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At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War Hardcover – March 9, 2004

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1946: The Making of the Modern World by Victor Sebestyen
"1946" by Victor Sebestyen
The year it was decided there would be a Jewish homeland, that Europe would be split by the Iron Curtain, independent India would become the world's biggest democracy, and the Chinese communists would win a civil war that positioned them to become a great power. Learn more | See related books

Editorial Reviews Review

Thomas Reed is certainly one of the most qualified people alive to tell the real story of the Cold War. He worked at Livermore Labs as early as 1959 and was involved in designing and testing nuclear weapons, he served as Secretary of the Air Force, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, and as a Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Policy. Even when he was not directly involved in shaping policy, he was studying and lecturing on the subject. At the Abyss is the result of his remarkable experience, and it is as fascinating as it is terrifying, for he reveals just how close the world came on many occasions to experiencing the horror of global nuclear war. The book is filled with intrigue and revelations as he sheds new light on even relatively well-known events, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here he reveals that as many as 98 nuclear weapons were located in Cuba, not ! just a few as originally thought. He also reports on what transpired during closed meetings at the highest levels of government and how often events threatened to spiral out of control. He details how the information age and "the economic facts of life" eventually doomed the Soviet Union, offers personal reflections on Ron and Nancy Reagan, tells how Dick Cheney and Colin Powell "coaxed the nuclear genie back into the bottle," and how the steadfast "closers," George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev, calmly and carefully brought the Cold War to a close without bloodshed and chaos---a conclusion that would have seemed inconceivable just a decade before. Even readers well acquainted with Cold War history will find much to learn in these pages. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

This informative if sometimes partisan account of the author's career in public life focuses on the Cold War's nuclear confrontation. Reed worked as an air force officer with early computers, as a consultant to the Livermore Laboratory's production of thermonuclear weapons and eventually as Ronald Reagan's secretary of the air force. He hammers at the themes of the evils of communism, the stark horror of nuclear war and, surprisingly, the conscientious work of his Soviet counterparts whose nightmarish memories of WWII helped them to keep their weapons safe and their world intact. The author spent a good deal of time in Republican politics, but is not uncritical of the men (and women; see his sharp-eyed portrait of Nancy Reagan) with whom he was associated. He reserves his highest respect for the physicists (including Edward Teller) and the uniformed personnel on both sides who devoted and sometimes lost their lives to an effort to keep a fragile peace. The writing is sometimes discursive if seldom dull, and some areas have already been adequately covered by others. But the book deserves quite high marks for how much it pulls together, as well as offering a viewpoint on the Cold War not nearly sufficiently well-represented in the public literature: that neither the U.S. nor Soviet sciences were dominated by stereotypical, bomb-happy maniacs.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Presidio Press; First Edition edition (March 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0891418210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0891418214
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,556,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom Reed began his career doing physics and hydrodynamics at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It Edward Teller's words, "Tom Reed was one of Livermore's most creative designers of thermonuclear devices." Two of his designs were fired over the Pacific in 1962. Earlier he had graduated from Cornell as an engineer, then from graduate school at the University of Southern California. During the Ford and Carter years Reed served as Secretary of the Air Force and Director of the National Reconnaissance Office. With the end of the Cold War, Reed turned his attention to documenting the history of those times in his At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War, followed by The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and Its Proliferation. His new history-based thriller, The Tehran Triangle infers one possible end game for Iran's current nuclear ambitions. Reed lives in the wine country of northern California with his wife Kay and sheep dog Amy.

What others are saying about The Tehran Triangle:

"The Tehran Triangle, a new page-turner by Air Force Secretary Thomas C. Reed (Ford and Carter administrations) with Sandy Baker, says we are looking at the wrong continent for Iran's nuclear eruption. . . . In Triangle, a young, radicalized, second-generation American-Iranian couple is recruited to build a bomb outside El Paso, Texas. The other vertices of the triangle are Juarez and Tehran. A fast-moving CIA agent unravels the plot. . . . The end of an era is near.
Arnaud de Borchgrave, author of number 1 best-seller, The Spike, in NewsMax, May 2, 2012

"The Tehran Triangle is a harrowing tale about Iran's quest for the bomb. The story feels real; it could have been written by an intelligence insider and a nuclear weapons expert. And it was. Reed brings his expertise and deeply felt convictions about Iran home. He projects a credible end game for Iran's nuclear ambitions."
James Schlesinger
Former Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission,
Director of Central Intelligence, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy

"The Tehran Triangle is a fast-paced thriller about the frightening perils of the nuclear age. Tom Reed brings to the story a lifetime of experience in national security, delivering a narrative that is crackling with imagination yet woven from the grim threats of our time."
David Hoffman
Former Foreign Affairs Editor, the Washington Post
Pulitzer Prize-winning Cold War history author, The Dead Hand

"There are contesting groups within Iran. Mr. Thomas Reed has written an excellent chronicle of these struggles, and I have learned a lot from his writings. I recommend them to you."
Ardeshir Zahedi
Iran's Foreign Minister, 1966-1973

"Tom Reed enjoyed a catbird seat to history and has done us all a great favor by taking time to record what he saw and heard."
George H. W. Bush
41st President of the U.S and former Director of Central Intelligence

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Brian A. Hathaway on September 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This fascinating book is a must read for those who have "been there" during the Cold War and also for those for whom it is just a part of history. I found the book compelling and exciting, although I wouldn't characterize it as a comprehensive history as much as a memoir of one who viewed the struggle between the U.S. and the Soviet Union from several significant perspectives.

