Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

4.5 41
by Eric Schlosser, Scott Brick
     
 

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A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons

Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that

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Overview

A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons

Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear age: How do you deploy weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them? That question has never been resolved—and Schlosser reveals how the combination of human fallibility and technological complexity still poses a grave risk to mankind. While the harms of global warming increasingly dominate the news, the equally dangerous yet more immediate threat of nuclear weapons has been largely forgotten.

Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a historical narrative that spans more than fifty years. It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policy makers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can’t be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering history from the ground up, telling the stories of bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other ordinary servicemen who risked their lives to avert a nuclear holocaust. At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States.

Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with people who designed and routinely handled nuclear weapons, Command and Control takes readers into a terrifying but fascinating world that, until now, has been largely hidden from view. Through the details of a single accident, Schlosser illustrates how an unlikely event can become unavoidable, how small risks can have terrible consequences, and how the most brilliant minds in the nation can only provide us with an illusion of control. Audacious, gripping, and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism, an eye-opening look at the dangers of America’s nuclear age.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Audio
12/01/2013
Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) presents an unsettling summary of 70 years of the development and management of American nuclear weapons. This chilling, gripping story is ripe with scary accounts of how American scientists, engineers, military officers, and policymakers have struggled to ensure that the U.S. thermonuclear arsenal cannot be stolen, sabotaged, used without authorization, or inadvertently detonated. Schlosser digs deep into declassified documents and interviews with men who designed and routinely handled nuclear weapons to present a suspenseful tale that will wake up anyone with the reality that many times the world has come close to nuclear disaster. Schlosser's central story reveals recently declassified details regarding the unknown 1980 near-disaster in a Titan II missile silo near Damascus, AR. Schlosser also examines antinuclear foreign policies, analyzes the operational processes of nuclear missiles and warheads, and reveals personal stories of U.S. bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance workers, and ordinary servicepersons. Schlosser's timely work arrives as the nation becomes aware of the recent shake-up of high officials in the air force with responsibility for the U.S. nuclear arsenal. His latest titles is similar in approach to works on the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis (Michael Dobbs's One Minute to Midnight; Don Munton and David A. Welch's The Cuban Missile Crisis) and the April 1986 Chernobyl disaster (Zhores Medvedev's The Legacy of Chernobyl; Marcia Amidon Lusted's The Chernobyl Disaster). Scott Brick narrates with the appropriate gravitas. VERDICT Highly recommended for all libraries, especially university collections. ["This is a welcome addition to a field dominated by books by nuclear weapons and strategy experts. It will appeal to a general audience as an engrossing read about Cold War history as well as to those interested in nuclear weapons and U.S. national defense policy," read the starred review of the Penguin Pr. hc, LJ 9/15/13.]—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
The New Yorker - Louis Menand
…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.
From the Publisher
***A New York Times Notable Book of 2013***

Time magazine:
 “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.”

Associated Press:
“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.”

Financial Times:
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 Guardian:
“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.”

Mother Jones:
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.”

 Vanity Fair:
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.”

Bloomberg:
“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.”

TIME Magazine - Lev Grossman
A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. … fascinating.
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.
Mother Jones
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.
Library Journal
★ 09/15/2013
Best-selling author Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) explores the history of America's attempts to make its nuclear weapons available for the purposes of deterrence while still safely storing them. The record, according to Schlosser, is very mixed, with thousands of minor to major accidents over the past 60 years. He recounts the major accident involving an armed nuclear missile silo in Damascus, AR, in September 1980, to show how complicated systems involving human actors inevitably fail and can easily result in catastrophe. Basing his conclusions on extensive interviews with those involved in the Damascus incident and many others, as well as on recently declassified records, Schlosser emphasizes that the U.S. military's demands for reliable nuclear weapons have prevailed over the concerns of weapon designers and civilian leadership about the need for safe weapons storage that would ensure low risk of accidental detonation. While Americans found intentional nuclear war a frightening prospect during the Cold War, accidental nuclear disasters were an unrecognized danger. VERDICT This is a welcome addition to a field dominated by books by nuclear-weapons and strategy experts. It will appeal to a general audience as an engrossing read about Cold War history as well as to those interested in nuclear weapons and U.S. national defense policy.—Mark Jones, Mercantile Lib., Cincinnati
Kirkus Reviews
The chilling, concise history of America's precarious nuclear arsenal. Investigative journalist Schlosser's (Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, 2003, etc.) vivid and unsettling treatise spreads across a 70-year span of the development and control of nuclear weaponry. At the core of the author's scrutiny is the suspensefully narrated back story of the Arkansas-based Titan II military missile silo. A disastrous mishap in 1980 involving an accidentally punctured fuel tank caused a near-detonation and collapse of the missile, killing a young repairman and sparking an investigation into the hazardous nature of all military nuclear armaments. Schlosser frames this incident around four decades of the Cold War, the Eisenhower and Truman administrations, the Cuban missile crisis, the bravery of servicemen like Gen. Curtis LeMay, and the eerily accurate predictions and statistical determinations of nuclear strategist Fred Iklé. Testimony from a massive list of scientists and engineers further elucidates what Schlosser considers to be the nation's perpetual military defense conundrum: "the need for a nuclear weapon to be safe and the need for it to be reliable." Throughout, he chillingly extrapolates the long-standing history of nuclear near-misses with the engagement of a fiction writer. He also examines the heavily endorsed anti-nuclear foreign policies proselytized by politicians and probes the operational processes of nuclear missiles and warheads, though the specter of decimation at the hands of a weapon of mass destruction looms over each chapter. With this cautionary text, Schlosser, who pinged processed food and the underground economy onto America's cultural radar, succeeds in increasing awareness for more stringent precautions and less of the casual mismanagement of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, he respectfully memorializes those Cold War heroes (and countless others, like nuclear weapon safety lobbyist Bob Peurifoy) who've prevented nuclear holocausts from being written into the annals of American history. An exhaustive, unnerving examination of the illusory safety of atomic arms.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143145011
Publisher:
Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/17/2013
Edition description:
Unabridged, 9 CDs, 11 hours
Pages:
1
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 5.70(h) x 2.15(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

