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A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear age: How do you deploy weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them? That question has never been resolved—and Schlosser reveals how the combination of human fallibility and technological complexity still poses a grave risk to mankind. While the harms of global warming increasingly dominate the news, the equally dangerous yet more immediate threat of nuclear weapons has been largely forgotten. Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a historical narrative that spans more than fifty years. It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policy makers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can’t be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering history from the ground up, telling the stories of bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other ordinary servicemen who risked their lives to avert a nuclear holocaust. At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States. Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with people who designed and routinely handled nuclear weapons, Command and Control takes readers into a terrifying but fascinating world that, until now, has been largely hidden from view. Through the details of a single accident, Schlosser illustrates how an unlikely event can become unavoidable, how small risks can have terrible consequences, and how the most brilliant minds in the nation can only provide us with an illusion of control. Audacious, gripping, and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism, an eye-opening look at the dangers of America’s nuclear age.


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A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear age: How do you deploy weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them? That question has never been resolved—and Schlosser reveals how the combination of human fallibility and technological complexity still poses a grave risk to mankind. While the harms of global warming increasingly dominate the news, the equally dangerous yet more immediate threat of nuclear weapons has been largely forgotten. Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a historical narrative that spans more than fifty years. It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policy makers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can’t be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering history from the ground up, telling the stories of bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other ordinary servicemen who risked their lives to avert a nuclear holocaust. At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States. Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with people who designed and routinely handled nuclear weapons, Command and Control takes readers into a terrifying but fascinating world that, until now, has been largely hidden from view. Through the details of a single accident, Schlosser illustrates how an unlikely event can become unavoidable, how small risks can have terrible consequences, and how the most brilliant minds in the nation can only provide us with an illusion of control. Audacious, gripping, and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism, an eye-opening look at the dangers of America’s nuclear age.

30 review for Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

  1. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    This book is the stuff of nightmares. You no doubt assume, for your own peace of mind, that the potentially world-ending weapons in the United States' nuclear arsenal have always been carefully controlled, guarded and implanted with the best safeguards available. That they have been obsessively tracked by the military, and subjected to the strictest controls imaginable. That at all times they have been handled with the fear and care that city-vaporizing ordinance is due. Your assumption is incor This book is the stuff of nightmares. You no doubt assume, for your own peace of mind, that the potentially world-ending weapons in the United States' nuclear arsenal have always been carefully controlled, guarded and implanted with the best safeguards available. That they have been obsessively tracked by the military, and subjected to the strictest controls imaginable. That at all times they have been handled with the fear and care that city-vaporizing ordinance is due. Your assumption is incorrect. Eric Schlosser's Command and Control details many, many incidents of the failure of safety systems and procedures resulting in the near detonation of nuclear weapons. Imagine potentially live thermonuclear weapons falling off trolleys and clattered across the concrete. Aircraft with full bomb loads of nukes catching fire and burning to ash on US airbases. Nuclear bombers crashing and spreading plutonium dust for miles around. Planes taking off with their wiring mixed up, so that setting the onboard bombs to 'safe' actually armed them for detonation. These are the kinds of incidents Schlosser describes, and they are truly terrifying. Schlosser details the USA's long history with atomic weapons and the many, many accidents which could have devastated vast areas of the US at best, and sparked nuclear armageddon with the USSR at worst. Along the way he explores the ways that many conscientious people have tried to make atomic weapons safer, and the military machine that, as a rule, stymied most of their efforts. The history of the U.S nuclear arsenal is one where appropriate safeguards generally appear to have been installed far too late or sometimes even not at all. Schlosser writes well, and engagingly, although on occasion I felt he needed to get to the point instead of exhaustively detailing yet another set of participants, their backgrounds, and their home lives, as he does with many of the incidents he introduces. If you want to find out just how close we have come to ending our civilisation, and how close we still are considering the thousands of nukes still in service, then read this book. It's compelling and terrifying stuff.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Maru Kun

    A psycopathic narcissist whose past crimes are about to catch up with him is being blackmailed by a foreign dictator. His friends and allies have turned on him one by one; his family hates him for making them risk jail for him. The rest of the world has its eye off the ball as people start to relax and enjoy the holiday season. He feels increasingly isolated. In a few short months he may have to face great public humiliation. He will be forced to confront his own inadequacy, haunted by the demons A psycopathic narcissist whose past crimes are about to catch up with him is being blackmailed by a foreign dictator. His friends and allies have turned on him one by one; his family hates him for making them risk jail for him. The rest of the world has its eye off the ball as people start to relax and enjoy the holiday season. He feels increasingly isolated. In a few short months he may have to face great public humiliation. He will be forced to confront his own inadequacy, haunted by the demons of his past as he tries to live up to the demands his tyrannical and abusive father made of him so many years ago. The only person still standing beside him is the mouthpiece for an extremist apocalyptic religious cult who believes he has been sent by God to start the final battle of believers against pagans and plunge the world into Armageddon. His finger is on the nuclear trigger and the last person restraining him has gone. Is this the start to a brilliant thriller? No, it’s Christmas 2018, brought to you by the Republican Party! Merry Christmas all, and what better time to read this book while I still can.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    I have a fascination with the history of the US atomic weapons program, based not on the macabre destructive power of those weapons, but on the combination of brilliant minds, difficult problems and absolute secrecy. So this book scratches an itch of mine. Command and Control is a sobering look at the failures of the Atomic Age - accidents, careless errors and bureaucratic mishaps involving devices that could level a city. Some of them came very close. One accident in particular provides the narr I have a fascination with the history of the US atomic weapons program, based not on the macabre destructive power of those weapons, but on the combination of brilliant minds, difficult problems and absolute secrecy. So this book scratches an itch of mine. Command and Control is a sobering look at the failures of the Atomic Age - accidents, careless errors and bureaucratic mishaps involving devices that could level a city. Some of them came very close. One accident in particular provides the narrative framework: The Damascus Incident. In a missile silo near Damascus, AR in 1980, a technician working on a Titan II missile dropped the attachment on his wrench, initiating a sequence of events that ultimately resulted in the missile exploding and ejecting its live nuclear warhead from the silo. The Titan II is the largest rocket ever constructed by the US and was carrying the most powerful warhead available - a nine megaton bomb with the output of a dozen Hiroshimas. The accident happened only an hour's drive from Little Rock, AR, where governor Bill Clinton and Vice President Walter Mondale were preparing for the Democratic National Convention. If the warhead had gone critical it would have dramatically changed the course of history. But The Damascus Incident is only the tip of the ice-berg, as Schlosser documents thoroughly. Hair-raising close calls have been par for the course from the beginning of the nuclear weapons program on to the present day. While there have been many avoidable accidents, the fact of the matter is that when you have thousands of nuclear weapons and you move some of them around every day, accidents will happen. It's not a matter of 'if', but 'when'. The sobering take-away of this book is that during the Cold War our own nuclear weapons were a greater threat to us than the Soviets' ever were. In addition to documenting this comedy of atomic errors, Schlosser explores the development of the US government's 'command and control' program, the network of protocols and policies which governed who could use nuclear weapons, when, and how. This bit is every bit as hair-raising as the parade of accidents, as we learn that again and again Air Force commanders embraced strategies of nuclear annihilation which would have undoubtedly plunged the world into nuclear winter if they were ever executed. Surprisingly, Schlosser mostly steers clear of politics. Readers who aren't Air Force generals will likely find themselves nodding along with him whatever their political background. He makes a convincing case that nuclear weapons are extraordinarily dangerous, to our enemies and and to us, and we should have as few of them as possible. This is a very dense book, perhaps longer than it should have been. As a journalist Schlosser is eager to paint detailed pictures of the major players and the times they live in, but he does so to the point of exhaustion. Dozens of men were involved in the Damascus Incident and its aftermath, and Schlosser treats us to extensive biographies of Every. Single. One. He also goes into more detail than is probably meaningful regarding cultural history. Do we really care about what Bob Dylan was up to while a nuclear warhead was on the verge of going critical? Schlosser repeatedly tries the reader's patience by stretching out the story of what happened in Damascus, AR with sidebars and extraneous detail. It's a riveting story. Just tell it already! That said, this is a fascinating book and worth reading. It's not a comforting one, though. The stories of the many brushes we've had with nuclear annihilation is enough to give even the most hardy reader some sleepless nights.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rob Adey

