchange between the US and North Korea came about. It is set as written in 2023, and looks back at the events of 2020.

In the context of the book, we are led along a pathway that is
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: thriller
A speculative novel, written by a nonproliferation expert, that deals with the simple question: How could an accidental nuclear war with North Korea happen, and what would it look like?

I made my way through the book in two evenings, foregoing most other activities, which should tell you all you need to know about this book. It is a well-written, sobering reminder that with nuclear weapons in the mix, we are always on the brink of killing large numbers of people because of misunderstandings, bad
Dan Bloethe
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Usually when American or Western authors right about North Korea, they tend to ignore South Korean interests (assuming it to be the same as the United States') and that North Korea is irrational. Both assumptions are inherently false and it is reflected by the book. The author writes the book in a way that seems realistic. By writing the book as a government report, the author is able to both chronologically track the conflict and to examine the motives behind all countries leaders. A good and u ...more
Dec 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: war-and-empire
Imagine the 9/11 report met World War Z and they had a child about a speculative nuclear war between North Korea and the United States. It's a gripping and harrowing read, and while I think it's a good look the potential consequences of events, it's unfortunate that Lewis does not make more of an argument, because he clearly is capable of doing so. In short, a technical error leads to the mis-identification of a civilian aircraft that the North Koreans shoot down. South Korea responds with a lim ...more
Matthew Kresal
Jan 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One might have thought that the days of Americans worrying about a nuclear attack were long-past with the end of the Cold War. Yet, as the crises with North Korea and Iran prove, they are anything but relics of the Cold War. With The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States (hereafter referred to as the 2020 Commission for the sake of brevity), writer Jeffrey Lewis spins a yarn of a VERY near future nuclear attack upon the United States and the events ...more
Kurt Achin
Sep 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent read. The author is a world-leading expert on weapons of mass destruction and that is very clear from just about every paragraph. This is essentially a warning told as a fictitious story to spark thought and concern in the reader. As literature, it's a little shaky; changes in narrative voice veer from the dry and factual "commission report" of the title and into the subjective personal voice of a narrator who injects abstract descriptions and personal opinions. There have been mixed r ...more
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is terrifying, tragic, and enlightening in equal measures. A well-regarded scholar on nuclear weapons at the Middlebury Institute, Jeffrey Lewis brings an unmatched level of expertise to this astonishing work of speculative fiction. Set in the year 2023, the 2020 Commission Report details the lead-up to and aftermath of nuclear attacks from North Korea on first Japan and South Korea, and later the United States.

The most terrifying aspect of this book has to be the degree to which Lewis
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This novel, describing a speculative future war between the US, let by the Trump administration, and North Korea is an interesting idea. Facts about NK and its history are included (with references). As for the story itself and as the title suggests, a number of unfortunate coincidences lead to devastating nuclear attacks in March 2020 against South Korea, Japan and the US. I think the beginnings of the hostilities are very realistic. But I am surprised about the authors ideas on the later stage ...more
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Actually 4.5 🌟 Short review: WOW and HOLY $&_+! Slightly longer review: It's rare that I find a novel that I can't put down and finish in just over a day. Dr. Lewis has managed to write a completely believable (imo), Tom Clancy like-novel of a spiral out of control sneak attack on the United States by North Korea by weaving in news reports and modified survivor accounts from Hiroshima. I've never read the 9/11 Commission Report so I'm not sure if such scenarios/scenes/accounts such as the descri ...more
Actual rating might be 4.5 stars. I found this to be a well-written, totally plausible scenario of how a nuclear attack by North Korea would unfold. The author's speculation on how the Trump administration would react to such an attack seemed likely as well given how it has responded to past threats. Lewis is obviously knowledgeable about the history and politics of Korea as well as the federal government, and I was impressed that the book read more like a thriller than a dull government report. ...more
Nelson Minar
Enjoyed reading this. It's a little preachy and already a little dated, but also a reasonable yarn about how quickly mistakes could escalate in international diplomacy. It's also sort of a charming document from the early Trump era when we still pretended he might be a competent President. The reality we have now is much more dismal. ...more
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Frightening in its possibility. How I hope that some of the governmental antics are not true, but fear that they are. A well written speculative story. His incorporation of real survivor voices keeps it shockingly real and touching.
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Jeffrey Lewis is a Research Fellow at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy's Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland. ...more

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