Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

Eric Schlosser. Penguin Press, $36 (640p) ISBN 978-1-59420-227-8
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. Agent: Tina Bennett, WME Entertainment. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/15/2013
Release date: 09/17/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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