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Customer Review

on February 13, 2011
At first, I found the organization of "15 minutes" to be a little off putting--especially in the early going, the author describes a series of seemingly unrelated events in short, jarring paragraphs, many of which end in a somewhat melodramatic one-word teaser. Keeney does this to set up several different stories at once, which is why you'll wonder why the second paragraph in the chapter on "1945" is about the development of offshore oil and gas drilling in Louisiana in 1907 (it makes sense eventually).

I suspect the book's style owes a lot to Keeney's experience with television documentary (he's a co-founder of The Military Channel), and it actually works fairly well as the book builds momentum. If the book's thesis is that things had to happen at a faster and faster pace to preserve a credible strategic deterrent, the book's short, punchy paragraphs do an efective job of conveying the sense of urgency that must have pervaded SAC for nearly forty years.

"15 Minutes" tells several intertwined stories in parallel, each of which is interesting in its own right: the founding, growth and eventual demise of the US Strategic Air Command (SAC) (which dissolved on June 1, 1992); the development of the hydrogen bomb, the sometimes disastrous outcomes of nuclear "shots" and the surprisingly frequent near-detonation or loss of armed nuclear weapons (including one still missing near Savannah, Georgia); the deployment of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line and associated deep water radar facilities, one of which was destroyed by a rogue wave that killed its crew in January 1961; the ruthless but effective vision of General Curtis LeMay, who created a force so demanding and disciplined that "[n]ot for the thinnest fraction of a second did Washington or Moscow ever doubt that his SAC would do what it said it could do" (p.320); and the descent of SAC into irrelevance as a strategic deterrent, as more and more nuclear weapons were deployed on missiles and SAC assets were "degraded" to drop "iron bombs" on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

All in all, "15 Minues" is a pretty gripping narrative of the Cold War, deterrence, near misses, disasters and unsung heroes. Although there are a few jarring errors in the text, this is only a minor distraction from an otherwise well-told story that does a great service to the men and women who succeeded, against the odds, in keeping the Cold War cold.
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