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Command and Control Hardcover – 17 Sep 2013

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Hardcover, 17 Sep 2013
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (17 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846141486
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846141485
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 250,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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. (John Lloyd Financial Times)

Command and Control is how non-fiction should be written ... 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 (New Yorker)

The strength of Schlosser's writing derives from his ability to carry a wealth of startling detail on a confident narrative path (Ed Pilkington Guardian)

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 (Walter Russell Mead New York Times)

Reads like a thriller ... A fascinating read and a gripping one (Justin Webb)

My vote is for Eric Schlosser's Command and Control. Do you really want to read about the thermonuclear warheads that are still aimed at the city where you live? Do you really need to know about the appalling security issues that have dogged nuclear weapons in the 70 years since their invention? Yes, you do. 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 (Jonathan Franzen Guardian, Books of the Year)

Read Eric Schlosser's Command and Control, and you'll be astonished we've survived the atomic age ... [an] extensively researched history ... a valuable addition to the public record (Patrick Marnham The Spectator)

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. (Associated Press)

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

Deeply reported, deeply frightening ... a techno-thriller of the first order. (Los Angeles Times)

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. (New York Times Book Review)

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. (Mother Jones)

Eric Schlosser detonates a truth bomb in Command and Control, a powerful expose about America's nuclear weapons. (Vanity Fair)

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. (San Francisco Chronicle)

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. (Bloomberg)

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. (Publishers Weekly)

Vivid and unsettling ... An exhaustive, unnerving examination of the illusory safety of atomic arms. (Kirkus Reviews)

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. (Dallas Morning News)

Nuclear bombs must be handled with the proper care, yet that is not always the case. Mentioning harrowing mishaps in the history of the American atomic arsenal, Schlosser singles out one for detailed dramatization, the explosion in 1980 of a Titan II missile. Some airmen were killed and injured, but since the warhead didn't detonate, the safety system appeared to have worked. Color Schlosser skeptical, for, as he recounts this accident, which began with a mundane incident-a dropped tool that punctured the missile-he delves into nuclear weapon designs. Those are influenced by the requirement that the bomb must always detonate when desired and never when not. Citing experts in the technology of nuclear weaponry who have pondered the "never" part of the requirement, Schlosser highlights their worry about an accidental nuclear explosion. Underscored by cases of dropped, burned, and lost bombs, the problem of designing a safe but reliable bomb persists (see also The Bomb, 2009, by weapons engineer Stephen Younger). Well researched, reported, and written, this contribution to the nuclear-weapons literature demonstrates the versatility of Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation (2001). (Gilbert Taylor Booklist)

About the Author

Eric Schlosser is the author of the bestsellers Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mr. D. J. Walford on 27 July 2014
Format: Paperback
Oh my God !! This is an astounding and outstanding piece of work. Eric Schlosser's book is a frightening study of incompetence, negligence and plain, simple stupidity. How on earth the United States government allowed the maintenance of its nuclear defence to get so precarious is unbelievable. I'm stunned we're all still here to find out !!

Schlosser's work is a combination of narrative and analytical history of the United States nuclear weapons programme from 1945, with a concurrent description of a serious incident that occurred in Arkansas during the late summer of 1980. The author describes how the US nuclear plan developed from the initial 'Trinity' detonation in 1945 to the introduction of the multiple war-headed 'Peacemaker' missiles at the end of the 1980s. After the attack on Japan, the United States discovered just how difficult it was to maintain a stockpile of nuclear arms and maintain them in a state of readiness for quick use. Upon asking his commanders how many weapons were available for immediate use during the 1948 Berlin Crisis, President Truman was told bluntly 'None': they simply hadn't been built by the scientists at Los Alamos !!

It gets worse. With the development of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) by General Curtis LeMay during the subsequent two decades, arguments and endless debates arose as to who maintained control of the weapons and determined their ultimate usage in any particular circumstance. President Eisenhower believed it should be the military, Defence Secretary Robert McNamara was adamant it remain under civilian control. In conjunction with this there was to be virtually no co-ordination between the Army, Navy and Air Force in how best to use these weapons in the advent of a new world war.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a compelling read! I didn't like the format at first of, alternate chapters dealing with the Titan 2 silo incident in 1980 as you got into it then was disrupted by historical accounts of how nuclear weapons were developed and the plethora of near misses that occurred with our own (the US) weapons and the military and political strategies, but it keeps you in suspense and educates the reader in the politics of the day and how we got there. I just wanted to read and read. It covers an era in my lifetime and feels so relevant. Areas covered include how close we came to nuclear war through miss understandings and command structure during the cold war, the importance of civilian control over military thinking, the lack of security and safety mechanisms and how improvements have occurred. The most worrying revelations include the reduced safety of weapons in current service which have not been modified..its argued as their would be a reduction in performance.. small price to pay for safety. You don't need a maths or science degree to learn from this work, full of facts. Although this work alludes to the Soviet Union, It would be interesting to see a similar historical account of how the then Societ Union developed and made ready their own nuclear arsenal. As a computer nerd I thought the development of the internet could have been covered in more than one mention of Arpanet... Overall a great work!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Duggan on 23 Feb. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was born in 1958, so I guess I'm a Cold War baby. I can't say I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, but as a teenager, and a young adult I was aware that nuclear oblivion was no more than the push of a button away. I took a history degree, and grew into adulthood as a supporter of nuclear deterrence, I liked the idea that war was so terrible that nobody dared risk starting one, even if peace came at the price of fear and paranoia I thought this was better than the mass slaughter of two world wars. I considered individuals and groups who called for nuclear disarmament to be idealistic, and naïve. Furthermore I never gave a thought to the safety, security, and reliability of the bombs which kept the peace. A hydrogen bomb going off by accident, being pinched by terrorists , or being detonated as a result of a software glitch never occurred to me. Atom bombs were safe, they were fail safe, everybody knew that.
Bloody Hell! was I wrong!!
If Mr Schlosser's book had appeared in 1980 I don't know what it's effect on public opinion would have been, but I am sure that it would have persuaded many people that the gravest risk of nuclear oblivion did not come from superpower rivalry, but from an accident resulting in the detonation of a bomb, or some panic stricken service man launching his nuclear weapons as a consequence of receiving false information. This is the gist of Command and Control, atomic weapons are not safe, the command and control mechanisms which determine their use are not infallible, and this fine book provides dozens of instances where the danger of a nuclear detonation happening was seconds away, and in almost every instance it was a combination of good luck, skill, heroism, and divine intervention that prevented a catastrophe.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By SlosshyDolphin on 20 Mar. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A mix of story of the explosion of nuclear missile silo and a history of the command and control of nuclear weapons and some amazing insite into accidents and near misses (and there have been so many). The book was a little dry at times but very interesting and i could not put it down.
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