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A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon
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A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  534 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon
Hardcover, 560 pages
Published September 22nd 2009 by Random House (first published January 1st 2009)
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This sprawling chronicle is the story of the intercontinental ballistic missile -- its background in the Manhattan project, conception in the first years of the Cold War, creation in the late 1950s, and refinement to terrifying reliability and ubiquity by 1970. The book also covers the earliest years of the American space program, which grew out of military rocketry. The core protagonist is Bernard Shriever, an engineer from Texas who rose to the rank of full general in the US Air Force. Appoint ...more
Jul 15, 2009 Bruce rated it it was amazing
This book fits into a couple of different categories. The subtitle “Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon” leads one in the direction of a biography and it is, in part. However, it is not a single biography as it contains ‘mini’ biographies of several individuals of men connected to the development of the ICBM (both in the US and in the then USSR) and that were connected, directly or indirectly, to General Schriever’s programs and life. These are men one seldom hears of but were crucial to t ...more
Jul 03, 2009 Janene rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads-wins
This was a first reads win!

I brought this book to a very good friend of mine...who reads as much...if not more...than I do. I think he favors biographies. He's in his 80's...and has many, many war stories he loves to share...and some he doesn't talk about. I thought this book would be right up his alley.

I got an email from his wife today....and in part, this is what she had to say:

"Just wanted to tell you that John is really enjoying the book you brought him. I noticed he was on page 60 and as
Charles Matthews
Jul 09, 2010 Charles Matthews rated it liked it
I very much admired Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie, which won him the Pulitzer Prize. So when Random House sent me this review copy I kept it, instead of donating it to the public library the way I do with most of the review copies I'm sent. I don't think it got much review attention -- at least I didn't notice it.

One reason may be that this is a less successful book than A Bright Shining Lie, though it takes the same approach: viewing a major period in American history through the life and wor
Jan 14, 2012 Sky rated it really liked it
This was an amazing (albeit very in-depth) look at the history surrounding the development of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). As a former nuke security officer, I feel like I should have already known this story. It would have given me a much different perspective on the era during which these systems were developed and the philosophy and purpose behind their construction.
G.d. Brennan
Aug 11, 2012 G.d. Brennan rated it liked it
A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, Neil Sheehan's book about American ballistic missile pioneer Bennie Schreiver, evokes memories of past triumphs--both in rocketry and book-length journalism. The development of the Air Force's long-range nuclear missiles during the Cold War has long been obscured by secrecy and bluff and political posturing; still, as a book topic, it seems designed to follow up on Richard Rhodes' highly acclaimed works on the Manhattan project and the subsequent development of the h ...more
Aug 18, 2014 Rick rated it really liked it
“A Fiery Peace in the Cold War” by Neil Sheehan (Random House, 2009) is a fascinating piece of nonfiction that could really have been fashioned as an academic history book – but here is offered as a popular one. Sheehan originally earned his reputation with the Vietnam book “A Bright Shining Lie” and now takes his talent to the subject of the cold war and the development of nuclear missiles.

At the end of World War II Stalin had just finished a brutal slugfest with Germany where some 28 million e
Oct 16, 2014 Scottnshana rated it really liked it
First, the only reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars is its lack of maps; any book discussing the campaign in the Pacific demands this. That being said, I didn’t want to like this book as much as I did; I’m just not a big fan of the Space and Missile culture—in my opinion, checklists and engineers have their place, but given my experience with the aforementioned culture I didn’t expect to find many lessons on war leadership in a book about it. I credit the fact that I did to the fact that each ...more
Sep 22, 2009 thewanderingjew rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Starting with the prologue this book implies to the reader the importance of a military that is innovative and always one step ahead of the game when it comes to all the other players. In the early thirties, America was fairly complacent regarding the development of deterrent weapons. After World War II, the focus changed. We were a superpower. General Hap Arnold believed that as the US emerged as a "predominant power" it would be subject to continuing threats from potential enemies. It would ap ...more
CV Rick
Jun 06, 2010 CV Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book was special for me. It explained a lot about my childhood. My father was in the Air Force, in SAC (the Strategic Air Command), and I lived on SAC bases through the 70's and into the 80's. Some of the characters described in this volume were people I'd met and for me they were just Colonel or General so-and-so. I had no idea that they were playing any more of a pivotal role in the arms race against/with the Soviet Union than any other officer.

