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Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety Paperback – August 26, 2014
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New from Sebastian Junger
The bestselling author of War and The Perfect Storm takes readers on an investigation of how we overcome trauma and seek something bigger than ourselves. Learn more
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“Deeply reported, deeply frightening… a techno-thriller of the first order.”
The New Yorker
“An excellent journalistic investigation of the efforts made since the first atomic bomb was exploded, outside Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, to put some kind of harness on nuclear weaponry. By a miracle of information management, Schlosser has synthesized a huge archive of material, including government reports, scientific papers, and a substantial historical and polemical literature on nukes, and transformed it into a crisp narrative covering more than fifty years of scientific and political change. And he has interwoven that narrative with a hair-raising, minute-by-minute account of an accident at a Titan II missile silo in Arkansas, in 1980, which he renders in the manner of a techno-thriller…Command and Control is how nonfiction should be written.” (Louis Menand)
“A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. … fascinating.” (Lev Grossman)
“Command and Control ranks among the most nightmarish books written in recent years; and in that crowded company it bids fair to stand at the summit. It is the more horrific for being so incontrovertibly right and so damnably readable. Page after relentless page, it drives the vision of a world trembling on the edge of a fatal precipice deep into your reluctant mind... a work with the multilayered density of an ambitiously conceived novel… Schlosser has done what journalism does at its best when at full stretch: he has spent time – years – researching, interviewing, understanding and reflecting to give us a piece of work of the deepest import.”
“The strength of Schlosser's writing derives from his ability to carry a wealth of startling detail (did you know that security at Titan II missile bases was so lapse you could break into one with just a credit card?) on a confident narrative path.”
San Francisco Chronicle
"Perilous and gripping… Schlosser skillfully weaves together an engrossing account of both the science and the politics of nuclear weapons safety… The story of the missile silo accident unfolds with the pacing, thrill and techno details of an episode of 24."
New York Times Book Review:
“Disquieting but riveting… fascinating… Schlosser’s readers (and he deserves a great many) will be struck by how frequently the people he cites attribute the absence of accidental explosions and nuclear war to divine intervention or sheer luck rather than to human wisdom and skill. Whatever was responsible, we will clearly need many more of it in the years to come.”
“Easily the most unsettling work of nonfiction I've ever read, Schlosser's six-year investigation of America's ‘broken arrows’ (nuclear weapons mishaps) is by and large historical—this stuff is top secret, after all—but the book is beyond relevant. It's critical reading in a nation with thousands of nukes still on hair-trigger alert... Command and Control reads like a character-driven thriller as Schlosser draws on his deep reporting, extensive interviews, and documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act to demonstrate how human error, computer glitches, dilution of authority, poor communications, occasional incompetence, and the routine hoarding of crucial information have nearly brought about our worst nightmare on numerous occasions.”
“Eric Schlosser detonates a truth bomb in Command and Control, a powerful expose about America’s nuclear weapons.”
Publishers Weekly (starred):
"Nail-biting... thrilling... Mixing expert commentary with hair-raising details of a variety of mishaps, [Eric Schlosser] makes the convincing case that our best control systems are no match for human error, bad luck, and ever-increasing technological complexity."
Kirkus Reviews (starred):
"Vivid and unsettling... An exhaustive, unnerving examination of the illusory safety of atomic arms."
Lee H. Hamilton, former U.S. Representative; Co-Chair, Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future; Director, the Center on Congress at Indiana University:
“The lesson of this powerful and disturbing book is that the world’s nuclear arsenals are not as safe as they should be. We should take no comfort in our skill and good fortune in preventing a nuclear catastrophe, but urgently extend our maximum effort to assure that a nuclear weapon does not go off by accident, mistake, or miscalculation.”
Top Customer Reviews
To put to rest any concerns I had I contacted Al Childers after learning he had spoken to Mr. Schlosser. I have always had the highest regard for Al and his opinions; hence I participated in the project. After leaving Little Rock AFB we both were transferred to Vandenberg AFB and worked in the same building.
I appreciate the integrity of Eric Schlosser who did what any good writer, or investigator, should do. He collected the facts and reported them, how refreshing is that in this era where so many run off and write, or report, half cocked. This entire book was researched in more detail than I ever imagined. Although I was there that night Mr. Schlosser reported things I didn't know simply because I didn't have the right or need.
I have read several reviews in which the writers refer to the incident at Searcy, AR as being more serious. I would like to take this opportunity to simply say that while the loss of life is never to be taken lightly, the circumstances between these two accidents were as different as night and day. Sometimes it seems those writing the reviews forget that the Titan II at Searcy was not on alert meaning it had no warhead. The Titan II at Damascus was on full alert and armed. Mr. Schlosser got it right and was not swayed by the loss of life vs. the reason for his book!
Several of my fellow airmen who went back on site that night have passed away.Read more ›
The scariest incident occurred in 1980 when a Titan II missile exploded in its silo in Damascus, Arkansas (back when Bill Clinton was governor) and blew a live nuclear warhead over 200 yards into a ditch. He tells this story in detail through eyewitness accounts and good research and interrupts the story throughout the book with sections on nuclear weapons history, other incidents, and a superb explanation of American and Soviet nuclear strategies in the Cold War.
Schlosser shows how ramshackle the atomic weapons program really was and how and why these weapons were eventually removed from civilian control under the Atomic Energy Commission and turned over to the military (and it's not because the military were more competent). He traces this history back from the 1940s right up to the Obama administration's lukewarm proposal to ban all nuclear weapons.
He shows that we have come through some pretty tough stuff in atomic history and we are a little further from the brink - but we should be very afraid when we consider that India, Pakistan, China, and the other members of the nuclear club may have less ability or incentive to try and contain atomic weaponry as we finally learned to do.
He doesn't preach or analyze. He is a brilliant reporter and has written a gripping and fascinating story. And it's all true.
This book is really two books in one, and both parts are equally gripping. The first part describes the Damascus accident in gory technical and human detail, starting from the time that a dropped socket blew a hole in the skin of the Titan II missile, spraying fuel around the missile and creating a dangerous buildup of fuel and oxidizer. What is scary is that the accident resulted from an honest, relatively trivial mistake that anybody could have made; in the parlance of systems engineers it was only a "normal accident".Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Well researched and informative. While the primary focus is on the Damascus Titan II accident, many other accidents and close calls are also discussed. Read morePublished 5 days ago by dingus
Thermonuclear weapons built, tested, and assembled en masse by the US government are misplaced, mistreated, and treated with little respect to the damage they can cause. Read morePublished 8 days ago by Nancy A
Outstanding research by the author. I lived in this era and worked at many of the companies that produced (ATLAS AND TITAN). Read morePublished 11 days ago by Mary Moss
Great book. Opened my eyes to how dangerous these weapons are and how careless our government was with them. Hopefully this has changed.Published 18 days ago by Thomas Morris
Command and Control is based one a single premise: "The fallibility of human beings guarantees that no technological system will ever be infallible. Read morePublished 25 days ago by J. Crane
Excellent recreation of an incident I've heard a lot about. This covers the entire missile program from inception and is a fascinating and an engrossing read.Published 1 month ago by JanetB