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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nuclear Crises
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...
Published 14 months ago by Dr Barry Clayton

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars scary reading
I enjoyed the book, it makes for a shocking story that makes anyone over 40 feel lucky to be alive. That said it's a bit of a slog and the main disaster story is too heavily punctuated with additional facts and accident references to read well.
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nuclear Crises, 12 Oct 2013
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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. These are prohibitively expensive and can easily be swamped.

Where I do share his concern is regarding the possession of nuclear weapons by states such as Pakistan, countries that is that are politically unstable, and where terrorists could seize these weapons and use them to blackmail others. At the moment perhaps a little fanciful, I fear not 20 years from now.
Preventing proliferation is a very, very difficult task. We avoid asking the key question, namely, why is it permissible for the US, Russia, GB, Israel, France and others to have these terrible weapons but not Iran and N Korea? I know of nothing in International Law that prevents such proliferation.

A fascinating and important book that deserves widespread attention.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If I knew then what I know now !!, 23 Feb 2014
By 
M. J. Duggan (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Command and Control (Hardcover)
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.
This is an excellent book, and I would recommend it to anyone. It handles the big picture of international power politics, and the details of the operation and maintenance of nuclear arsenals against that backdrop without becoming confused or mired down in too much technical detail. Mr Schlosser has done a great deal of research ,and leg work, as the huge list of notes, and long bibliography it contains attest. He handles the scientific, and technical details easily and makes them comprehensible to the lay reader. And he never forgets that this is a human story, with its heroes and villains, thankfully mostly heroes, such as men willing climb into the cockpit of burning bombers loaded with live nukes, or men risking their careers to highlight failings in the design, or security of nuclear weapons.
It's hard to put this book aside without the uneasy feeling that we survived the Cold War more by luck than good judgement.
Lastly the short final chapter which brings the story up to date is truly scary, the risk of nuclear Armageddon between the USA and Russia now seems highly unlikely, but the risk of nuclear weapons being used is increasing as more countries covet them. The world seems less safe than it did twenty years ago, The Middle East, Asia, and the former Soviet Union all offer potential flash points for open war. Many of the nations in these regions have the bomb, or are hellbent on getting one. It's a frightening conclusion to a worrying story. Nuclear weapons still pose the gravest and most immediate danger to human civilisation, and they aren't going to go away any time soon.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How did we get to the 21 Century?, 20 Mar 2014
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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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'If it can go wrong, it will.', 22 Sep 2013
By 
Obelix (Ancient Gaul) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Command and Control (Hardcover)
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. [...] Neither the pilot nor the co-pilot realised the bomb was gone until it hit the ground and exploded.'

'Russian Nuclear forces went on full alert. President Boris Yeltsin turned on his "football", retrieved his launch codes, and prepared to retaliate. After a few tense minutes, the warning was declared a false alarm. The weather rocket had been launched to study the aurora borealis, and Norway had informed Russia of its trajectory weeks in advance.'

When Schlosser identifies the theme of his book as 'human fallibility', you feel it may go down in history as one of the most chilling understatements of the early 21st century. It's a worthy reminder of the danger of nuclear weapons, especially for a generation that wasn't alive when the Berlin Wall fell.

One of Schlosser's strengths as a writer is his refusal to accept stereotypes, received wisdom. One of his enduring fascinations is just how improbable human beings are. Contradictions abound and multiply like bacteria. President Eisenhower, the former World War 2 general who spent a total of 40 years in the US army, cut its budget by more than one fifth of its funding and one quarter of its troops. The pacifist Bertrand Russell fervently believed the US should annihilate Russia with a pre-emptive strike before it could develop its own nuclear weapons. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, as President Kennedy worried how best to deal Russian missiles deployed only miles away from the US mainland, Russell sent him a telegram reading as follows: 'Your action desperate. Threat to human survival. No conceivable justification. Civilised man condemns it [...] End this madness.'

There's more. The first atomic bomb wasn't completed in a top-secret installation, or even in a laboratory: it was finished in the master bedroom of a ranch house, with the windows sealed with masking tape and a car running metres away outside. Many of the scientists who helped the US build the first atomic bomb weren't psychopathic villains but refugees from Nazi Germany, convinced, with excellent reasons, that Adolf Hitler would build one first. The amount of uranium-235 that turned to pure energy and killed 80,000 people in Hiroshima weighed less than a dollar bill. A good fact or a true story is worth pages of exposition; Schlosser organises his wealth of both with admirable concision and readability.

I have one complaint, though, in that I would have preferred a more strictly chronological approach to the material. If a summary of Bill Clinton's time as governor of Arkansas is essential to your narrative, it's best put in the section concerning a nuclear-near miss in that state, not just before the Korean War is about to start. The focus, at thankfully rare times, blurs as a result.

That aside, this is a strong contender for non-fiction work of the year. Schlosser's former teacher, the unequalled John McPhee (and author of The Curve of Binding Energy), should be proud.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable... simply unbelievable..., 27 July 2014
By 
Mr. D. J. Walford (Lancashire, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Command and Control (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. Some Soviet targets were to be hit at the same time, some not at all. Inter-service rivalry was clearly operating at an unbelievable level and hampering the development of a clear strategy.

The nuclear strategy of the United States is also analysed... and heavily criticised. As mentioned there was precious little inter-service co-operation in the event of maximising damage upon the Soviets in the event of a confrontation. Eisenhower's idea of 'Massive Retaliation' against any Soviet aggression soon became impractical and a wider range of nuclear options soon developed involving limited war and further led to the development of 'tactical' nuclear weapons. Situations changed, but the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP) never did and it highlighted how vulnerable the US was to the possibility of complete political and military decapitation during a nuclear war. Eventually, the penny dropped and by the time of Reagan's election, the thinkers and strategists were discovering one key aspect of nuclear war: it's un-winnable !! The terrifying descriptions of 'attacks' which turned out to be simple computer faults is unbelievable. Nuclear war was only just avoided on so many occasions... chilling !!