On September 18, 1980, at about six thirty in the evening, Senior Airman David F. Powell and Airman Jeffrey L. Plumb walked into the silo at Launch Complex 374-7, a few miles north of Damascus, Arkansas. They were planning to do a routine maintenance procedure on a Titan II missile. They’d spent countless hours underground at complexes like this one. But no matter how many times they entered the silo, the Titan II always looked impressive. It was the largest intercontinental ballistic missile ever built by the United States: 10 feet in diameter and 103 feet tall, roughly the height of a nine-story building. It had an aluminum skin with a matte finish and U.S. AIR FORCE painted in big letters down the side. The nose cone on top of the Titan II was deep black, and inside it sat a W-53 thermonuclear warhead, the most powerful weapon ever carried by an American missile. The warhead had a yield of 9 megatons—about three times the explosive force of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War, including both atomic bombs.

Day or night, winter or spring, the silo always felt the same. It was eerily quiet, and mercury vapor lights on the walls bathed the missile in a bright white glow. When you opened the door on a lower level and stepped into the launch duct, the Titan II loomed above you like an immense black-tipped silver bullet, loaded in a concrete gun barrel, primed, cocked, ready to go, and pointed at the sky

The missile was designed to launch within a minute and hit a target as far as six thousand miles away. In order to do that, the Titan II relied upon a pair of liquid propellants—a rocket fuel and an oxidizer—that were “hypergolic.” The moment they came into contact with each other, they’d instantly and forcefully ignite. The missile had two stages, and inside both of them, an oxidizer tank rested on top of a fuel tank, with pipes leading down to an engine. Stage 1, which extended about seventy feet upward from the bottom of the missile, contained about 85,000 pounds of fuel and 163,000 pounds of oxidizer. Stage 2, the upper section where the warhead sat, was smaller and held about one fourth of those amounts. If the missile were launched, fuel and oxidizer would flow through the stage 1 pipes, mix inside the combustion chambers of the engine, catch on fire, emit hot gases, and send almost half a million pounds of thrust through the supersonic convergent-divergent nozzles beneath it. Within a few minutes, the Titan II would be fifty miles off the ground.

The two propellants were extremely efficient—and extremely dangerous. The fuel, Aerozine-50, could spontaneously ignite when it came into contact with everyday things like wool, rags, or rust. As a liquid, Aerozine-50 was clear and colorless. As a vapor, it reacted with the water and the oxygen in the air and became a whitish cloud with a fishy smell. This fuel vapor could be explosive in proportions as low as 2 percent. Inhaling it could cause breathing difficulties, a reduced heart rate, vomiting, convulsions, tremors, and death. The fuel was also highly carcinogenic and easily absorbed through the skin.

The missile’s oxidizer, nitrogen tetroxide, was even more hazardous. Under federal law, it was classified as a “Poison A,” the most deadly category of man-made chemicals. In its liquid form, the oxidizer was a translucent, yellowy brown. Although not as flammable as the fuel, it could spontaneously ignite if it touched leather, paper, cloth, or wood. And its boiling point was only 70 degrees Fahrenheit. At temperatures any higher, the liquid oxidizer boiled into a reddish brown vapor that smelled like ammonia. Contact with water turned the vapor into a corrosive acid that could react with the moisture in a person’s eyes or skin and cause severe burns. When inhaled, the oxidizer could destroy tissue in the upper respiratory system and the lungs. The damage might not be felt immediately. Six to twelve hours after being inhaled, the stuff could suddenly cause headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and pulmonary edema leading to death.

pPowell and Plumb were missile repairmen. They belonged to Propellant Transfer System (PTS) Team A of the 308th Strategic Missile Wing, headquarters was about an hour or so away at Little Rock Air Force Base.

They’d been called to the site that day because a warning light had signaled that pressure was low in the stage 2 oxidizer tank. If the pressure fell too low, the oxidizer wouldn’t flow smoothly to the engine. A “low light” could mean a serious problem—a rupture, a leak. But it was far more likely that a slight change in temperature had lowered the pressure inside the tank.