    This is a book about the many, many times the world has come *this close* to nuclear armageddon and somehow, Eric Schlosser has managed to make it a really boring one. It's crushed by the weight of its own research - I'm all for underground silos, but I don't need to know what colour all the walls are painted. Human interest is injected via tiny, CV-like biogs. Those of the accident victims end with the age of their wife and the number of kids they had - presumably there's a formula you can use to This is a book about the many, many times the world has come *this close* to nuclear armageddon and somehow, Eric Schlosser has managed to make it a really boring one. It's crushed by the weight of its own research - I'm all for underground silos, but I don't need to know what colour all the walls are painted. Human interest is injected via tiny, CV-like biogs. Those of the accident victims end with the age of their wife and the number of kids they had - presumably there's a formula you can use to work out how sad you should be they got squashed by a tin of neutrons that was stored on a rickety shelf. If world tension does rise to Cold War heights again and you do find yourself cowering in a fallout shelter, make sure this book isn't all you have to read before the all-clear sounds and you can go out hunting for rats.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lata

    3-3.5 stars. What to say? Mostly, I'm dumbstruck that the US and USSR didn't accidentally blow up the planet using nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The author describes: -Several accidents and sometimes deaths of air crews or maintenance personnel when handling nuclear weapons during testing or transport, over a 40-ish year period; -The culture of the Strategic Air Group (SAC) that didn't appreciate the lack of safety in the weapons' designs and actively fought against implementing changes to d 3-3.5 stars. What to say? Mostly, I'm dumbstruck that the US and USSR didn't accidentally blow up the planet using nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The author describes: -Several accidents and sometimes deaths of air crews or maintenance personnel when handling nuclear weapons during testing or transport, over a 40-ish year period; -The culture of the Strategic Air Group (SAC) that didn't appreciate the lack of safety in the weapons' designs and actively fought against implementing changes to designs to lower the likelihood of a nuclear accident; -The sheer ridiculousness of the SIOP (can't remember what it stands for but was a plan to wage a nuclear war against the USSR); how many times was it really necessary to bomb one location with several massive nuclear warhead? Repeat this approach for multiple targets, including civilian. All I could think while reading was what about the reprehensible idea of launching an unwinnable war that would have destroyed life on the planet about 5-15 times over within a very short while. Telling civilians they could survive in fallout shelters; what about infrastructure destruction, fallout, radiation sickness, messed up weather, contaminated food and water? The US government actually somehow thought they could restore some functioning post nuclear war. I could go on. There are tons of facts in this book. Lots of people profiled over the course of the history covered in this book. Almost too much information to absorb and too much to process.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    This book was an interesting but ultimately slightly boring look into America's nuclear weapons and how close they are to destroying all of us. Ben really highly recommended this book, so perhaps my expectations were too high, but I did find the technical descriptions to go on (and on) just a little too long. And though Schlosser is often talking about life-and-death scenarios, his descriptions are often bloodless, erring on the side of being technically perfect but then ultimately losing a sens This book was an interesting but ultimately slightly boring look into America's nuclear weapons and how close they are to destroying all of us. Ben really highly recommended this book, so perhaps my expectations were too high, but I did find the technical descriptions to go on (and on) just a little too long. And though Schlosser is often talking about life-and-death scenarios, his descriptions are often bloodless, erring on the side of being technically perfect but then ultimately losing a sense of urgency. It's certainly true that Scholsser's exposé reveals that it's really only a matter of time before one of these thousands of nuclear weapons that we keep in our possession for no real discernible reason is bound to either accidentally explode or fall into the hands of a crazy person charged with its care or simply undergo a severe technical failure. (Terrifyingly, some of these weapons are stored at an Air Force base just an hour from my hometown.) It does seem that, precisely for this reason, the Untied States has backed way off of its threat of actually using them -- it's hard to imagine Obama or even someone more warmongering eager to set these off. It's less clear if other countries have learned this lesson. Schlosser warns that these weapons cross borders more easily than their safety protocols do, and the risk of improperly handled nukes is very bad news. Still, I'd say Schlosser more or less halts his tale with the Reagan administration, something I found surprising given his thoroughness in the rest of the book. In the years since Reagan, we've signed a new nuclear treaty, and I'd love to see Schlosser talk about nuclear weapons in the context of today's warfare, which has shifted slightly to be more about terrorism and counter-terrorism. We know that nuclear weapons still factor into those threats, but I would've loved Schlosser to talk about how the Pentagon contextualizes that. Still, I learned a lot.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jim Leckband

    As a lapsed physicist I still retain some notions that I learned along the way. One of them is that nature tries its hardest to smooth over any huge discontinuities - i.e if there is something totally out of whack with its surroundings, then the surroundings will find one way or another to bring it back. Some call this the Second Law of Thermodynamics if you wanna get technical. And this notion is what kept popping up in my head while I was reading this incredible book. Here we have machines of i As a lapsed physicist I still retain some notions that I learned along the way. One of them is that nature tries its hardest to smooth over any huge discontinuities - i.e if there is something totally out of whack with its surroundings, then the surroundings will find one way or another to bring it back. Some call this the Second Law of Thermodynamics if you wanna get technical. And this notion is what kept popping up in my head while I was reading this incredible book. Here we have machines of incredible, almost astronomical, discontinuities - atomic weapons. And they are cossetted (from the inside out) by layers of high explosives, incredibly unstable fuel, infernal environments of missile silos, B-52s and submarines, guarded and maintained by essentially teenage kids, and overseen with a command culture not unlike those devised by one of our most esteemed early movie directors, Mack Sennett, creator of the Keystone Cops. What could go wrong? Every one of these layers has instabilities that the Second Law oversees. Eric Schlosser painstakingly leads us through what has and always goes wrong in any system, with a horrible accident in Damascus, Arkansas as his centerpiece. Physical laws determines the explosive potential of a nuclear warhead, but Murphy's law determines when that nuclear warhead is going to explode.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Just how close has the world come to nuclear armgeddon? and how many times? Schlosser can help if you have ever wondered this question. He spares no detail. It's an exhaustive history, with emphasis on the exhaustive. Schlosser's work is impeccably researched - swaths of history, from Trinity through the Cold War, the nuclear armament, the political dance, the Bay of Pigs, Chelyabinsk, Reagan's Star Wars, etc etc etc - spliced with the details leading up to the incident at the Air Force facility Just how close has the world come to nuclear armgeddon? and how many times? Schlosser can help if you have ever wondered this question. He spares no detail. It's an exhaustive history, with emphasis on the exhaustive. Schlosser's work is impeccably researched - swaths of history, from Trinity through the Cold War, the nuclear armament, the political dance, the Bay of Pigs, Chelyabinsk, Reagan's Star Wars, etc etc etc - spliced with the details leading up to the incident at the Air Force facility in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980. [Evidently there is a PBS documentary released in 2016 by the same name, "Command and Control".] The Damascus scenes were the most compelling and readable, reading more like a thriller. The historical portions of the book were long, dry, but gave full context to what and why things happened in Damascus. There is a lot of information about nuclear technology, the engineering of the weapons, and various aspects of defense and military strategies. This may thrill you - your mileage may vary. It's truly unsettling how close the world has come to disaster on numerous occasions, based on incompetence and neglect. -- Read for Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge: A book about technology.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    I thought I knew a lot about nuclear weapons and the how the Cold War worked, strategies, delivery systems, and crises. But this book really shows how disorganized it all was, from the interagency infighting to the inherent conflict between weapons that are safe from accidental or malicious use and weapons that will go off (if needed). We take it for granted that nuclear weapons are designed not to go off if dropped or burned (when planes crash while carrying bombs), but they had to be designed I thought I knew a lot about nuclear weapons and the how the Cold War worked, strategies, delivery systems, and crises. But this book really shows how disorganized it all was, from the interagency infighting to the inherent conflict between weapons that are safe from accidental or malicious use and weapons that will go off (if needed). We take it for granted that nuclear weapons are designed not to go off if dropped or burned (when planes crash while carrying bombs), but they had to be designed that way and there was a lot of resistance to doing so. Even if you have watched a lot of documentaries on this topic, you will probably learn something new and shocking. If you liked this Dr. Strangelove, you will like this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Wow. Really? Oh my God. Holy shit! Those were a few of the many exclamations that came from me as I read this book. And my poor husband had to endure listening to me read passages from this book as he was trying to fall asleep. I grew up during the cold war and had nuclear nightmares from the '60's through the mid-80's. At some point I convinced myself that the world was safer and that I didn't need to worry about nuclear war anymore. This book has convinced me otherwise. It has also convinced m Wow. Really? Oh my God. Holy shit! Those were a few of the many exclamations that came from me as I read this book. And my poor husband had to endure listening to me read passages from this book as he was trying to fall asleep. I grew up during the cold war and had nuclear nightmares from the '60's through the mid-80's. At some point I convinced myself that the world was safer and that I didn't need to worry about nuclear war anymore. This book has convinced me otherwise. It has also convinced me that it will probably be started by accident. How we have not blown ourselves up is a mystery. Even more of a mystery is how hell-bent we humans seem to be on self-destruction. Let the nightmares begin again. Thank you Mr. Schlosser for letting us not forget that the threat is still there and bigger than ever. I have one complaint about the book. It needs a more comprehensive index. I kept finding that I needed to go back and refresh my memory about certain individuals or events, but the index often let me down so I just ended up thumbing through the text hoping I could find the original reference.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Todd N

