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3.9 14
by Eugene Burdick, Harvey Wheeler

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A gripping novel about a world faced with nuclear disaster, first published in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As more countries develop nuclear capabilities, the issues raised in this compelling thriller are as timely today as ever.


A gripping novel about a world faced with nuclear disaster, first published in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As more countries develop nuclear capabilities, the issues raised in this compelling thriller are as timely today as ever.

Editorial Reviews

Gale Research
Norman Cousins noted in Saturday Review that the novel is "less about an ultimate war between one nation and another than it is about the ultimate war between man and his machines. . . . The book becomes an essay on man--and a powerful one. It indicates that as man has gone up in the order of power he has gone down in the order of control." When Cousins asked the author if this kind of accident was possible, Burdick replied: "I believe it to be inevitable under the present circumstances. That is why [Harvey Wheeler and I] wrote this book. I don't know of a scientist who has a direct knowledge of `fail-safe' who isn't worried."

Product Details

McGraw-Hill Companies, The
Publication date:

What People are Saying About This

Clifton Fadiman
The most exciting novel I have read in at least ten years.
—(Clifton Fadiman)

Meet the Author

Born in Sheldon, Iowa, Eugene Burdick (1918�1965) was a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley. He served as Chairman of the World Affairs Council in San Francisco and as one of the first members of the Society for General Systems Research. He published his first novel, The Ninth Wave, in 1956. He is the author of the best-selling thriller The Ugly American, along with Bill Lederer.

An American author and professor of political philosophy at Harvard and Johns Hopkins, John Harvey Wheeler (1918�2004) is also the author of several fiction and nonfiction books, as well as a founding editor of the Journal of Social and Biological Structures. His books include Rise of the Elders, Lattimore the Scholar, and Democracy in a Revolutionary Era.

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Fail Safe 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
cam152339 More than 1 year ago
Burdick's novel Fail-Safe is a somber reminder of what could happen if computer systems set up by people were to fail. When a low flying commercial plane is flying over the United States, an alert is sent to the control center in Omaha that is stationed 400 ft. underground to avoid nuclear fallout in case of war. Before they know that the plane is friendly, the colonel sends bomber planes to hover over certain places called fail safe points. If there is ever a need for action a red light flashes inside the plane telling to pilots to read the top secret envelopes that have been given to them pre flight. When the computer system fails, a group of planes armed with four nuclear warheads is sent to bomb Moscow, the capital of Russia. This book is extremely suspenseful and will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end. Mtn
regisJL More than 1 year ago
Scary but possible. Having worked in high tech for a long time, I know these complex computer systems have lots of bugs. The bugs usually result from unusual events, but, given time, they show up. That is sort of what happened in the book, which was written in 1964.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LillyParksONBooks More than 1 year ago
A terrifying tale of our world tottering on the brink of a thermonuclear war. Within the SAC command located at Omaha, Nebraska, a mechanical failure occurs that send six Vindicator Bombers; each loaded with 40megaton nuclear bombs, pass their fail-safe point. Their target: Moscow. It's an accident and the generals and even the President tries to recall the bombers, but nothing works. It's a gripping tale and its almost unbearable as time ticks away and then the president must make a decision to stop the Russian retaliation which would surely result in global annihilation. Highly recommend.
0352121 More than 1 year ago
The book was mainly explaining things about each character every chapter towards the end. Some of the character info was not needed because they were not used as much. The book had a good ending, but the reader needs to be able to last through all of the character info to get to the ending that only lasts for about 20-30 pages. Book not recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
When this book originally came out my father was the Base Commander of Offutt AFB, the SAC HQ in Nebraska. I first read it in a serialized version that was published, I believe, in 'Life' magazine. The entire country was mesmerized by the story, with everyone trying to guess the ending. It's an excellent story with character development that is uncharacteristic of the more-recent 'program' novels. A few things have changed, but the book is as relevant now as it was then.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fail Safe was an overall good book. I can't give it an outstanding rating, though, because half the book is entirely character development and exposition. If Burdick and Wheeler (I think Wheeler was the main author after Burdick passed away) had found a way to get the story moving and introduce us to the characters at the same time, it would have been a nearly-flawless book. Forge on past chapter seven--you'll be rewarded at the end of the book. It's Mind-shattering.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fail Safe was written very well and has a good basis for a plot. The one thing i do not like those is the long and tedious to read middle section of this book filled with character description. If you could overlook that the book is okay.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is so good, I couldn't stop reading it. Thhe characters are so real and you can feel the tension. It will keep you thinking for years to come.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found the old 1960s version of 'Fail-Safe' in a box of my dad's old books. I sure am glad I did. 'Fail-Safe' shows that nothing can ever be completely foolproof, but does so in such a riveting way. The story keeps adding new elements as it goes along and has a aurprising ending. I would suggust this book to almost anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a boy in 1964 I first saw the movie version of 'Fail-Safe' but didn't really understand it too well. Ten years later, in high school, I read the book and saw the movie again and came away scared to death. George Clooney's April 9, 2000 live TV movie only made me think that we are all fools if we believe that the Cold War is over. Nine countries either have nuclear weapons or the ability to make them and the strategic balance is shifting with China now having American nuclear secrets that the administration allowed them to have. No system is foolproof. Any one of a thousand or a million things could go wrong and cause a catastrophe like the one portrayed in 'Fail-Safe'. Remember 'Challenger' and 'Chernobyl'. Remember Murphy's Law. in any system, humans are the weakest link. We are still teetering. The Balance of Terror.
T-M-C More than 1 year ago
This book was a bit of a disappointment. It is not quite the "war" book you would think it would be. Almost the entire book takes place in a couple days and deals with characters. At certain points the character development gets very boring. However, you do get a very good sense of who the characters in the book actually are, their thoughts, and reasons behind all of their actions. The book seemed to only begin to climax at the very end, when all of the plot development seems to quickly end in a very odd way. The ending was good, not what you would expect but seemed almost rushed in a way. Over all though, the book was very interesting.
Madison33 More than 1 year ago
This book, while raising questions about our government, was not the fast pace gripping novel it promised. The first 100 to 150 pages were of useless and heavy character background that did not come in handy in the end of the story. However, once the first half or so of the book was done with, the last bit was indeed incredible engrossing but, up until then, it was nothing of the sort. I would not recomend this novel due to the slow build up and useless characters.