Command and Control

Command and Control

Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

Book - 2013
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The New Yorker
"Excellent... hair-raising ... Command and Control is how nonfiction should be written." (Louis Menand)

Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America's nuclear arsenal. 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?  That question has never been resolved--and Schlosser reveals how the combination of human fallibility and technological complexity still poses a grave risk to mankind.  

Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas 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. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering 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.  At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States.   

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.  Through the details of a single accident, Schlosser illustrates how an unlikely event can become unavoidable, how small risks can have terrible consequences, and how the most brilliant minds in the nation can only provide us with an illusion of control.  Audacious, gripping, and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism, an eye-opening look at the dangers of America's nuclear age.

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

Financial Times
"So incontrovertibly right and so damnably readable... a work with the multilayered density of an ambitiously conceived novel… Schlosser has done what journalism does at its best."

Los Angeles Times
"Deeply reported, deeply frightening… a techno-thriller of the first order."
Publisher: New York : The Penguin Press, c2013.
ISBN: 9781594202278
Branch Call Number: 363.1799 SCH
Characteristics: xxiii, 632 p. ; 25 cm.


From the critics

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Jul 19, 2016

Originally, after having read this book I wasn't planning on commenting, but since ISIS is now only 70 miles away from 50 B-61 nuclear bombs [Incirlik Air Base, Turkey] and those bombs are ostensibly guarded by the home country [Turks] and Erdogan is an Islamic extremist and has seen fit to fire thousands of secularists at various levels, this book is much, much more important at the moment!

Jul 10, 2016

This is brilliant! It's the best non-fiction book (perhaps the best book overall) I read in 2013.

PimaLib_ElizabethT Jul 06, 2016

Dull cover. Terrible title. It's almost 500 pages long. Why am I recommending this book? Because it's really good. You wouldn't believe that the history of nuclear weapons could be interesting. And not just interesting, but fascinating! The number of near misses and accidents is incredible and alarming. It's amazing we didn't nuke ourselves dozens of times. So grab a copy and dive into the Damascus Accident: a dropped socket that punctured the fuel tank of a Titan II missile. Buckle Up!

Nov 07, 2015

A fascinating account of a bad accident interleaved with the politics of nuclear deterrence. Anyone who has worked with a large complex organisation will recognise the scenario.

The frightening thing is the Soviet Union was almost certainly more dangerous.

The more frightening thing is that the weapons are now being held by India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and Iran, none of which inspire confidence in their safety and/or command and control measures.

The book is spoiled by the annoying style of not really having end notes. There is nothing in the text to indicate an end note, but there is a table in the back which has a crude method of referring back to the text.

If you think it is important enough to note - DO IT PROPERLY!

Jul 08, 2015

I found the storytelling of the incident sometimes a little too disjointed (which I suppose might be forgiven given the complexity/chaos of the situation), but the book does a good job providing an overview of the development of nuclear weapons, the often haphazard deployment thereof, the appalling war-fighting strategies of nuclear conflict, and above all, the far too many accidents, near-misses, and close calls involving these horrendous weapons. The world truly has been lucky. One comes away from this reading convinced that atomic arsenals around the world need to be drastically reduced and soon.

Jan 01, 2015

This is two books mushed up together: control of individual nuclear weapons and an accident at a missile silo. Each chunk breaks the last apart and the immediacy of the writing makes it worse. A totally frustrating read - I ended up dropping it and checking Google on the missile accident outcome.

Dec 09, 2014

Basically an "Everything you want to know about nuclear weapons but were afraid to ask" with an exciting narrative with respect to a Titan II missile exploding in its silo near Damascus Arkansas. This is well written and well researched. An excellent read.

Nov 07, 2014

Totally in keeping with Schlosser's reputation for readable, intensely-researched work. I found jumping back and forth to the Damascus storyline mostly effective, though not always. Spooky and memorable with an ending that....yeah.

Apr 27, 2014

Americans, more brash than competent, play with fire, glory, again, despite apocalyptic consequences, and will not desist from endangering the world with hubristic annihilation, shame, and ever shame

Jan 25, 2014

Amazing read. Hard to fathom the level of incompetence and grappling within the mighty American war machine. I enjoyed the split between the politics and the Damascus accident.

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Oct 23, 2013

Ronald Reagan, despite all his tough rhetoric, had long harbored a fear of nuclear war.

Oct 23, 2013

In many ways, denying the safety problems made them worse.

Oct 23, 2013

The strategic implications of the missiles meant less to President Kennedy than the intangible threat they posed.

Oct 23, 2013

A nuclear war can not be won and must never be fought.

Oct 14, 2013

Political concerns, not strategic ones, determined how manylong-range, land-based missiles the United States would build.

Oct 14, 2013

Training in SAC was harder than war.

Oct 14, 2013

You've got to kill people and when you kill enough of them, they stop fighting.

Oct 14, 2013

As far as I am concerned war itself is immoral.


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