From Publishers Weekly
The military-industrial complex proves an unlikely arena for plucky individualism in this history of the men who built America's intercontinental ballistic missile program in the 1950s and '60s. Sheehan paints air force Gen. Bernard Schriever and his colorful band of military aides, civilian patrons, defense intellectuals and aerospace entrepreneurs as a guerrilla insurgency fighting Pentagon red tape, and a hostile air force brass, led by Strategic Air Command honcho Curtis LeMay, who advocated megatonnage bomber planes over ICBMs. Sheehan gives a fascinating run-down of the engineering challenges posed by nuclear missiles, but the main action consists of bureaucratic intrigues, procurement innovations and epic briefings that catch the president's ear and open the funding spigots. Like the author's Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning A Bright Shining Lie, this is a saga of underdog visionaries struggling to redirect a misguided military juggernaut, this time successfully: the author credits Schriever's missiles with keeping the peace and jump-starting the space program and satellite industry. Sheehan's focus on personal initiative and human-scale dramas lends an overly romantic cast to his study of cold war policy making and the arms race, but it makes for an engrossing read. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Oct. 6)
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As he did unforgettably in “A Bright Shining Lie,” Sheehan here tells the story both of a warrior and of a war, in this case a cold one. The warrior is Bernard Schriever, a pilot who was “the handsomest general in the United States Air Force,” and the organizing force behind the intercontinental-ballistic-missile program. The I.C.B.M., as Schriever put it, was the weapon with the “highest probability of Not being used.” Schriever is a charismatic figure, and the supporting characters are fascinating, too: General Curtis LeMay, who, after one showdown, challenged Schriever to a judo match; the brothers Ed and Ted Hall, one the father of the Minuteman and the other a Russian spy; and John von Neumann, the theorist of mutual assured destruction. The question that Sheehan can’t quite answer is, perhaps, unanswerable: If, following Schriever’s idea, we built bigger and bigger bombs so as to not blow ourselves up, and we find ourselves still here, is it because we were wise or because we were lucky?
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