    How many ways are there to mishandle a nuclear weapon? Turns out about a million: Drop them from planes, crash them in planes, catch them on fire, put them in planes and catch them on fire, leave them on top of missiles about to explode, park them at a NATO ally with an unstable government and one lone soldier armed with a revolver guarding them, forget to take warheads off the missiles and fly them across the USA, have random criticality accidents in the nuclear lab, just to name a few... And ho How many ways are there to mishandle a nuclear weapon? Turns out about a million: Drop them from planes, crash them in planes, catch them on fire, put them in planes and catch them on fire, leave them on top of missiles about to explode, park them at a NATO ally with an unstable government and one lone soldier armed with a revolver guarding them, forget to take warheads off the missiles and fly them across the USA, have random criticality accidents in the nuclear lab, just to name a few... And how many ways are there to accidentally start a world-wide nuclear war? Oh gosh, let's see: Accidentally run a training program of a full scale nuclear attack on an early-warning computer, go on alert after a malfunctioning computer chip starts generating a random number of missiles attacking the USA, mistake a Norwegian weather rocket for a nuke, mistake the moon for a nuke, mistake reflections from high-altitude clouds for a bunch of nukes, mistake a low-Earth orbit satellite for a nuke, conduct missile tests during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and so on... And I'm not even spoiling much by mentioning these incidents. This book is a 600-page trip down memory lane to those crazy duck-and-cover days that anyone who came of age between the LBJ Daisy ad and The Day After will have had at least a few nightmares about. The framing story is an accident at a Titan II missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas back in the days of Governor Clinton. Routine maintenance took a decidedly non-routine turn when a dropped socket punched a hole in the side of the missile causing a fuel leak. Safe to say, it doesn't end well. But the way the event filters through checklists, bureaucracies, local media, and the brave soldiers in the midst of the situation is fascinating. Working at startups in Silicon Valley is about as far away from this style of troubleshooting as you can get, and it's just as well that we aren't dealing with anything more dangerous than ads or search results out here. That said, there are a few McKinsey and Bain consultants I'd like to drop down a missile silo. Actually, there are some old Nike sites near Pacifica... We jump from the Titan II story to the history of the world's nuclear arsenal, from the Manhattan Project to the present day decommissioning of nuclear weapons and trying to keep them out of the hands of rogue non-nation states. As a bonus we get some good refresher history along the way, notably on how hard Khrushchev tried and failed to make Kennedy his bitch. Personally I think it was a sublimated crush gone bad. Though Mr. Schlosser doesn't make this point anywhere in the book, for my main take away I couldn't help but draw the parallel between the early days of the powerful bureaucracy that grew around nuclear weapons and the powerful one that is forming around the government's surveillance technologies. Of course, the significant difference this time is that the weapons are pointed at US citizens. (We were always bargaining chips in the Cold War of course, but I'm pretty sure no US nukes were actually trained on, say, Dearborn, Michigan.) At first the secrecy was necessary for the war effort, and then for national security. Pretty soon it was used to deny access and power to those who disagreed with prevailing political policy (i.e. Oppenheimer). Then the money started coming in -- it's not cheap to fund all the labs and keep planes in the air at all times and have other ones on permanent standby -- and you got the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. Eventually, even the president wasn't kept fully informed. This is how you wind up with something like the SIOP general plan for nuclear war, which up until Kennedy revised it had one option: nuke all communist countries, no matter what, including China. So if Moscow tried to nuke us -- or the moon rose in the wrong spot -- no more Beijing. Kennedy gave SIOP a handful of options of who to nuke, though in reality the targeting of missiles wasn't that great and the bombers were probably too slow to make it over in time. But at least the President could pick the general areas of which continents to nuke by the early 60s. Given the secrecy and gobs of money associated with the NSA, and given the disappointing over/under-reaction by various parties to Snowden's revelations, and given the accelerating pace of the technology, I'm sure we are less than a decade away from something equally as boneheaded as the early revisions of SIOP for our new dystopian surveillance state. Lord help us all when the modern day equivalent of Gen. Buck Turgidson gets his hands on that. By the way, as I checked out reviews of this book I noticed that there is some historian-hater dude who is following Mr. Schlosser around and posting negative reviews of his book in any forum that will have him. His arguments seem to boil down to (1) Mr. Schlosser wrote about fast food and pot in previous books, so how dare he write about nuclear weapons, and (2) Mr. Schlosser never served in the military, so how dare he write about nuclear weapons, and (3) Historian-hater's book is much better, so buy that one instead. I think we can safely ignore this guy. Too bad, because I wouldn't mind reading another perspective. But I must say for all the freak outs and close calls in this book -- and really, it makes Dr. Strangelove seem more like a documentary than a dark comedy -- the USA never accidentally detonated a nuclear device. That sounds like damning with faint praise, but really I'm not. That's some complicated technology under a lot of complicated conditions, and due to safety and/or luck for all the accidents that it endured, there has never been a single nuclear failure. Yet. Highly recommended.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    Eric Schlosser, who exposed the fast food industry for the totally unsafe and unhealthy obesity-causing multi-billion dollar lobbying group that it is in his book "Fast Food Nation", turns his sights on the frightening issue of nuclear weapons and our country's nuclear arsenal in "Command and Control", the title of which is meant to be ironic, as any sense that we have of a command and control over these weapons is strictly an illusion. It has been a blend of the thankless dedication and hard wo Eric Schlosser, who exposed the fast food industry for the totally unsafe and unhealthy obesity-causing multi-billion dollar lobbying group that it is in his book "Fast Food Nation", turns his sights on the frightening issue of nuclear weapons and our country's nuclear arsenal in "Command and Control", the title of which is meant to be ironic, as any sense that we have of a command and control over these weapons is strictly an illusion. It has been a blend of the thankless dedication and hard work of a few good men, blind luck, and divine intervention that we have not blown ourselves to kingdom come in the past 70 years since we learned to harness atomic power. Don't fall into the argument, either, that the apparent lack of nuclear accidents in that time demonstrates that we must have a pretty good handle on these things. There have actually been plenty of accidents, many of which have never---until Schlosser got a hold of the documents---been released to the general public until now. At the center of the book is a real life suspense thriller. On the evening of September 18, 1980 at a missile silo in the middle of farmland just north of the small Arkansas town of Damascus, two members of a maintenance crew for the Titan II nuclear missile were working on the missile when one of the men accidentally dropped a socket---something which happened quite frequently during routine maintenance, normally without incident---which hit the fuselage on the way down in just the right spot, accidentally nicking the fuel line. The silo began filling with poisonous smoke. Thus begins an edge-of-the-seat race against time, involving dozens of brave men---some of whom died that day and some of whom survived---whose names would never make it into history books or on plaques. Indeed, some of the men would actually be blamed by the military for causing the accident in the first place. Schlosser, in writing this book, sets the record straight. Interspersed throughout the book is a detailed and fascinating history, from the early days when atomic power was merely in its theoretical phase, to the days of Los Alamos and Robert Oppenheimer's deadly creation, to its uses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to the nuclear bomb tests and arms race of the '50s Cold War to attempts at disarmament in the '70s and '80s to the horrifying reality of today's War on Terror. As Schlosser illustrates throughout the book and ultimately points out in his epilogue, the creation and build-up of our nuclear arsenal has created a monster so powerful and grand as to potentially be unstoppable. Blaming young men for accidents like Damascus is not only irrelevant but completely misplaced: "The instinct to blame the people at the bottom not only protected those at the top, it also obscured an underlying truth. The fallibility of human beings guarantees that no technological system will ever be infallible. (p. 461)"

