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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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Los Angeles Times
“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.”
About the Author
Eric Schlosser is the author of The New York Times bestsellers Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and The Nation.
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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. I hope we, as a nation, never forget what they did that night while the nation slept, unaware of the risks those men were taking. I hope their families will have an even greater appreciation for what they did to try and save a resource as well as each other's lives. Finally thank you Eric Schlosser for getting it right and Chuck Wilson for the countless hours he spent with me fact checking.
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.
The book does an excellent job of documenting in super detail just how close this country has come to having accidental multi-megatonnage thermonuclear weapons blasts. After reading this book, I feel that one day a thermonuclear weapon with be accidentally discharged, even with the extra layers of safety that have been added over the decades. I will read this book again, to better absorb the information Mr. Schlosser so painstakingly researched and documented.