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15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312611560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312611569
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

America™s cold war defensive strategy relied on possessing a striking force so powerful that, even after absorbing a devastating Soviet attack, it could deliver a nation-killing blow. This deterrence matured under the aegis of Gen. Curtis LeMay (1906–1990), the brilliant WWII bomber commander. Military historian Keeney (Gun Camera Pacific) reports that when LeMay took over the Strategic Air Command in 1948, he found several understaffed B-29 groups left over from WWII, a few dozen primitive atomic bombs, and no coherent strategy. With access to newly declassified documents, Keeney delivers a jolting year-by-year history of SAC™s transformation into a massive worldwide force primed to launch bombers within 15 minutes of the order. He also reveals alarming numbers of lost nuclear bombs, disastrous atmospheric tests, and nuclear war near-misses. Bitterly opposed to SAC™s diversion to conventional bombing in Vietnam, LeMay retired in 1965, and Keeney™s detailed, often squirm-inducing account ends in an anticlimax in 1968 with SAC dwindling to a minor adjunct to America™s swelling ballistic missile arsenal. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the 1950s, before land- and submarine-based missiles formed the backbone of American nuclear deterrence, the U.S. relied primarily upon the Strategic Air Command (SAC). When an alert was issued, it was assumed that the crews of our long-range bombers had only 15 minutes to scramble to the runways and takeoff to guarantee the credibility of a retaliatory strike against the Soviet Union. Keeney, a military historian and co-founder of cable television’s Military Channel, has utilized great amounts of recently declassified documents to tell a fascinating, often chilling story of the policies, technologies, and men responsible for maintaining our nuclear defense posture in that period. At the center of the narrative is General Curtis LeMay, a brilliant, cigar-chomping innovator who was haunted by the specter of Pearl Harbor and determined that we wouldn’t be caught unprepared again. Keeney avoids excessive technical jargon and recounts in straightforward fashion the successes and sometimes dangerous and devasting failures and miscalculations of men operating on the razor’s edge while coping with the terror of unprecedented consequences for misjudgments. --Jay Freeman

More About the Author

L. Douglas Keeney is the bestselling author of more than a dozen histories of the events that shaped American and world history. He has been well reviewed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, salon.com, Newsweek, The New Yorker, The Courier-Journal, Publisher's Weekly, and others. He is a frequent speaker and a dedicated researcher.

"Keeney's passion is to unearth the lost voices of American history -- the stories of unselfish sacrifice, as he calls them -- and through those voices tell the stories that are the fabric of the nation we know today."

Keeney attributes his interest in books to his grandmother's attic. As a young boy in the 1960s, Keeney spent many happy hours digging through dusty boxes and an old desk, a project that occupied his imagination and gave rise to his work as an author. Oddly, it wasn't the objects he found in that attic that fascinated him but rather the crumpled newspapers wrapped around the mementos of his grandmothers life that triggered his interest in research and discovery. When unfolded, those papers spoke about World War II and events in American history that before were just words in a dull history book. Keeney was hooked

As he did years ago, Keeney continues to rummage through the attic - in this case the federal archives where American history reposes. Since his first book in 1992, Keeney has sifted through documents in 26 federal and military archives in 14 states. He discovered boxes of John F. Kennedy photographs at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida which JFK had visited during his presidency and from that discovery created a book with Pierre Salinger called John F. Kennedy: Commander-in-Chief. He found the first declassified copy of the US Government's doomsday scenario at the National Archives in Washington, DC, which was also released as a book. He unearthed long lost records of a nuclear accident in the Pacific at the Department of Energy archives in Las Vegas.

Keeney earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees from the University of Southern California and was a sponsored post-graduate at the Institute of Advanced Advertising Studies in New York City. He worked for 18 years on Madison Avenue and Wilshire Blvd before writing his first book.

Keeney lives in Kentucky with his wife, the journalist Jill Johnson Keeney. and when he isn't working he is mowing the lawn - or organizing his own attic.

