Nuclear bombs must be handled with the proper care, yet that is not always the case. Mentioning harrowing mishaps in the history of the American atomic arsenal, Schlosser singles out one for detailed dramatization, the explosion in 1980 of a Titan II missile. Some airmen were killed and injured, but since the warhead didn’t detonate, the safety system appeared to have worked. Color Schlosser skeptical, for, as he recounts this accident, which began with a mundane incident—a dropped tool that punctured the missile—he delves into nuclear weapon designs. Those are influenced by the requirement that the bomb must always detonate when desired and never when not. Citing experts in the technology of nuclear weaponry who have pondered the “never” part of the requirement, Schlosser highlights their worry about an accidental nuclear explosion. Underscored by cases of dropped, burned, and lost bombs, the problem of designing a safe but reliable bomb persists (see also The Bomb, 2009, by weapons engineer Stephen Younger). Well researched, reported, and written, this contribution to the nuclear-weapons literature demonstrates the versatility of Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation (2001). --Gilbert Taylor
***A New York Times Notable Book of 2013***
See all Editorial Reviews
“A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. … fascinating.” (Lev Grossman)
Jonathan Franzen, The Guardian:
“Schlosser's book reads like a thriller, but it's masterfully even-handed, well researched, and well organised. Either he's a natural genius at integrating massive amounts of complex information, or he worked like a dog to write this book. You wouldn't think the prospect of nuclear apocalypse would make for a reading treat, but in Schlosser's hands it does.”
“Gripping... A real-life adventure that’s every bit as fascinating as a Tom Clancy thriller... Schlosser is clearly on top of his game with Command and Control. His stories of nuclear near-misses inspire trepidation, and his description of Cold War political machinations provide hints about the conversations Pentagon officials must be having nowadays when they review the country’s war strategies.”
“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.”
Los Angeles Times:
“Deeply reported, deeply frightening… a techno-thriller of the first order.”
“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."
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)
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.”
Dallas Morning News:
“Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control is a sobering and frightening yet fascinating account of the unbelievable peril posed by repeatedly mishandled American nuclear weapons….The tale is riveting from start to finish. In the first few chapters, I found myself so repeatedly astounded by Schlosser’s recounting of accidents in the early 1950s, I thought: Certainly, it can’t get any worse than this. But it kept getting worse—so much so that I started folding the corners of each page that contained what seemed like the most egregious examples of nuclear mishaps and horrors. I now have a 632-page book with roughly a quarter of the pages folded over for reference. Command and Control is truly a monumental, Pulitzer-quality work.”
“The book alternates between sections describing the accident with sections on the history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. Schlosser’s excellent eye for detail, which he displayed in his first book, Fast Food Nation, is also in evidence here....epic pop history."
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.”