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    ::BEGIN REVIEW:: THIS IS AN EMERGENCY ACTION MESSAGE FROM COMMAND. YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO READ THIS BOOK WITH ALL DELIBERATE SPEED. IF YOU ARE ABLE TO SLEEP THE NIGHT AFTER YOU FINISH IT, YOU WILL HAVE FAILED TO FULLY COMPREHEND ITS IMPLICATIONS. IN SUCH CASE, REPEAT READING UNTIL PROPERLY TERRIFIED. AMERICA HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO THE BRINK OF NUCLEAR DISASTER TIME AND AGAIN DUE TO AN INSUFFICIENT APPRECIATION OF THE DANGER POSED BY A LARGE, INSECURE AND UNSAFE NUCLEAR ARSENAL. WE MUST NEVER AGA ::BEGIN REVIEW:: THIS IS AN EMERGENCY ACTION MESSAGE FROM COMMAND. YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO READ THIS BOOK WITH ALL DELIBERATE SPEED. IF YOU ARE ABLE TO SLEEP THE NIGHT AFTER YOU FINISH IT, YOU WILL HAVE FAILED TO FULLY COMPREHEND ITS IMPLICATIONS. IN SUCH CASE, REPEAT READING UNTIL PROPERLY TERRIFIED. AMERICA HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO THE BRINK OF NUCLEAR DISASTER TIME AND AGAIN DUE TO AN INSUFFICIENT APPRECIATION OF THE DANGER POSED BY A LARGE, INSECURE AND UNSAFE NUCLEAR ARSENAL. WE MUST NEVER AGAIN FAIL TO SO APPRECIATE. UPON COMPLETION OF MISSION, STAND BY FOR FURTHER ORDERS. AUTHENTICATION CODE FOLLOWS. ::END OF REVIEW::

  14. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    One of the main takeaways from Eric Schlosser's riveting, smart, packed-with-crazy-facts-and-stories portrait of the atomic/nuclear era, mostly in America but obviously also including the Soviets, NATO, India, Pakistan, China, et al, is this: we were fucking lucky as hell to get out the Cold War alive. That no atomic then nuclear then thermonuclear warhead denoted by mistake in its home silo / submarine / airplane / airbase; that none were launched by accident on either side, provoking massive r One of the main takeaways from Eric Schlosser's riveting, smart, packed-with-crazy-facts-and-stories portrait of the atomic/nuclear era, mostly in America but obviously also including the Soviets, NATO, India, Pakistan, China, et al, is this: we were fucking lucky as hell to get out the Cold War alive. That no atomic then nuclear then thermonuclear warhead denoted by mistake in its home silo / submarine / airplane / airbase; that none were launched by accident on either side, provoking massive retaliation; that none were launched on purpose, because of a "false-positive" reading of incoming missiles... it's not really because the "safing" technology was so perfect (though it did work, through plane crashes and raging fires and idiotic human mistakes), nor that the command and control (read: communication and leadership) system was so intelligent and fluid (it totally wasn't), but really, it's just a fluke we're not all dead right now. Like when you drop your phone, and most of the time it's completely fine, *phew*, and other times it shatters? Like that. Which means the next time it "drops", who knows? Anyway, this book is fantastic, with Schlosser alternating between a detailed chronological history (though always lively... he has the storyteller's knack for finding just the right detail, and knowing when to move on) from the Second World War to today, with a play-by-play retelling of the most terrifying near-miss on American soil, the non-nuclear explosion at a Titan II silo in Damascus, South Carolina that "only" killed a few servicemen. The mishaps and miscommunication and often incredibly stupid and reckless behavior throughout the Cold War would be almost amusing except for those thousands, millions, literally billions of lives that were at stake. The Damascus incident, too, is harrowing but also somewhat slapsticky in the Air Force command's response, which, when things looked really bad and that the warhead might blow, was basically: ruuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnn!!!!!!!! And if you really want to get angry about the whole thing, consider that so much of the insane nuclear buildup was fueled, as Schlosser makes clear, not by strategic necessity, but rather by inter-service rivalries between the Navy (mostly on submarines), the Air Force (bombers and missiles) and even the Army (who wanted tactical battlefield weapons... like that would ever be a good idea). Everyone demanded, not just a piece of the nuclear arsenal pie, but a full pie for themselves, and the defense industry and politicians were only too happy to get rich off the ludicrous proliferation. No one was ever interested in maintaining or upgrading their older systems either (the Titan II was a relic); they all needed anything and everything that was shiny and new as well. Of course, the story isn't over. Because although Schlosser makes a case that that the world is safer place today after the dissolution of the USSR (and, so, the end of the Cold War), and the massive reduction in total warheads that followed, and the introduction of more safety features and command and control routines, he also reminds us that many of these newer nuclear players are likely going through the same bumblings that "we" went through. Stay tuned, and, I guess, fingers crossed...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Neil Fox

    Eric Schlosser's " Fast food Nation" was a hilarious and scary expose of the McDonald's fast food culture in the U.S.; Command and Control is a similarly impressive feat of investigative journalism, although here the subject matter is not so light-heartedly amusing and is infinitely more terrifying than tales of unhealthy burgers produced in unsustainable conditions served up by exploited sweat-shop workers to an army of the obese. For here the topic is nuclear weapons, offering a look at someth Eric Schlosser's " Fast food Nation" was a hilarious and scary expose of the McDonald's fast food culture in the U.S.; Command and Control is a similarly impressive feat of investigative journalism, although here the subject matter is not so light-heartedly amusing and is infinitely more terrifying than tales of unhealthy burgers produced in unsustainable conditions served up by exploited sweat-shop workers to an army of the obese. For here the topic is nuclear weapons, offering a look at something we'd rather not, but should in fact, know about - what has gone wrong, what could go wrong, and how close we've actually been annihilating the planet through our handling of these frightening and insane weapons. Told from bottom-up accounts of missile crews, technicians and ordinary maintenance personnel rather than from the lofty vantage point of the high level diplomacy or security policy around nuclear weapons, Schlosser's work uncovers the trickiness and risk of dealing with such dangerous weapons where you have a combination of human fallibility and unimaginable technological complexity coming into play. The centerpiece of the story is the so-called Damascus incident, a little-known near miss at a missile launch site in rural Arkansas in the early 80's which, had it ended differently, could, like numerous similar mishaps like it, have triggered a sequence of events that could have blown us all to Kingdom come and back multiple times over. The unfolding of the Damascus incident occupies the central narrative of the book, pausing for interspersed chapters covering the wider political and defense policy context from the dawn of the Atomic age with the Manhattan project through the airborne based attack systems of the 1950''s to the coming of the game-changing Intercontinental ballistic missile and tactical nuclear weapons capability of the 1960's, and ultimately the so-called Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine at the height of the Cold War. Nuclear holocaust, the bogeyman which stalked the nightmares of our parents or those of us old enough to have lived through the Cold War, has largely been replaced in the contemporary gallery of fears by concerns about terrorism, militant Islam, Global warming , the economy or whether or not the WiFi is working; but this book serves as a reminder that these weapons are still there and could still advance the extinction of our planet and species to the here-and-now. Reading this chronology of mishaps and near misses in the U.S. Nuclear program without, as Schlosser himself points out, knowing anything about similar going's on from the Russian side, makes one wonder if the real reason the United States doesn't want Iran to attain nuclear capability isn't the fear that it will attack Israel or its other perceived enemies, but more whether some bungling mistake in the handling of the technology will set off an irreversible and uncontrollable chain of catastrophic events. Nuclear weapons have to be Mankind's most evil invention, our creative genius turned to pure insanity, and nuclear holocaust, despite our other preoccupations, is still very much the sum of all fears.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Scott Wilson