For more information please see www.douglaskeeney.com

Customer Reviews

This is a good book and deserves a wide audience.
Another very annoying technique used is repeating a word or description at the end of one of these anecdotal passages in a sarcastic manner.
Dave in Missouri
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in US history.
J. Groen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Donald Farmer on February 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Keeney's book was a bit perplexing at first but the point he makes well is that there was more chaos during the Cold War than anyone could imagine. So he jumps from wave heights to thermonuclear discoveries to SAC penetration tatics in a way that makes you feel the confusion and chaos, as if you were there. Well, I was there. Like Keeney says we all had Emergency War Plans -- and as a Cold War fighter pilot and tanker pilot I saw many sides of the situation, I can say that we were ready to go. Reading this well and exhaustively researched, well written book I can say that Keeney introduces declassified documents in a way that brings the reality of our Cold War to life in a way I could never before share with my family. I'm buying copies for my in-laws! Hooray!
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53 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Eye MD KC on February 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I served in the Strategic Air Command from 1970-1972 being stationed in Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. Our base had a wing of B-52s bombers and KC-135 tankers plus Minuteman III missles. The dedication of SAC men/women, officers, and their families was outstanding, the work grueling but indispensible to national defense and detering an expansion minded Soviet Union. General Curtis LeMay of the USAF, and the subject of this 372 page book, is one of this country's most important and influential military figures dating from his ending WWII with bombing of Japan, through breaking the blockaid of Berlin and keeping the peace with the Soviet Union by 'mutual assured destructrion". General LeMay's 2613 bombers and tankers and 27,387 nuclear warheads (vs Soviet Union's 3,300) are the principle reason that the Russians withdrew their missles from Cuba in the 1962 crisis.

This is a good book and deserves a wide audience. This book was reviewed by the Wall Street Journal February 12, 2011 by Arthur Herman and was highly recommended. Americans, past, present and future, owe much to this short, blunt talking, cigar smoking General. This is a fitting book that chronicles the service of Curtis LeMay, an American military giant.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on February 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At first, I found the organization of "15 minutes" to be a little off putting--especially in the early going, the author describes a series of seemingly unrelated events in short, jarring paragraphs, many of which end in a somewhat melodramatic one-word teaser. Keeney does this to set up several different stories at once, which is why you'll wonder why the second paragraph in the chapter on "1945" is about the development of offshore oil and gas drilling in Louisiana in 1907 (it makes sense eventually).

I suspect the book's style owes a lot to Keeney's experience with television documentary (he's a co-founder of The Military Channel), and it actually works fairly well as the book builds momentum. If the book's thesis is that things had to happen at a faster and faster pace to preserve a credible strategic deterrent, the book's short, punchy paragraphs do an efective job of conveying the sense of urgency that must have pervaded SAC for nearly forty years.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dave in Missouri on March 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is more a collection of various anecdotes about the days of SAC, many very uninformative.

As an example, the author gives us a few paragraphs about an American named Harry that turns up in a Soviet Gulag prison camp.
Other than a brief description of a dark blue eyed man who "was said to be good with his fists, and was brought from Berlin", nothing more is said about him.
The reader is left wondering who the hell Harry was, and why the author even bothered mentioning him at all.
We spend the rest of the book waiting for the author to give us the rest of the story about Harry, all in vain.
This is a pattern that repeats through the book.

Another very annoying technique used is repeating a word or description at the end of one of these anecdotal passages in a sarcastic manner.
In one anecdote the author describes how the pit area of a bomb had to be cleaned by sticking an arm into the bomb.
The passage ends with "An entire arm".
In another a general describes military action as "damn blunt" and the passage ends with "Blunt".
This quickly gets on the readers nerves.

The book cover title is "15 Minutes. General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation".
Unfortunately, General LeMay makes only brief appearances in the book in the form a short quotes. There's nothing much of the man or exactly how he turned SAC from an ineffective few airplanes into the world spanning force it became under him.

While the book is a fair description of SAC and it's mission, it has a chopped up, disjointed form that leaves the reader wishing it was done in a better format with more meat to the short anecdotes.
The reader is left feeling like he's just read a series of teasers with no punch line.
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