Cover of Atomic Steppe by Togzhan Kassenova
Atomic Steppe
How Kazakhstan Gave Up the Bomb
Togzhan Kassenova


January 2022
384 pages.
from $30.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503628465
Paperback ISBN: 9781503632431
Ebook ISBN: 9781503629936

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Atomic Steppe tells the untold true story of how the obscure country of Kazakhstan said no to the most powerful weapons in human history. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the marginalized Central Asian republic suddenly found itself with the world's fourth largest nuclear arsenal on its territory. Would it give up these fire-ready weapons—or try to become a Central Asian North Korea?

This book takes us inside Kazakhstan's extraordinary and little-known nuclear history from the Soviet period to the present. For Soviet officials, Kazakhstan's steppe was not an ecological marvel or beloved homeland, but an empty patch of dirt ideal for nuclear testing. Two-headed lambs were just the beginning of the resulting public health disaster for Kazakhstan—compounded, when the Soviet Union collapsed, by the daunting burden of becoming an overnight nuclear power.

Equipped with intimate personal perspective and untapped archival resources, Togzhan Kassenova introduces us to the engineers turned diplomats, villagers turned activists, and scientists turned pacifists who worked toward disarmament. With thousands of nuclear weapons still present around the world, the story of how Kazakhs gave up their nuclear inheritance holds urgent lessons for global security.

About the author

Togzhan Kassenova is senior fellow at the University at Albany, SUNY and a nonresident fellow of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"Atomic Steppe is the untold story of how Kazakhstan rid itself of nuclear weapons—a remarkable accomplishment for a new nation. Togzhan Kassenova documents this momentous tale with depth, rigor, and skill. A revelatory, authoritative account of how the nuclear arms race went backwards, for once, making the world safer."

—David E. Hoffman, author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy

"Togzhan Kassenova's moving Atomic Steppe offers one of the first complete English-language accounts of the devastating but little-known nuclear history of Kazakhstan. The author successfully blends meticulous research with her own family's personal experience."

—Sarah Cameron, author of The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan

"In this wonderful book, Togzhan Kassenova provides an intimate account of Kazakhstan's nuclear history and an acute analysis of how it handled its post-Soviet nuclear inheritance. Atomic Steppe is a deeply researched and profoundly affecting book, which everyone concerned about the nuclear state of the world should read."

—David J. Holloway, author of Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956

"With the sweeping and inspiring Atomic Steppe, Togzhan Kassenova has unearthed insights new even to those of us who had front-row seats to Kazakhstan's nuclear saga, telling a story both accurate and humane. Anyone interested in Eurasia or in health, environmental, and nuclear challenges should read this engrossing book."

—William Courtney, former US Ambassador to Kazakhstan