    This is one of those books in which every page seems full of information -- never too much at a time, though, and not just data or raw facts. A broad plurality of voices, from interviews the author conducted as well as from his careful distillation of seemingly every source available (almost 150 pages are devoted to endnotes), conveys both big-picture policy and idiosyncratic detail over every generation of the nuclear age. There's a narrative through line, and there is even suspense -- at least This is one of those books in which every page seems full of information -- never too much at a time, though, and not just data or raw facts. A broad plurality of voices, from interviews the author conducted as well as from his careful distillation of seemingly every source available (almost 150 pages are devoted to endnotes), conveys both big-picture policy and idiosyncratic detail over every generation of the nuclear age. There's a narrative through line, and there is even suspense -- at least for anyone who, like me, starts the book without memory or knowledge of the 1980 Titan II silo accident in Arkansas. Plenty of reviews already note Schlosser's depth of research, and more than one also points out a basic conclusion to be drawn from the book: It is something like a miracle that the Cold War didn't result in an accidental nuclear holocaust. That's because there's no way to read this book and fail to feel amazed and grateful that the worst didn't happen. Because over and over, it almost did. There's much more to C&C than that, though. It is a fantastic, swiftly moving masterwork of reportage (if occasionally edited with too light a hand; over the course of about 100 pages late in the book, a succession of players is described as being or falling "fast asleep"), and it is the kind of book to which you find yourself speaking aloud. "Wow," you say at a passage describing radiation sickness. "Holy shit," you say when you find yourself not hating Curtis LeMay. That kind of thing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    Nuclear war is a very important topic and Schlosser delivers a well researched entertaining history from the angle of nuclear weapon safety. It's like a whole book about penicillin that only covers its side effects. That approach works in this case because the long list of hair-raising near misses, any one of which could have killed millions of people, is fascinating. Of course, a mistaken bomb detonation in the wrong place wouldn't just kill a lot of people near the bomb, it would start World W Nuclear war is a very important topic and Schlosser delivers a well researched entertaining history from the angle of nuclear weapon safety. It's like a whole book about penicillin that only covers its side effects. That approach works in this case because the long list of hair-raising near misses, any one of which could have killed millions of people, is fascinating. Of course, a mistaken bomb detonation in the wrong place wouldn't just kill a lot of people near the bomb, it would start World War Three and wipe out civilization. In the conclusion, he frames this using the "normal accidents" concept. It seems to me though that this is a bigger problem of "absurd decisions" by people in charge who ignore the competent and technically proficient people below them and who are not held accountable for outcomes. At what point do people who know what is going on speak out to prevent likely catastrophe? It is hard to imagine stakes higher than nuclear annihilation, and yet we are learning this stuff now decades after the fact because Schlosser made FOIA requests for recently declassified documents!

  18. 5 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    ‘Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety” should be required reading for everyone - not that I believe much can be done now to fix the dangers of nuclear weapons everyone in the world lives with. However, most of us are completely ignorant of the thin line of safety between all life on Earth and the one weapon of mass destruction which actually IS a current threat to all of Mankind. This book goes a long way towards rectifying that ignorance. Gentl ‘Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety” should be required reading for everyone - not that I believe much can be done now to fix the dangers of nuclear weapons everyone in the world lives with. However, most of us are completely ignorant of the thin line of safety between all life on Earth and the one weapon of mass destruction which actually IS a current threat to all of Mankind. This book goes a long way towards rectifying that ignorance. Gentle reader, I recommend you take the time to understand how nuclear weapons are being maintained and stored. The short version: military establishments maintain weaponry the same way you maintain the older replaced equipment in your storage shed you still use occasionally, as well as similar to how you handle the stuff you have in boxes in your basement that you no longer use. Plus, nuclear weapons are computerized and networked. Do I really need to say malware is everywhere on the Internet and no one is immune? I began to read sections of ‘Command and Control’ out loud to my more politically conservative husband. Once he heard what I was reading, he went pale and yelled, “enough!” He doesn’t want to know. Most people don’t. I recommend ‘Command and Control’ to everybody. It is not a dense manual of dense technological terms, physics maths and engineering diagrams but it is written in plain secular English. It was published in 2013. It has been awarded numerous literary awards: Pulitzer Prize Nominee for History (2014), California Book Award for Nonfiction (Gold) (2013), Lionel Gelber Prize Nominee (2014), Duke of Westminster Medal for Military Literature Nominee (2014), Andrew Carnegie Medal Nominee for Nonfiction (2014). The book is a simple history of the development of nuclear weapons in the United States. The author, Eric Schlosser, goes into detail describing a true story about an incident which occurred in Arkansas, now known as the Damascus Accident, while ex-President Bill Clinton was Arkansas governor. Schlosser interviewed actual Air Force soldiers who were involved in the Damascus missile accident. He also used the Freedom of Information Act to get actual documents and reports about the accident. He notes that in some documents, names, incidents and places have been blacked out, but in other documents supplied by other sources, the names, incidents and places are freely printed in the open. Top Secret designations are as haphazardly assigned as is the oversight of nuclear weapons. Alternating with the chapters which describe how the United States Air Force almost blew away the State of Arkansas and everyone who lives there off of the planet, Schlosser gives us, in plain easy-to-understand English, chapters which detail the history of how, what, when, where and why nuclear weapons were invented and developed in the United States. Using documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with retired military officers and scientists, he fills in details of how missiles work, and how they were developed and maintained. The historical timeline Schlosser presents is logical and easy to follow despite the alternating chapters of past and near-present history. I do not think there is much argument that the United States is the most experienced country with nuclear weapons. Yes, other countries now have nuclear weapons and technology. This book describes how difficult it has been for the arguably most stable and richest nuclear country in the world to keep a safe nuclear stockpile. It is easy to surmise these other nations do NOT use the same level of maintenance and vigilance America does in monitoring and maintaining their nuclear stockpile, nor do other countries have the political stability of America. Yet, America has had hundreds of incidents and accidents where nuclear bombs and missiles have exploded partially, exposing thousand of people to deadly radiation. However, Schlosser also makes the case it is impossible to guard against every possible problem which might occur. He suggests reading a book, Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies. Excerpts from the book: “One measure of a nation’s technological proficiency is the rate of industrial accidents. That rate is about two times higher in India, three times higher in Iran, and four times higher in Pakistan than it is in the United States.” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (p. 481). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. “”Through the Freedom of Information Act, I obtained a document that listed the “Accidents and Incidents Involving Nuclear Weapons” from the summer of 1957 until the spring of 1967. It was 245 pages long. It gave brief accounts of the major Broken Arrows during that period. It also described hundreds of minor accidents, technical glitches, and seemingly trivial events: a Genie antiaircraft missile released from a fighter plane by mistake and dropped onto a weapon trailer; a Boar missile crushed by the elevator of an aircraft carrier; a Mark 49 warhead blown off a Jupiter missile when explosive bolts detonated due to corrosion; smoke pouring from a W-31 warhead atop a Nike missile after a short circuit; the retrorockets of a Thor missile suddenly firing at a launch site in Great Britain and startling the crew; a Mark 28 bomb emitting strange sounds, for reasons that were never discovered.”” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (p. 465). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. “But sometimes they experience a glitch. In October 2010 a computer failure at F. E. Warren Air Force Base knocked fifty Minuteman III missiles offline. For almost an hour, launch crews could not communicate with their missiles. One third of the Minuteman IIIs at the base had been rendered inoperable. The Air Force denied that the system had been hacked and later found the cause of the problem: a circuit card was improperly installed in one of the computers during routine maintenance. But the hacking of America’s nuclear command-and-control system remains a serious threat. In January 2013, a report by the Defense Science Board warned that the system’s vulnerability to a large-scale cyber attack had never been fully assessed.” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (p. 475). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. “The 9/11 Commission Report offers a sobering account of the confusion, miscommunication, and parallel decision making that occurred at the highest levels of the government during an attack on the United States that lasted about seventy-eight minutes. President George W. Bush did not board Air Force One until almost an hour after the first hijacked airliner struck the World Trade Center. His calls to the Pentagon and the White House underground bunker were constantly dropped. Continuity of government measures weren’t implemented until more than an hour after the initial attack. Vice President Cheney ordered Air Force fighter planes to shoot down any hijacked airliners over Washington, D.C., and New York City, but the order was never received. The only fighter planes that got an authorization to fire their weapons belonged to the District of Columbia Air National Guard— and they were ordered into the air by a Secret Service agent, acting outside the chain of command, without Cheney’s knowledge. A command-and-control system designed to operate during a surprise attack that could involve thousands of nuclear weapons— and would require urgent presidential decisions within minutes— proved incapable of handling an attack by four hijacked airplanes.” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (p. 476). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. “On January 25, 1995, the launch of a small research rocket by Norway prompted a warning at the Kremlin that Russia was under attack by the United States. Russian nuclear forces went on full alert. President Boris Yeltsin turned on his “football,” retrieved his launch codes, and prepared to retaliate. After a few tense minutes, the warning was declared a false alarm. The weather rocket had been launched to study the aurora borealis, and Norway had informed Russia of its trajectory weeks in advance.” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (p. 478). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. “The greatest risk of nuclear war now lies in South Asia. The United States and the Soviet Union, for all their cultural differences, were separated by thousands of miles. Their animosity was more theoretical and geopolitical than personal. Pakistan and India are neighbors, embittered by religious and territorial disputes. Both countries have nuclear weapons. The flight time of a missile from one to the other may be as brief as four or five minutes.” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (pp. 478-479). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. “As of this writing, the United States has approximately 4,650 nuclear weapons. About 300 are assigned to long-range bombers, 500 are deployed atop Minuteman III missiles, and 1,150 are carried by Trident submarines. An additional 200 or so hydrogen bombs are stored in Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands for use by NATO aircraft. About 2,500 nuclear weapons are held in reserve, mainly at the Kirtland Underground Munitions Maintenance and Storage Complex near Albuquerque, New Mexico.” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (p. 476). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. “China is thought to have about 240 nuclear weapons. It is building new cruise missiles, long-range missiles, and submarines to carry them. It has also constructed an “underground Great Wall”— thousands of miles of deeply buried tunnels, large enough to fit cars, trucks, and trains— in which to hide them. The size of China’s arsenal is not limited by any arms control treaties. After vowing for decades that nuclear weapons would be used only for retaliation after an enemy attack, China may be abandoning its “no-first-use” pledge.” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (p. 477). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. “Russia has about 1,740 deployed strategic weapons and perhaps 2,000 tactical weapons.” Schlosser, Eric. Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (ALA Notable Books for Adults) (p. 477). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. My husband and I have both lived through “the Cold War” - the so-called decades (1945-1991) when the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, as well as the various ‘hot’ wars fought between the two then superpowers in proxy countries around the world, was on the front pages of newspapers. People of developed countries are still very aware today of the outline of the dangers of atomic and hydrogen weapons - yet few politicians talk about this subject because few people know more than the outline of the danger of nuclear weapons. In ‘free speech’ countries, the information is out there and available to anyone literate in English - but very few people interest themselves enough in the one weapon which could literally wipe out all of Mankind. No exaggeration. There are extensive Notes, Bibliography and Index sections.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alexander