Equally chilling is the amount of accidents that occurred involving nuclear weapons over the years. Some bombs were dropped from air planes, others burned, some melted and a select few blew up !! How the Hell there was not a thermonuclear detonation on the continental United States at some point over time is a complete mystery. There was little command and even less control. Schlosser's detailed narrative of the disaster in Arkansas in September 1980 epitomises the lack of maintenance, training, tolerance and even interest in maintaining the condition of bombs and missiles in storage. Too many accidents were blamed on front line personnel when the generals were the real culprits. This was to be an overhang of the rigid command structure introduced by General LeMay himself.

Schlosser dedicates pages to other serious concerns such as weapons safety, security at US bases in Europe (there wasn't any !!) as well as the surprising amount of drug abuse amongst the staff employed to maintain and guard the bombs and missiles.

This is a very scary, sobering and frightening publication. Very easy to read however and a must for all Cold War scholars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scary stuff!, 11 Aug 2014
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This is a quite amazing collection of episodes which shows how close we were on numerous occasions to having a nuclear device go off accidentally or through sheer incompetence. That nothing did happen is frankly almost unbelievable. The author has obviously spent ages researching the guts of the book and it is so well put together that it makes for an easy and fast paced read. I have a couple of stylistic quibbles which didn't work for me but may not deter others. The first is that the whole story is built around a single incident which gets increasingly fraught as the book goes on. However the device used by the author is to feed each episode into a separate chapter, go over lots of historical information leaving you in suspense for what happens next. This could have worked but for me it over complicated matters. The other, very minor, quibble is that each character gets a brief back story and introduction when we meet them, where the went to school, who their childhood sweetheart was kind of thing. I don't think this added much to the story but I appreciate others may enjoy this sort of thing. Still all in all this is a highly recommended book and you won't necessarily believe what you hear on the news again after reading it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a sobering read, 30 Jan 2014
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Well written, thoroughly researched and authoritative.
At places there's a little too much detail (time to practice your speed reading).
Overall though the book describes a mixture of heroism and the scariest stuff I've ever read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Glad we got through these decades.., 17 Nov 2013
This review is from: Command and Control (Hardcover)
Well researched, factual, unnerving and "aren't we lucky to still be here".
A bit long winded at times. Should be widely read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Better than a threller!, 26 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Command and Control (Paperback)
Command and Control by Eric Schlosser. Published by Penguin Books

I think this book qualifies as the best thriller I have ever read - and it's all true!

The author takes the story of the 1980 accident in the Missile Launch Complex 374-7 in Arkansas. Around that story he weaves an enormous amount of information about the US Air Force Missile Command, its missiles and its command and control structures.

Launch Complex 374-7 was a Titan missile launch silo. The Titan was, by the time of the accident, the only liquid fuel rocket left on the inventory. The USAF leadership were reluctant to give them up, in spite of their known problems. Why? Because the Titans carried a nine megaton warhead - the heaviest the US possessed. It had a range of 6,000 miles.

On 18 September 1980 a technician, working partway up the rocket in its silo, dropped a wrench. The wrench bounced and hit the side of the rocket damaging the fuel tank and causing a leak. What happened as a result of that leak is the story that runs like a thread through the book.

But that story isn't the only thing in the book. At various points in the story, Eric Schlosser breaks off to write about the USAF Missile Command, its history and its structures. As the book proceeds it becomes clear that the accident wasn't a one off. Quite to the contrary, it fits seamlessly into a history of accidents and near disasters that bedevilled the USAF's nuclear armed forces.

Growing up as a teenager in the 1960s, like many other people I worried about the possibility of something accidentally triggering a nuclear war. When President Kennedy was shot I was at a boarding school in East Anglia, in the UK. All that night we could hear bombers from the nearby US air bases taking off, circling and landing. Reading this book makes me feel my fears were not overblown. Things were at least as bad as I feared, if not worse!

This book should be read not just by ordinary people, but by politicians and aspiring politicians. It's easy to brandish the war rhetoric when you don't know what's involved. Less so when you have some idea of the history of such things.

The book is over 600 pages long, and seems like a pretty comprehensive account of the problems with having nuclear weapons ready to go at a moment's notice. What it doesn't cover is accidents and near disasters that happened while manufacturing the things. Judging from the occasional stories I read in the press about the cleaning up of old nuclear weapons manufacturing sites, they don't seem to have been all that safe either. Perhaps there's material for another book there!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Commanding Read. Don't Miss It., 23 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Command and Control (Paperback)
This is one of the most gripping and informative books I have ever read.

It's not just an enthralling history of the development of nuclear weapons, it's a deeply researched and most evocative account of a serious nuclear accident that could well have been an enormous disaster. The scenes evoked are vivid and sometimes frightening. The tales of sheer courage, moral and physical, on the part of those involved in the big picture and in the nuclear accident, which is so well described, are humbling, to put it mildly.

And the tales of those involved in the big picture of nuclear weapons' development who were moral cowards, fools, liars, bigots and pompous humbugs are no less illuminating. What were we all living with, in these awful days? ---- and what might we be living with, right now, in this new age of confrontation?

I served in a nuclear missile regiment in Germany, a long time ago. Little did I know I was living a lie.
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