So much of what comprised A Fiery Peace in a
Nov 22, 2010 Ed rated it it was amazing
I guess I am still a bit of a military nerd and so I loved this book and read it very quickly. But Sheehan wrote one of the seminal books about Vietnam A Bright Shining Lie and so this is a very interesting probing account of the Cold War through the lens of its main weapons programs. Told by someone who had used access to former Soviet archives by Russian historians to see how much irrational fear of Soviet expansionism existed, along with ignorance of just how evil Stalin had been in the 1930s ...more
Sheehan's magnum opus was 'A Bright Shining Lie', a book that Sheehan admits took him twenty years to write. This book is not on the same level, but it is very good nonetheless. On the whole, I think that the best British writers can outpace American writers, that is my bias. However, Sheehan is a very good non-fiction writer. I was not aware of the significance of General Schreiver before reading this book. Although Gen. Schreiver was in many ways more important, he has been overshadowed by the ...more
Nov 23, 2009 Andy rated it liked it
Sheenan is a wonderful writer, but it’s not easy to draw out a compelling narrative from the biography of a military bureaucrat. Sheenan’s account begins with young Bernard Schriever paying his way through college by playing golf, and when a biography starts on the putting green, that’s a very troubling sign.

Thankfully, the story picks up when Schriever enlists in the military, quickly ascending to the rank of Air Force General, and the book really hits its stride during the later periods of Sch
Rick Saffery
Dec 22, 2012 Rick Saffery rated it really liked it
This book was far more enjoyable than I ever could have imagined. I'm a fan of Mr.Sheehan. Based on his previous efforts, I presumed this book would continue my favorable impression of his writing. For the most part it did. As a veteran, I found comfort in the cold war past this book dredges up. To me the cold war is like a comfortable pair of old slippers or a favorite pair of jeans. Like those clothing artifacts we know we should move on to something new, when the time comes. Yet,we stubbornly ...more
Jan 31, 2010 Randy rated it liked it
I picked this up because Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie" is the best book I've read about the Vietnam war. "A Fiery Peace" is a tougher read. It's the story of a process, the development of our short and long range missile capability which was the result of the arms race of the Cold War. He ties the story to the career of Bernard Schriever, a German immigrant who shepherded the missile program from it's beginning to end and retired as a four star general. Sheehan does a great job of giving mini ...more
Kent Disch
Jul 03, 2009 Kent Disch rated it liked it
I got a copy of this book from the Goodreads "First Reads" program.

The book takes a look at a little known and even less talked about but highly important piece of the Cold War, the development and building of the ICBM.

The book claims to follow this particular storyline through the lens of Bernard "Bennie" Schriever. I say "claims" because throughout the book we get detailed bios and storylines on many of the key players, most of whom were just as important (if not more) than Schriever himself.
Dec 10, 2009 John marked it as to-read
I'm nearly half through this book about the US's development of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). I am a great admirer of Neil Sheehan's writing, especially his masterpiece, "Bright Shining Lie." I can't say that "A Fiery Peace" is any less well researched, written, etc., etc., and I'm glad to be reading it. I'll be more glad when I finish it. It simply lacks the passion that reverberates through "Shining Lie" from first page to last. For one thing, there are no real heroes and ther ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Dec 02, 2009 Bookmarks Magazine rated it liked it
Shelves: jan-feb-2010
Critics considered General Schriever's story an important chapter in U.S. history but were somewhat disappointed that A Fiery Peace did not rise to the level of the award-winning A Bright Shining Lie. Some shortcomings are inherent in the subject matter, given that bureaucratic struggles lack the excitement of the battlefield. However, critics also questioned Sheehan's decision to center the larger history on a single character—a technique that served him well with the charismatic Lt. Col. John ...more
Zach Thibodeau
Jun 03, 2011 Zach Thibodeau rated it liked it
I enjoyed it, the journalistic writing style of Sheehan is well crafted, interesting, and an excellent example of narrative history. The story was good. Bernard Schreiver is a figure I had never heard of before reading this book, and I had no idea the impact of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. The world was so damn close to mutual destruction. The Cold War is an incredible subject, and I look forward to teaching it to my students and continuing to read about it.

On critical issue in the w
Nate Huston
Jan 12, 2013 Nate Huston rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it. Great story of innovation in the Air Force and some important lessons to be learned. Technology is by no means an independent force, propelling the military down a path of innovation. Rather, as this book shows, a guiding hand is needed. Sheehan tells the story of that guiding hand, portraying Schriever as a highly-skilled systems engineer that provided the impetus behind the development of the ICBM.