    Dropping a nuclear weapon was never a good idea. (168) Command and Control is a far more interesting book than it may seem. At first glance Schlosser's topic is fairly technical, even rarefied: safety problems for atomic weapons during the Cold War. And yet I* couldn't put the book down without a struggle, and read parts of it out loud to my family. What makes this book so good? To begin with, Schlosser creates a nice narrative structure, intertwining two timelines, big and small. The macro story Dropping a nuclear weapon was never a good idea. (168) Command and Control is a far more interesting book than it may seem. At first glance Schlosser's topic is fairly technical, even rarefied: safety problems for atomic weapons during the Cold War. And yet I* couldn't put the book down without a struggle, and read parts of it out loud to my family. What makes this book so good? To begin with, Schlosser creates a nice narrative structure, intertwining two timelines, big and small. The macro story concerns atomic bombs and their control mechanisms from 1946 to the end of the Cold War, and a little beyond. Those mechanisms are both technological and social, including ever-advanced devices and nearly continuous political struggles between military and civilian authorities. The micro story focuses on one single event, the 1980 explosion of a Titan II missile in Damascus, Arkansas. Command and Control switches back and forth between these accounts very neatly, using each to inform and balance the other. Every grand history chapter sheds more light on what made the Damascus incident occur. Each Arkansas detail humanizes the big picture. Another appealing aspect of the book is the way it uses atomic weapon safety to offer a fascinating new look at the Cold War. Certain usually reviled figured appear in a sane, even positive light in this context, like Curtis LeMay and Robert McNamara. Eisenhower emerges as a deeply conflicted steward of humanity's fate, agonizing about the shambling weapons edifice he inherited and grew. This helps set up his famous farewell speech, warning about the military-industrial complex. Some of these retelling are shocking, like president Truman's discovery that the United States had at most one (1) functioning atomic bomb - this, after Truman had promulgated a global Cold War strategy predicted on a nuclear deterrent! Kennedy's 1960 missile gap campaign theme gets turned inside out. There wasn't one, after all, but the New Frontier administration eagerly ramped up its nuclear missile capacity, and then gave the world mutually assured destruction (MAD). Above all, the book is scary as hell. Schlosser manages the neat trick of making the specter of global thermonuclear war even more terrifying by revealing just how risky was the weapon stock. I was fascinated by how the top-secret Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) spooked the politicians and military leaders who learned of it. The real problems facing America's leadership in trying to actually wage an atomic war loom quite large. Again and again Schlosser finds weapons likely to fail, rockets who keep missing targets, and the titular command and control systems collapsing all over the place. For example, in the early 1970s, A decade after the Kennedy administration recognized the problem, despite the many billions of dollars that they had spent to fix it, the command-and-control system of the United States was still incapable of managing a nuclear war. (356) Command and Control does many things right as a nonfiction book addressing a difficult subject. It doesn't adopt contemporary classic political postures, but depicts them in the weapons context. For example, Schlosser carefully notes the way 1950s Democrats thumped Eisenhower for being too soft on atomic offensive war (!). And it zeroes in on the many weird, fascinating, and chilly ways atomic war shaped language. "Safe" becomes a verb, as in "safing a bomb." The Air Force comes up with "clobber factor" to describe "the rate at which low-flying aircraft were likely to crash due to unknown causes" (205). A bomb's safety lock becomes a "Permissive Action Link", or PAL (265). One aircraft mission has the acronym TACAMO, which stands for Take Charge And Move Out (273). Another safety mechanism sounds like a party game: weak-link/strong link (331). Schlosser writes with excellent clarity on a technical subject. He does a fine job of introducing terms gradually, then repeating them at a reasonable amplitude in order to educate the reader. Ever so often his prose elevates just a little, like the memorable closing lines: Right now thousands of missiles are hidden away, literally out of sight, topped with warheads and ready to go, awaiting the right electrical signal. They are a collective death wish, barely suppressed. Every one of them is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder. They are out there, waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial - and they work. (485) Schlosser has a keen eye for primary source material, pulling out terrific quotes. For example, this Langdon Winner koan for our time: Our ability to organize does not match the inherent hazards of some of our organized activities. (460) Or this observation from General George Lee Butler, which would make a fine epigraph for the book: I came to fully appreciate the truth... we escaped the Cold War without a nuclear holocaust by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion. (457) Schlosser also provides tiny but intriguing details, like the US Air Force publishing "a compendium of more than eighty thousand potential targets located throughout the world" entitled with admirable brevity Bombing Encyclopedia (204). Or consider the surrealism of deploying "forty-two pigs dressed in U.S. Army uniforms" - why? Because their "skin would respond to thermal radiation in a manner similar to that of human skin" at a bomb test (326). What keeps me from awarding it five stars? My major issue was that the book didn't address the Soviet Union nearly enough. Obviously its focus on the United States prevents equal treatment of the USSR, but all too often events appear without the Muscovite context. Crises, for example, *always* occurred with an eye to the Soviet response; this doesn't show up often enough. The Soviet missile development strategy was crucial for driving the US program, but drops out of sight. This kind of context is obviously much easier to offer in the post-Soviet era, despite the recent chill in US-Russian relations. Consider that a half-star demerit, and a recommendation to all readers. Especially to you younger generation who were fortunate enough to grow up after 1991. *A book like this is irresistible to a child of the Cold War like myself. Born 1967, I grew up thinking hard about nuclear weapons and the likelihood of atomic devastation. As a teenager I pored over stories of nuclear annihilation. A friend and I spent quality time with a CIA-published list of Soviet missile targets in the US, carefully determining which warheads were likeliest to kill us. I remember panicking at Reagan's election in 1980, believing the odds were great that we'd all be annihilated. I read all the atomic war stories I could, and saw all the movies.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ushan