Air-conditioning units in the silo were supposed to keep the missile cooled to about 60 degrees. If Powell and Plum didn’t find any leaks, they’d simply unscrew the cap on the oxidizer tank and add more nitrogen gas. The nitrogen maintained a steady pressure on the liquid inside, pushing downward. It was a simple, mundane task, like putting air in your tires before long drive.

Powell had served on a PTS team for almost three years and knew the hazards of the Titan II. During his first visit to a launch complex, an oxidizer leak created a toxic cloud that shut down operations for three days. He was twenty-one years old, a proud “hillbilly” from rural Kentucky who loved the job and planned to reenlist at the end of the year.

Plumb had been with the 308th for just nine months. He wasn’t qualified to do this sort of missile maintenance or to handle these propellants. Accompanying Powell and watching everything that Powell did was considered Plumb’s “OJT,” his on-the-job training. Plumb was nineteen, raised in suburban Detroit.

Although an oxidizer low light wasn’t unusual, Air Force technical orders required that both men wear Category I protective gear when the silo to investigate it. “Going Category I” meant getting into a Rocket Fuel Handler’s Clothing Outfit (RFHCO)—an airtight, liquidproof, vaporproof, fire-resistant combination of gear designed to protect them from the oxidizer and the fuel. The men called it a “ref-co.” A RFHCO looked like a space suit from an early-1960s science fiction movie. It had a white detachable bubble helmet with a voice-actuated radio and a transparent Plexiglas face screen. The suit was off white, with a long zipper extending from the top of the left shoulder, across the torso, to the right knee. You stepped into the RFHCO and wore long johns underneath it. The black vinyl gloves and boots weren’t attached, so the RFHCO had roll-down cuffs at the wrists and the ankles to maintain a tight seal. The suit weighed about twenty-two pounds. The RFHCO backpack weighed an additional thirty-five and carried about an hour’s worth of air. The outfit was heavy and cumbersome. It could be hot, sticky, and uncomfortable, especially when worn outside the air-conditioned silo. But it could also save your life.

The stage 2 oxidizer pressure cap was about two thirds of the way up the missile. In order to reach it, Powell and Plumb had to walk across a retractable steel platform that extended from the silo wall. The tall, hollow cylinder in which the Titan II stood was enclosed by another concrete cylinder with nine interior levels, housing equipment. Level 1 was near the top of the missile; level 9 about twenty feet beneath the missile. The steel work platforms folded down from the walls hydraulically. Each one had a stiff rubber edge to prevent the Titan II from getting scratched, while keeping the gap between the platform and the missile as narrow as possible.

The airmen entered the launch duct at level 2. Far above their heads was a concrete silo door. It was supposed to protect the missile from the wind and the rain and the effects of a nuclear weapon detonating nearby. The door weighed 740 tons. Far below the men, beneath the Titan II, a concrete flame deflector shaped like a W was installed to guide the hot gases downward at launch, then upward through exhaust vents and out of the silo. The missile stood on a thrust mount, a steel ring at level 7 that weighed about 26,000 pounds. The thrust mount was attached to the walls by large springs, so that the Titan II could ride out a nuclear attack, bounce instead of break, and then take off.

In addition to the W-53 warhead and a few hundred thousand pounds of propellants, many other things in the silo could detonate. devices were used after ignition to free the missile from the thrust mount, separate stage 2 from stage 1, release the nose cone. The missile also housed numerous small rocket engines with flammable solid fuel to adjust the pitch and the roll of the warhead midflight. The Titan II launch complex had been carefully designed to minimize the risk of having so many flammables and explosives within it. Fire detectors, fire suppression systems, toxic vapor detectors, and decontamination showers were scattered throughout the nine levels of the silo. These safety devices were bolstered by strict safety rules. Whenever a PTS team member put on a RFHCO, he had to be accompanied by someone else in a RFHCO, with two other people waiting as backup, ready to put on their suits. Every Category I task had to be performed according to a standardized checklist, which the team chief usually read aloud over the radio communications network. There was one way to do everything—and only one way. Technical Order 21M-LGM25C-2-12, Figure 2-18, told Powell and Plumb exactly what to do as they stood on the platform near the missile. “Step four,” the PTS team chief said over the radio. “Remove airborne disconnect pressure cap.” “Roger,” Powell replied. “Caution. When complying with step four, do not exceed one hundred sixty foot-pounds of torque. Overtorquing may result in damage to the missile skin.” “Roger.” As Powell used a socket wrench to unscrew the pressure cap, the socket fell off. It struck the platform and bounced. Powell grabbed for it but missed. Plumb watched the nine-pound socket slip through the narrow gap between the platform and the missile, fall about seventy feet, hit the thrust mount, and then ricochet off the Titan II. It seemed to happen in slow motion. A moment later, fuel sprayed from a hole in the missile like water from a garden hose. “Oh man,” Plumb thought. “This is not good.”

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
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)

Time magazine
 “A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. … fascinating.(Lev Grossman)

Financial Times
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 Guardian
“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.”

Mother Jones:
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.”

 Vanity Fair:
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.”

Read More

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