The US-Soviet arms race, told through the story of a colorful and visionary American Air Force officer—melding biography, history, world affairs, and science to transport the reader back and forth from individual drama to world stage.
"Compulsively readable and important.” —The New York Times Book Review
In this never-before-told story, Neil Sheehan—winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award -- details American Air Force officer Bernard Schriever’s quest to prevent the Soviet Union from acquiring nuclear superiority, and describes American efforts to develop the unstoppable nuclear-weapon delivery system, the intercontinental ballistic missile, the first weapons meant to deter an atomic holocaust rather than to be fired in anger.
In a sweeping narrative, Sheehan brings to life a huge cast of some of the most intriguing characters of the cold war, including the brilliant physicist John Von Neumann, and the hawkish Air Force general, Curtis LeMay.
The military-industrial complex proves an unlikely arena for plucky individualism in this history of the men who built America's intercontinental ballistic missile program in the 1950s and '60s. Sheehan paints air force Gen. Bernard Schriever and his colorful band of military aides, civilian patrons, defense intellectuals and aerospace entrepreneurs as a guerrilla insurgency fighting Pentagon red tape, and a hostile air force brass, led by Strategic Air Command honcho Curtis LeMay, who advocated megatonnage bomber planes over ICBMs. Sheehan gives a fascinating run-down of the engineering challenges posed by nuclear missiles, but the main action consists of bureaucratic intrigues, procurement innovations and epic briefings that catch the president's ear and open the funding spigots. Like the author's Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning A Bright Shining Lie, this is a saga of underdog visionaries struggling to redirect a misguided military juggernaut, this time successfully: the author credits Schriever's missiles with keeping the peace and jump-starting the space program and satellite industry. Sheehan's focus on personal initiative and human-scale dramas lends an overly romantic cast to his study of cold war policy making and the arms race, but it makes for an engrossing read. 16 pages of b&w photos.