    Around 6:30pm on September 18, 1980, two missile technicians were servicing a Titan II ICBM in a silo in rural Arkansas. As one of them was unscrewing an oxidizer pressure cap with a socket wrench, a socket fell off the wrench and dropped through the gap between the missile and the work platform; falling about 70 feet, the nine-pound socket bounced off the thrust mount platform, hit the missile and punctured its skin, causing a leak of rocket fuel. Incompetent management of the emergency by Air Around 6:30pm on September 18, 1980, two missile technicians were servicing a Titan II ICBM in a silo in rural Arkansas. As one of them was unscrewing an oxidizer pressure cap with a socket wrench, a socket fell off the wrench and dropped through the gap between the missile and the work platform; falling about 70 feet, the nine-pound socket bounced off the thrust mount platform, hit the missile and punctured its skin, causing a leak of rocket fuel. Incompetent management of the emergency by Air Force officers could not be fully mitigated by heroism of missile technicians, so by 3am the missile exploded, blasting a 740-ton silo closure door 200 feet into the air. The 9-megaton thermonuclear warhead was also blown away but, luckily, hasn't exploded; if it had, it would have contaminated much of Arkansas. This book is a minute-by-minute account of the disaster interwoven with the larger story of nuclear weapon safety in the United States. A nuclear bomb or a missile warhead should explode when commanded to, and not explode when not to: even if it is inside a B-52 that is on fire, or one that is crashing, or disintegrating in a mid-air collision. In a situation like this, a crushed electrical circuit can have unanticipated currents, and remember that a nuclear explosion takes place on a much shorter timescale than a mechanical collision. Also, a missile crew can be on drugs (yes, this has actually happened); its members can have psychiatric problems; in fact, the President of the United States, who is supposed to order a nuclear strike, could be drinking heavily, as Richard Nixon did shortly before his resignation. As Turkey was preparing to host American nuclear missiles, it went through a military coup. In Italy, American missiles were put up in a Communist-leaning region, the residents of which could steal or disable the warheads if the push came to shove. In addition to problems with the nuclear weapons themselves, there also have been problems with command-and-control and early warning systems. An early warning radar once mistook the rising Moon for Soviet missiles. Once, all communication between the SAC headquarters in Omaha and both an early warning radar in Greenland and the NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs went dead; were they destroyed by Soviet missiles? No: an AT&T phone switch in Colorado has burned out. Another time, a computer system that was supposed to show "0000 ICBMs detected" started replacing some of the 0s with 2s because of a faulty computer chip. Over the years, the United States has manufactured some 70,000 nuclear weapons. Luckily, none have accidentally or mistakenly detonated and produced a nuclear yield. A few times, the chemical explosives detonated and scattered deadly plutonium. However, nuclear weapons are an inherently unsafe technology. The fewer of them there are, the better for everyone.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Antonio Nunez

    Having read Schlosser’s Junk Food Nation, and having thought it excellent, I decided to pick up Command and Control as a follow-up to Rhodes’s The Making of the Atom Bomb. Although Rhodes’s book was a towering achievement, I must say I enjoyed Schlosser’s much more: while rigorous and very well researched it is also less hard to follow for a lawyer with limited scientific understanding. Command and Control is a terrifying book. Nowadays (or at least until November last year) it is fashionable to Having read Schlosser’s Junk Food Nation, and having thought it excellent, I decided to pick up Command and Control as a follow-up to Rhodes’s The Making of the Atom Bomb. Although Rhodes’s book was a towering achievement, I must say I enjoyed Schlosser’s much more: while rigorous and very well researched it is also less hard to follow for a lawyer with limited scientific understanding. Command and Control is a terrifying book. Nowadays (or at least until November last year) it is fashionable to blame the risk of nuclear warfare on emerging powers like North Korea or Pakistan but Schlosser shows that for decades the greatest risk was in fact posed by the thermonuclear weapon command and control systems of the USA and the USSR. These systems were so complex that it was impossible to manage them under zero risk. Often, minuscule events like workers using the wrong tools or inserting the wrong tape in a computer have caused the system to fail and nuclear weapons to launch or at least be activated irregularly. Often too, some cockamamie thing like the moon rising or geese flying over the horizon was interpreted by the system by a nuclear first strike by the Soviets. The Damascus incident, when a nuclear missile exploded in Arkansas, is a primer on what not to do when accidents happen to these weapons. One thing I learned from the book (and many movies) is not to expect any clear answers from the military when something goes wrong, for the military bureaucracy cares most about preserving its credibility and funding rather protecting human lives or being accountable to the taxpayer. Throughout the book there are numerous instances of the military lying to the public both in the US and abroad, covering up its failures and blaming loyal underlings for system failures. What’s scarier is that for the first time the US has a President without military or government experience, who has shown little tendency for introspection and a bias for action, usually without much deliberation, in a White House that appears dysfunctional and permeated by foreign influences. Russia is again flexing its muscles for the first time since the Afghanistan invasion. China has signaled it does not reject the possibility of a first strike. We are living in the scariest nuclear moment in over 50 years. If so far the world has been saved from nuclear holocaust by a few brave men and much good luck, one may only hope our luck will hold out.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jose Moa

    A book full with a lot of information about the command and control subject of nuclear weapons,the evolution of nuclear weapon design from the primitive canonball design,the implosion design with explsive lenses til the multiestage Teller Ulam design of a nuclear Litium-Deuteride fusion bomb and a extensive histhory of the cold war from the USA point of view. Narrate the decision of drop the fission bombs in Japan,the narrow histhoric window when it seems that the nuclear weapons could be banned A book full with a lot of information about the command and control subject of nuclear weapons,the evolution of nuclear weapon design from the primitive canonball design,the implosion design with explsive lenses til the multiestage Teller Ulam design of a nuclear Litium-Deuteride fusion bomb and a extensive histhory of the cold war from the USA point of view. Narrate the decision of drop the fission bombs in Japan,the narrow histhoric window when it seems that the nuclear weapons could be banned by the UN,but this window was closed by the threats of the SU against west Europe and the test of the Soviet bomb,the not fullfilled plans of preventive nuclear bombing the SU when the USA had a a nuclear superiority,the nukes race till reach with the three strategic legs,bombers,ICBM,SLBM the mutual assured equilbrium or MAD policy when USA and the SU owned each one more than 30000 nuclear warheads,a extreme insane overkill capacity and when USA had more that 1000 nuclear tarjets in SU,China and east Europe;the problem of mantein the chain of command with deep bunkers and othe strategies in case of nuclear war,the problem of the safety of handling the nukes with accidents as the Palomares in Spain where several fussion bombs were droped from a B52 fortunately without explde but contaminating the surroundings with Plutonium,the problem of their contrl as no a madman could intiate a war as in Dr Strangelove film,the problem of a accidental unintended nuclear war with several close calls as in the film Fail Safe.The book also extensively describes the Damascus accident in a Titan II ICBM silo With the end of the cold war reductions in the arsenals were made but USA and Russia yet have each one arround 7000 nuclear warheads many of them in lauch on warning or hair trigger and othe states were joining to the nuclear club,France UK,China,India , Pakistan,Israel,North Korea making the accidental war inevitable and a question of time. A very interesting,almost enciclopedic in information and references book.Recomended for all those worried about the possibility of a accidental explosion or a accidental nuclear war.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sean O'Hara

    As an army brat I've always found it odd how Americans view the military as a bunch of uber-competent and noble professionals. Uh-uh. No, no, no. The military is made up of a bunch of dorks who couldn't think of anything better to do after graduating high school or college. Putting them in a uniform and giving them basic training doesn't change that. Trust me here, I watched my dad and his friends drop water balloons from an 11th floor balcony and get into drunken silly string fights. Dorks. Esp As an army brat I've always found it odd how Americans view the military as a bunch of uber-competent and noble professionals. Uh-uh. No, no, no. The military is made up of a bunch of dorks who couldn't think of anything better to do after graduating high school or college. Putting them in a uniform and giving them basic training doesn't change that. Trust me here, I watched my dad and his friends drop water balloons from an 11th floor balcony and get into drunken silly string fights. Dorks. Especially the ones in technical jobs. The most accurate film about the military ever produced isn't Patton, or Platoon, or even Saving Private Ryan. It's Stripes with Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and John Candy. I've met soldiers like every character in this movie, including Francis. So all of that is to say that I found absolutely nothing shocking in this book about shoddy maintenance, questionable design, and outright negligence involving nuclear bombs. A bored air crew using a scissor lift to pick up a B-52? High levels of substance abuse among those entrusted with operating nuclear weapons? Allen wrenches left inside bomb casings? Yeah, I'm about as shocked as Captain Renault finding gambling at Rick's. What else would you expect when you entrust a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings with superweapons? Frankly, the most surprising thing in this book is that nobody ever loaded a nuke into their car to impress a date. (Or at least they never got caught.)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    It is a miracle that the world has avoided an accidental nuclear explosion. The risk of that has been greater than the risk of nuclear war. This is the kind of book that will keep you up at night. The story of the Damascus incident is interwoven with the development of nuclear weapons and all that it entails. These are the most deadly weapons that humanity has created. How are they managed? Command and Control seeks to answer. The instances when nuclear war starting by accident has been averted, It is a miracle that the world has avoided an accidental nuclear explosion. The risk of that has been greater than the risk of nuclear war. This is the kind of book that will keep you up at night. The story of the Damascus incident is interwoven with the development of nuclear weapons and all that it entails. These are the most deadly weapons that humanity has created. How are they managed? Command and Control seeks to answer. The instances when nuclear war starting by accident has been averted, perhaps the most famous being when Stanislav Petrov saved the world. But there have been many more incidents like that, as revealed by the author. This book focuses on the United States, but little research has been done how other nuclear powers manage their warheads. What goes on in India, Pakistan, Israel and China? Then there are the nukes that went missing when the Soviet Union collapsed. There are probably many more cases of nuclear explosions being narrowly avoided that we don’t know about. Nuclear safety done through the official channels doesn’t work well. What of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty? It is disregarded by India, Pakistan and Israel, that does not bode well for nuclear safety. A cynic would say that means the treaty isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. This technology has the ability to wipe out all life on earth. We have avoided it so far, and a lot of it is down to luck. Given all the limitations of our species in reasoning and cognitive ability, harassing the power of nukes is like giving dynamite to a child.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris Fellows

