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Command and Control Hardcover – 17 Sep 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 138 customer reviews

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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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 298,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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)

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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was expecting to enjoy this more than I did. There's a lot of interesting material presented in here, but the way it's presented I think is not ideal. There is the main "story" of one specific Titan II accident in Arkansas which is weaved through the entire book, interspersed with smaller anecdotes of other nuclear accidents AND a fairly exhaustive history of US nuclear weapons policy and politics. The result to my mind is a book that is disjointed and at times a bit of a slog. There are so many names and characters to remember from the main Arkansas story, that each time I was taken away from it for 20 or 30 pages to explore some bit of policy history from a different era, when I came back to the story I couldn't remember who was who or where they were (which is critical because there are literally dozens of people in this story who move around from place to place over the course of the emergency).

At the same time the parallel history about weapons policy and protocol - which branch of the executive or military had control of the weapons, who could issue the launch order, how those orders were ratified, what safety measures were in place around protocol, what safety devices were put on the weapons - the exhaustive and detailed history of all these things, and the political back-and-forth that went around it, is honestly pretty overwhelming and dull at times.

I learned quite a bit about the ancient history of command and control of US nuclear weapons but there's virtually nothing at all about the past 25 years and so the whole thing feels like an interesting but slightly irrelevant historical document, even though weapons proliferation and the threat of these weapons being used by non-state actors is greater than ever before.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Got this for my uncle for christmas many moons ago, heard great stuff and he said he loved it. I did wrap it in tinfoil which I did get moaned at about though, but that's not the book's fault (i think)
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellently written and researched, could not put it down. Written in such a way as to be not only accessible but also enjoyable even with no great interest in the subject matter.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Reads like a novel. Excellent account of events that I lived through but didn't appreciate at the time the risks that the world was facing.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Brilliantly written. Fascinating!
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By Dr Barry Clayton TOP 500 REVIEWER on 12 Oct. 2013
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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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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