The New Yorker
“Excellent... a hair-raising, minute-by-minute account of an accident at a Titan II missile silo in Arkansas, in 1980, which [Schlosser] renders in the manner of a techno-thriller… 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Eric Schlosser uses an accident at an Arkansas nuclear weapons facility to tell a larger story about America’s atomic age. Keen descriptions and expert reportage reflect the storytelling chops that made Fast Food Nation a hit.
In 1980 in rural Damascus, Ark., two young Air Force technicians (one was 21 years old, the other 19) began a routine maintenance procedure on a 103-foot-tall Titan II nuclear warhead armed intercontinental ballistic missile. All was going according to plan until one of the men dropped a wrench, which fell 70 feet before hitting the rocket and setting off a chain reaction with alarming consequences. After that nail-biting opening, investigative reporter Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) goes on to tell the thrilling story of the heroism, ingenuity, mistakes, and destruction that followed. At intervals, he steps back to deliver an equally captivating history of the development and maintenance of America's nuclear arsenal from WWII to the present. Though the Cold War has ended and concerns over nuclear warfare have mostly been eclipsed by the recent preoccupation with terrorist threats, Schlosser makes it abundantly clear that nukes don't need to be launched to still be mind-bogglingly dangerous. Mixing expert commentary with hair-raising details of a variety of mishaps, the author makes the convincing case that our best control systems are no match for human error, bad luck, and ever-increasing technological complexity. "Mutually assured destruction" is a terrifying prospect, but Schlosser points out that there may be an even more frightening possibility: self-assured destruction.
Complex Broken Arrow at Titan Launch 374-7
Excellent book. Very well written and researched. The jumping around the main story was a little much. I can also speak to the excellent description the author gave to the Damascus accident, along with other accidents involving nuclear weapons. When I think of this accident; my mind still goes back to the phone call I received in the middle of the night with the words “Complex Broken Arrow at Titan Launch 374-7”. I had no idea where this was but, as the Operations Officer for the USAF Contamination Disposal Team we were activated to deploy to the accident location ready to cleanup any nuclear contamination. Luckily by the next day it was determined we need not deploy, since the warhead was relatively intact. The author was correct that until that time there was not a complete list of accident/incidents. There were reports filed but a list was never complied. I was tasked to compile a list of all accidents and incidents which was completed and forwarded up the chain of command.
I can't say I agree with the author's politics, but this is an excellent work describing the evolution of nuclear weapons. I have some personal knowledge of the accident in Damascus, Arkansas and the author did an excellent job of accurately describing the event and the major players who were participating in the efforts to avert the explosion that occurred.
This book has very interesting, thoroughly researched information. But I found the way it jumped back-and-forth between stories and topics to be extremely distracting. Ultimately, it was frustrating and just not very enjoyable to read as a result.