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

4.1 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.
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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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Is this a page-turner full of great stories? Yes. Is it a trustworthy history book? No.

Chapter 3. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the American embassy in Moscow advertises for any news about pilots who went missing in the fifties on reconnaissance missions around the Soviet periphery. Mary Dunham Nichols, the widow of one of them, receives a small package with a Russian postmark, containing her husband's Annapolis ring. "Only that and nothing more."

Google search for "Mary Dunham Nichols". We find a Baltimore Sun article dated September 5, 1994, about her getting news from Defense Department liaison in Moscow. Her husband's grave was found, and there are plans to repatriate his remains. A related article from August 2, 1995 tells about a ceremony the day before in Arlington National Cemetery in which Capt. John Robertson Dunham's remains were reburied with full military honors. "Nothing more", really?

Another example. Chapter 20, the Glomar Exporer story. The attempt in 1974 to raise a Russian submarine, which--we are told--remained a complete secret from the Soviets until 1992.

Now read the Wikipedia article on Project Azorian, and referenced materials. It turns out the Soviets were aware of a possible salvage operation on K-129 (incidentally, never called Red Star). Glomar Explorer was observed by two Soviet ships. The story was partly leaked in 1975, after which the Soviets connected the dots and posted a warship to patrol the site of the operation.

The way the book presents these stories is definitely more stark and memorable. And yet, it is not the truth. In how many more stories did the author take similar "storyine liberties"? I suspect in a few.

Particularly astounding is the suggestion that Brezhnev was assassinated.
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