    Probably the best argument for the existence of God that I have ever read... that is, it seems vanishingly improbable that the litany of catastrophic near-misses described in this book *never* destroyed civilisation, or at the least several medium-sized cities in Texas and North Carolina. Sheesh. Like one source quoted in the book says, divine intervention seems like the most likely explanation. It was also sobering how much of the technological infrastructure of the 21st century was driven by th Probably the best argument for the existence of God that I have ever read... that is, it seems vanishingly improbable that the litany of catastrophic near-misses described in this book *never* destroyed civilisation, or at the least several medium-sized cities in Texas and North Carolina. Sheesh. Like one source quoted in the book says, divine intervention seems like the most likely explanation. It was also sobering how much of the technological infrastructure of the 21st century was driven by the need to improve delivery of weapons of mass destruction. Integrated circuits? For making lighter onboardcomputers to guide missiles. The Internet? Securing communications to make detecting attacks and responding more robust. GPS? Guiding missiles, again. When I was eleven or so, I also used to be nervous going in to the city, and would mentally calculate how far I was from a downtown ground zero going both directions. Lucky I did not know how royally screwed my home really was.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Philip Hollenback

    Hey, do you like being terrified? Are you the sort who obsesses about armageddon? Then boy howdy do I have a book for you. It's pretty close to just dumb luck that a nuclear weapon has never exploded accidentally. Schlosser does a hell of a job of describing the various near misses and accidents that have occurred with nuclear weapons in the past 70 years or so. He also explains a great deal about the culture that surrounds the production and storage of nuclear weapons in the US and how that has Hey, do you like being terrified? Are you the sort who obsesses about armageddon? Then boy howdy do I have a book for you. It's pretty close to just dumb luck that a nuclear weapon has never exploded accidentally. Schlosser does a hell of a job of describing the various near misses and accidents that have occurred with nuclear weapons in the past 70 years or so. He also explains a great deal about the culture that surrounds the production and storage of nuclear weapons in the US and how that has contributed to the near misses. At the same time he highlights the many ways that those horrific accidents have been avoided, largely due to the persistence and heroism of a few people. Anyway, I highly recommend this book as a great combination of a fairly detailed technical history and human drama.

  27. 5 out of 5

    C

    I first heard about this book at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, a few days after j and I visited Los Alamos, which is one the strangest places I've ever been. My dad has also been giving me all sorts of information about the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, since he lives relatively close to Japan. So, I've kind of been obsessed with nuclear science and history for the last six months. This book is really fascinating and tremendously important, and I highly r I first heard about this book at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, a few days after j and I visited Los Alamos, which is one the strangest places I've ever been. My dad has also been giving me all sorts of information about the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, since he lives relatively close to Japan. So, I've kind of been obsessed with nuclear science and history for the last six months. This book is really fascinating and tremendously important, and I highly recommend it to everyone. I can't stop thinking and talking about it. I wish I still had more of it to read. Schlosser does such a great job researching and presenting dense and complex information, and I feel a sincere appreciation to him for writing this book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    A fantastic and frightening account of our nuclear armament situation. The fact we haven't blown up the world accidentally is shocking and Schlosser shows exactly how close we have come (many times over). A required read for anyone interested in the Cold War or systematic failures of the government. A fantastic and frightening account of our nuclear armament situation. The fact we haven't blown up the world accidentally is shocking and Schlosser shows exactly how close we have come (many times over). A required read for anyone interested in the Cold War or systematic failures of the government.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Command And Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety Eric Schlosser Read it in Hardcover at an investment of 640 pages thick with it. Browsing the book bin at Costco is dangerous, especially when you walk out the door with a 640 page tomb. None the less this was excellent and consumed it greedily. "They are out there, waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial - and they work." - Schlosser Command and Control looks at the events leading to the creatio Command And Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety Eric Schlosser Read it in Hardcover at an investment of 640 pages thick with it. Browsing the book bin at Costco is dangerous, especially when you walk out the door with a 640 page tomb. None the less this was excellent and consumed it greedily. "They are out there, waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial - and they work." - Schlosser Command and Control looks at the events leading to the creation of the nuclear bomb, it's creation, how it works, initial use and testing, military and political leaders at the time of creation and their general attitudes towards the bomb, protocol for use, as well as the miss management of the stock pile; and technical advancements from a technological perspective as well as following these criteria to the near current world. It's thorough and engrossing to say the least. All of which is spun through the story of the Damascus Arkansas non-nuclear accident that carriers the reader along as they learn about the most feared weapon on the planet. There are several themes within Command and Control, but it's most prominent is the miss management of our nuclear stockpile throughout the decades. It's a theme that is carried throughout the book and broadcast to the reader. It's presented in such a fashion that as a reader, I am surprised a full thermonuclear detonation has not occurred on the many military instillations across the world, let alone on American soil. Of primary interests to me was the detailed account of how to make the stockpile current, or if nothing else, safe and the resistance from our military leaders towards that effort. The amount of money the government was spending to make new weapons of even deadlier caliber, in the name of deterrence, was staggering. Especially compared to the price of updating the clearly unsafe stockpile we have had throughout the years right here in our backyard. The list of accidents is long. In addition, Schlosser identifies and outlines some very interesting world leaders and the part nuclear weapons played in politics. One of the more interesting things for me in the book is to hear about the actions of our presidents and top brass, following World War Two and into the Cold War. For instance, Kennedy, a notoriously anti-nuclear weapon president and fathered the famous 'Sword of Damocles' speech often said one thing while directly doing another. A short time after giving said speech about the prolific destruction that a nuclear strategy guaranteed: "Today, every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us." He met with top brass and officials about investigating and considered adopting a nuclear strategy that weighed a first strike option as the only option. Command and Control is full of this sort of horrifying stuff and much much more. To try and capture it all here wouldn't do it justice. I learned a lot and was highly charmed with every horrifying page, highly recommended, especially if you are a fan of history.

  30. 4 out of 5

    John

    This has nothing to do with the book, but it has the worst book cover I’ve ever seen. If any book will make a person anti-nuclear weapons, this one will. The reader will get through this book wondering how a nuclear weapon has not gone off accidentally yet, or on purpose. This is a mind blowing book about the proliferation of nuclear weapons since the first one was set off. Who has heard of the for-real “Davy Crocket Nuclear Rifle” that was around in the 50’s? I think that nuclear weapons were a This has nothing to do with the book, but it has the worst book cover I’ve ever seen. If any book will make a person anti-nuclear weapons, this one will. The reader will get through this book wondering how a nuclear weapon has not gone off accidentally yet, or on purpose. This is a mind blowing book about the proliferation of nuclear weapons since the first one was set off. Who has heard of the for-real “Davy Crocket Nuclear Rifle” that was around in the 50’s? I think that nuclear weapons were a game for some of the people responsible for them, as shown by that juvenile name for a weapon of mass destruction. The author mentions the movie “Dr. Strangelove” (which I'm going to watch again now) many times in the book and the book felt like reading a bizarre reality of the movie. The whole book is about how many times we've already come close to an accidental nuclear explosion and how lucky we’ve been. As one of the main characters in the book said, “We are living on borrowed time.” This book will scare you. And by the way, John Oliver has an excellent video on the issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Y1ya... And, Dr. Strangelove is now free to watch on Amazon Prime. It's an excellent movie and companion to this book about the absurdity of nuclear weapons.

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