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Atomic Postcards

Radioactive Messages from the Cold War

Atomic postcards played an important role in creating and disseminating a public image of nuclear power. Presenting small-scale images of test explosions, power plants, fallout shelters, and long-range missiles, the cards were produced for mass audiences in China, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Japan, and they link the multilayered geographies of Atomic Age nationalism and tourism. From the unfailingly cheery slogans—“Greetings from Los Alamos”—to blithe, handwritten notes and no-irony-intended “Pray for Peace” postmarks, these postcards mailed from the edge of danger nonetheless maintain the upbeat language of their medium.

With 150 reproductions of cards and handwritten messages dating from the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the end of the Cold War, Atomic Postcards offers a fascinating glimpse of a time when the end of the world seemed close at hand.

188 pages | 150 color plates | 9 x 9 | © 2011

Art: Art Criticism

Culture Studies

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"O’Brian and Borsos have added a valuable chapter to the cultural artifacts of the atomic age."—Rain Taxi

Rain Taxi

"Atomic Postcards documents a treasure trove of Cold War relics, some which need to be seen to be believed."—imprint



"Atomic Postcards fuses the almost inherently banal form of the canned tourist dispatch with the incipient peril, and nervously giddy promise, of the nuclear age. Collected within are two-sided curios spanning the vast range of the military-industrial complex—’radioactive messages from the Cold War,’ as the book promises. . . . Taken as a whole, the postcards form a kind of de facto and largely cheery dissemination campaign for the wonder of atomic power."—Tom Vanderbilt, Slate


“O’Brian and Borsos confront readers with jarring perspectives of the Cold War. Their collection of postcards—drawn from more than a dozen countries and spanning 1945 to 1989—shows how the nuclear industry, and the weapons it generated, somehow came to be an accepted part of everyday reality and one that was reflected in the most mundane aspects of popular culture. . . . The reader is forced to ponder the extent to which nuclear threats became normalized and simply an accepted aspect of everyday life during the Cold War.”

University of Toronto Quarterly

“O’Brian and Borsos write in the introduction that the postcards are strange hybrids of tourism and terror, of nationalism and pacifism, where ‘the extraordinary keeps company with the ordinary, the excessive with the banal.’ . . .  From Army photos of the devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a set of real photos of a 1953 mushroom cloud from the Nevada Test Site as an advertisement for a Las Vegas hotel and casino, the images speak volumes about the Cold War era and its fears”

College & Research Libraries News

“’Wish you were here’ takes on a dark and unsettling irony when discovered on the reverse side of a postcard depicting an atomic blast. In Atomic Postcards, readers are presented with an opportunity to reflect upon the ways in which Cold War nuclear experience is visualized, commented, or left unsaid through the recto/verso of postcard images.”

Journal of Canadian Art History

Table of Contents

Introduction: Recto | Verso
      John O’Brian
The Postcards

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