The book is immensely readable, does not get too technical, and does a very nice job o
Scott Martin
Nov 26, 2010 Scott Martin rated it really liked it
This is a much a biography as history. From my perspective, I did learn a great deal about the role and importance of the ICBM to America's overall deterrence posture during the Cold War. Schriever is certainly a major player in the USAF, and even sorting through the overall positive review of his actions in the view of the author, Schriever was certainly as big a player in the USAF as LeMay (who is also a major player in this book, but as much a villan as a power player (LeMay was an advocate o ...more
May 01, 2010 Lucas rated it really liked it
Curtis LeMay is the villain in this book, but there wasn't a lot of closure to his character. Did he accept the supremacy of the ICBM over the strategic bomber eventually? I think his presence in the book is important- there's a common one-dimensional acceptance of whatever technology the most prominent hawk is promoting must be best for national defense, but the the missile gap would have been very real and dangerous for the U.S. if LeMay had been allowed to sideline the ICBM and IRBM projects ...more
Dermot Nolan
Jan 28, 2014 Dermot Nolan rated it liked it
This is something of a lament for the Babyboomers and the Cold warriors. Which is something that is less apparent in a bright shining lie. I have to say whilst I enjoyed the book, it has fallen into the casual reading section of my library as it seems to be light reading and seems to lack a critical edge.

I think part of the problem here is that Sheehan in his research had become friends with Schriever. And this informality pervades the work. I feel however that it would make a useful starting p
Apr 08, 2014 John rated it it was amazing
Very readable. Details the technical development of the USAF and SAC as well as the intense 1950s inter-service rivalries that were, at the time, counter-productive. Half way through it kicks up a bit with the development of the IRBM and ICBM, ending with the Minuteman system. Schriever comes across as the supremely skilled, personable and organizational minded genius who dialed the cold war up to 11 through his missile work, without even really considering the implications of it. LeMay comes ac ...more
Oct 12, 2009 David rated it liked it
I don't know what to say. This is the story of humanity's rapid acquisition of the ability to eliminate itself by the push of a button. To Sheehan, Bernard Schriever is the hero of this story. OK, whatever. For the computer scientist, the prominence of Johnny von Neumann as another hero may pique your interest. He is a perfervid advocate, lending his great mind and prestige to the cause. Moreover he wanted to let loose his destructive forces on the Soviet Union under the doctrine of "preventativ ...more
Jan 29, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it
This is a really well written history of the birth of the nuclear airforce from WWII until the end of the cold war. Sheehan tells the story of General Bernard Schriever, the man most responsible for the development of the ICBM, a weapon conceived to prevent nuclear war. Sheehan covers a lot of history, both on a personal level and a geopolitically. Some of the players on this stage: Eisenhower, Stalin, Khrushchev, Kennedy, and Castro. Anyone interested in the cold war, the start of the space rac ...more
Dan Ward
Oct 23, 2014 Dan Ward rated it it was amazing
A really fascinating history of how the ICBM was developed and how the race with the Russians was won. Starting from the close of World War II there was a furious race between the two super powers to effectively deploy nuclear weapons. Bennie Schriever sounds like an absolutely amazing person with skills to manage an incredible effort like this. The Minuteman missle system and its build in redundancy was fascinating to learn about.
Jun 10, 2015 Jonathon rated it liked it
Overall a great book. It provided a different prospective on the Cold War. It dealt with the fabled "missile gap" and how we had to beat the Soviets at all costs. Schiever was a genius and the father of the ICBM program we still use to this day.
Jul 19, 2017 Paula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard to give a 5 star to such a detailed, factual non-fiction book, or I would have. Very informative though more detailed than I really need. Also, the narration was exceptional- just matter-of-fact with no emotional interpretation by the narrator, which is how I prefer audiobooks. Let me interpret for myself, as I would have to do with a written version. I find frightening all the mishaps that took place with nuclear weapons that were due to human error. But for want of a nail....
Jul 25, 2011 Michael rated it liked it
Sheehan is a great writer and "A Bright Shining Lie" was a phenomenal book, but I had mixed feelings about this one. It is a very comprehensive history of the development of the ICBM program and much of it makes for compelling reading. As he did in "A Bright Shining Lie," Sheehan uses one person as a centerpiece for the story and the individual here is Bernard Shriever, who might well be called the father of the ICBM program. Many others contributed greatly, and their stories are told as well. I ...more
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Cornelius Mahoney "Neil" Sheehan is an American journalist. As a reporter for The New York Times in 1971, Sheehan obtained the classified Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg. His series of articles revealed a secret U.S. Department of Defense history of the Vietnam War and led to a U.S. Supreme Court case when the United States government attempted to halt publication.
He received a Pulitzer Prize
More about Neil Sheehan...

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