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Command and Control [Hardcover]

Eric Schlosser
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 Sep 2013

From famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, comes Command and Control a ground-breaking account of the management of nuclear weapons

A ground-breaking 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? Schlosser reveals that this question has never been resolved, and while other headlines dominate the news, nuclear weapons still pose a grave risk to mankind.

At the heart of Command and Control lies the story of an accident at a missile silo in rural Arkansas, where a handful of men struggled to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States. Schlosser interweaves this minute-by-minute account with a historical narrative that spans more than fifty years. It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policymakers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can't be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Looking at the Cold War from a new perspective, Schlosser offers 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.

Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with men 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. It reveals how even the most brilliant of minds can offer us only the illusion of control. Audacious, gripping and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism.

Eric Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness, as well as the co-author of a children's book, Chew on This. His work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, the Nation, and Vanity Fair. Two of his plays, Americans (2003) and We the People (2007), have been produced in London.

A New York Times Notable Book of 2013

'A work with the multi-layered density of an ambitiously conceived novel'

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

'A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. ... fascinating'

Lev Grossman, Time magazine

[Praise for Eric Schlosser]:

'He tells us things we already suspect to be true, but don't dare think about'

Daily Telegraph

'Eric Schlosser may be the Upton Sinclair for this age ... He has a flair for dazzling scene-setting and an arsenal of startling facts'

Los Angeles Times

'Schlosser's reportage is as good as it gets'

GQ


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (17 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846141486
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846141485
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 14.8 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 110,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

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 (starred))

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

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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How did we get to the 21 Century? 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nuclear Crises 12 Oct 2013
By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
In all walks of life crises occur, the military ones cause extra concern because they have the potential to do immense damage. With the advent of the atomic weapon such crises have, understandably, caused increasing concern. That accidents, near accidents and errors have occurred has beeen known for many years. Flocks of geese, the moon, misreading signals all these and many more have been documented.
Fail safe systems are now, contrary to what critics say, extremely rigorous and designed so as to override human error.

Eric Schlosser has written a very absorbing and well researched book about military nuclear mishaps. It reads like a novel telling the story of some of the 32 official 'broken arrows' thathave taken place since 1950. That is, incidents where nuclear weapons have been stolen, lost or unintentionally fired. Some 6,he says have actually been lost! The author relates a number of other serious incidents that have never been recorded. He argues, not altogether convincingly, that these could have been avoided if lessons had been learned from earlier incidents.
Some of his cases are hair raising, for instance the 1961 incident when a B 52 bomber carrying two thermonuclear bombs each 200 times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb had to eject the bombs by parachute because of a serious fuel leak. Three of the 4 safeguards failed. If the fourth had failed much of the NE of the USA would have been devastated.

Schlosser says we need a nuclear free world. I disagree. In any case you cannot disinvent the nuclear weapon. We certainly ought to reduce nuclear arsenals. Despite reductions in the past 20 years they still represent massive overkill. He appears to favour more missile defence systems. Again I disagree.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'If it can go wrong, it will.' 22 Sep 2013
By Ryan Williams VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The publication of Command and Control was a long time coming - 9 years since Schlosser's last work, Reefer Madness: ... and Other Tales from the American Underground. The weighty volume I hold here (the notes and bibliography alone total 122 pages) make it as blatant as a mushroom cloud that he wasn't idling.

Like Don DeLillo's Underworld, C&C's narrative weaves multiple points of view and real-life testimonies together into a people's history of the Cold War. Unlike Underworld, C&C is not a work of fiction. That point might need repeating. What happens in fiction must always be plausible, true to an ordered sequence of events. What happens in life is plausible only because it happens. How many people would believe a novel in which any of the following happened?

'The BMEWS [radar complex] indicated that the Soviets had launched an all-out missile attack against North America. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were on the phone, awaiting confirmation. The United States had only minutes to respond. [...] A subsequent investigation found the cause of the computer glitch. The BMEWS site at Thule had mistakenly identified the moon, slowly rising over Norway, as dozens of long-range missiles launched from Siberia.'

'The Mark 6 was a large weapon, about eleven feet long and five feet in diameter, and as Kulka tried to peek above it, he inadvertently grabbed grabbed the manual bomb release for support. The Mark 6 suddenly dropped onto the bomb bay doors, and Kulka fell on top of it. A moment later, the eight-thousand-pound bomb broke through the doors. Kulka slid off it, got hold of something in the open bomb bay, and held on tight. [...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If I knew then what I know now !! 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 nave. 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Unlikely to be Kindled worst luck!
A must read. Schlosser is a bit of a misanthrope by avoiding public contact, but this book is a tour de force. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Richard Styles
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read, but didn't grab me
Eric Schlosser's books are always beautifully researched and this one is no exception. I think in this case the subject matter didn't grab me as much as Fast Food Nation, but if... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Nick Singleton
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and thought provoking.
Detailed, fascinating and chilling. The minute by minute developments during an accident at a missile silo is used to illustrate the danger of 'normal accidents' in complex and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Steve Adams
5.0 out of 5 stars Nuclear testing damaged the Ozone layer
If you want to get into the minds of the military this is recommended reading. It might be worth noting that accidents are much more common in countries like India, Pakistan, Iran... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nicholas Burden
1.0 out of 5 stars No bang for the bucks.
I've never said this before: sadly this is the dullest book I have bought and tried to read for at least 20 years. Read more
Published 3 months ago by M. May
5.0 out of 5 stars Ace, Unputdownable!!!!!!!
A brilliant book that will keep you entertained to the last page. A must read for fans of "nuclear history."
Published 3 months ago by JapB
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a wonder we are here today
The Cold War was completely based on symbolic logic. This book exposes the not only the risks taken on our behalf, but the history of the bomb and the strategy behind it, at least... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Martin Veart
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book
I consider this a very important book detailing the incredible unbelievable madness which our governments still adhere to. Read more
Published 4 months ago by A Consumer Esq
5.0 out of 5 stars food for thought
I like books like this that deal with topics relating to what were secrets but now as facts come to light its clear that there was more going on when we were growing up than we... Read more
Published 4 months ago by david
4.0 out of 5 stars a sobering read
Well written, thoroughly researched and authoritative.
At places there's a little too much detail (time to practice your speed reading). Read more
Published 5 months ago by jim
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