Three salient points came to mind as I read this book. First, the Cold War was as real a struggle as any of the "hotter" wars in our history. In the early 1970's, I served as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer in SAC. I remember looking across the flightline during the 1973 Yom Kippur War at over 120 hydrogen bombs and warheads being loaded for real when we went to DEFCON 3. My life was dictated by Green Dot Alerts, DEFCONS and Alert Postures, with the knowledge that we were only 30 minutes from nuclear anhiliation. I also remember the professionalism of those in SAC who held the "nuclear keys" and respected them for the responsibilities they had and the awesome decisions they may be called to make. Mr. Reed's portrayal of both sides' desire to avoid the ultimate conflict is comforting, even in hindsight.

The second point I derived from the book is that the Cold War was finally won by our economic might. Interactions between nations have always been governed by economics, all the way back to our Revolutionary War, when the French sided with us in order to benefit from potential trade, and the Dutch bankers helped bankroll the War through loans to the Colonies. Mr. Reed's insights to the total lack of understanding the Soviets had regarding, cost, profit, and the law of supply and demand are particularly enlightening.

The final point I found somewhat disquieting. Mr.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A.T. Lloyd on July 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Thomas C. Reed's book, At the Abyss, confirmed many of my suspicions and presents a plethora of substantiating data for my beliefs. The tidbits on titanium shovels, oil system computer chips, and specific individuals were most revealing.
Of greatest importance was the dedication, resolve, and professionalism of the members of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Force and America's nuclear forces that brings an overwhelming calming to those who placed our fates in their hands.
The purpose of At The Abyss was to give our generation a sense of closure, since there was no parade - Strategic Air Command just disappeared without fanfare.
This book is written in bite-sized chapters that permit short-term assimilation, and long term rumination and retention capabilities. Mr. Reed's perspective and authoritative position make this work worth reading for any student of the Cold War. It was a distinct pleasure and honor to read this discourse on such an important subject.
Alwyn T. Lloyd
Author of A COLD WAR LEGACY - A Tribute to Strategic Air Command 1946-1992
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Tom Reed's book brought back the memories of those days in SAC when any one of a number of conditions could have unleashed the horror of multiple nuclear explosions. Fortunately, the wisdom and maturity of the right people at the right time evaded those conditons. And the discipline of SAC crewmembers and leaders was vital to the success of the standoff.
Reed also focuses on the bravery of those few who had to risk their lives to gather intelligence prior to satellite reconnaissance development. All in all, a real eye-opener on what went on inside the halls of power.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Reed writes this insider's history of the Cold War in the prose of a fine novelist. This is a difficult book to put down. It is about powerful people and their interactions within the framework of government at its highest level. Politics and poker! Bureaucracy and those who knew how to cut through it. A calculating and manipulating president's wife. Americans and Soviets exercising superb judgment at critical moments, moments that could have made for a different life on this planet had those judgments not been correct. Five stars from me.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Phil Webb on December 7, 2006
Format: Paperback
Albert Einstein once famously said, "God does not play dice." But if perhaps he had been around long enough to witness the Cold War in its entirety he also would have justly added a corollary: "Ah but Man...Man does indeed play dice." In this he would have been ominously correct. For when the realization sets in of just how precariously close the world was to the brink of nuclear annihilation throughout the Cold War, it is readily apparent: "We did roll the nuclear dice." Many times over in fact. Amazingly, our number did not come up.

The Cold War, 1947 - 1991, was a period of intense rivalry between the world's two major superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union. It was also a period of great technological achievement. With that scientific advancement came first the advent of the atomic bomb, quickly followed by thermonuclear weapons with their vastly horrific and unfathomable destructive power, and then in quick succession the development of ballistic missiles, nuclear powered submarines, long-range jet-engine bombers, and a multitude of varying space technologies including satellites; all of which only served to intensify and increase the dangers and implications of the American - Soviet standoff. The possibility of armed confrontation was ever present. And indeed the major proxy wars of Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan were in actuality, de facto wars between the two superpowers.

Against this backdrop, Thomas C. Reed's uniquely interesting account of the Cold War, At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War, serves to put a personal touch on the conflict.
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