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

4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  3,633 ratings  ·  586 reviews
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 ex
Hardcover, 656 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Penguin Press (first published October 1st 2009)
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The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard RhodesDark Sun by Richard RhodesAmerican Prometheus by Kai BirdCommand and Control by Eric SchlosserPlutonium by Jeremy Bernstein
History of the Nuclear Age
4th out of 110 books — 27 voters
The Goldfinch by Donna TarttLife After Life by Kate AtkinsonTenth of December by George SaundersA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony MarraThe Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2013
65th out of 100 books — 632 voters

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Community Reviews

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I have not stopped talking about this book since starting it. I am disappointed that nobody in my immediate circle are interested. In a world where people are happy to live and act like cattle, can you blame the big guns (no pun intended) for gambling with our lives?

I would like to bake a tray of muffins for Schlosser. I appreciate his work at personal level for putting together something so immaculate and readable.


Dr. Strangelove justly remains a true cornerstone of satire in film for many reasons, but a chief among them is the absurdity of its subject matter, and its roots in an uncomfortable truth. The sheer destructive potential of nuclear arsenals could be unleashed by an individuals' lunacy or accident. This book is about the latter.

This book has two interwoven narratives - the first is about a specific accident at an Arkansas nuclear silo in 1980, but also the history of nuclear accidents and disast
I have a fascination with the history of the US atomic weapons program, based not on the macabre destructive power of those weapons, but on the combination of brilliant minds, difficult problems and absolute secrecy. So this book scratches an itch of mine.

Command and Control is a sobering look at the failures of the Atomic Age - accidents, careless errors and bureaucratic mishaps involving devices that could level a city. Some of them came very close. One accident in particular provides the narr
This book was an interesting but ultimately slightly boring look into America's nuclear weapons and how close they are to destroying all of us. Ben really highly recommended this book, so perhaps my expectations were too high, but I did find the technical descriptions to go on (and on) just a little too long. And though Schlosser is often talking about life-and-death scenarios, his descriptions are often bloodless, erring on the side of being technically perfect but then ultimately losing a sens ...more
Jim Leckband
As a lapsed physicist I still retain some notions that I learned along the way. One of them is that nature tries its hardest to smooth over any huge discontinuities - i.e if there is something totally out of whack with its surroundings, then the surroundings will find one way or another to bring it back. Some call this the Second Law of Thermodynamics if you wanna get technical.

And this notion is what kept popping up in my head while I was reading this incredible book. Here we have machines of i
Peter Mcloughlin
A socket falls on the skin of a Titan II missile which carries in its warhead a 9 Megaton H-bomb (the largest bomb in the U.S. working arsenal). The punctured missile in Damascus Arkansas starts leaking fuel unknown to the operators. This study of one of hundreds of Normal Accidents during the cold war involving nuclear weapons is a tale about the men and women who risked their lives and sometimes died working with these weapons. The combinations of human error, glitches , miscalculations and t ...more
One of the main takeaways from Eric Schlosser's riveting, smart, packed-with-crazy-facts-and-stories portrait of the atomic/nuclear era, mostly in America but obviously also including the Soviets, NATO, India, Pakistan, China, et al, is this: we were fucking lucky as hell to get out the Cold War alive. That no atomic then nuclear then thermonuclear warhead denoted by mistake in its home silo / submarine / airplane / airbase; that none were launched by accident on either side, provoking massive r ...more
Wow. Really? Oh my God. Holy shit! Those were a few of the many exclamations that came from me as I read this book. And my poor husband had to endure listening to me read passages from this book as he was trying to fall asleep. I grew up during the cold war and had nuclear nightmares from the '60's through the mid-80's. At some point I convinced myself that the world was safer and that I didn't need to worry about nuclear war anymore. This book has convinced me otherwise. It has also convinced m ...more
jeff wong
I thought I knew a lot about nuclear weapons and the how the Cold War worked, strategies, delivery systems, and crises. But this book really shows how disorganized it all was, from the interagency infighting to the inherent conflict between weapons that are safe from accidental or malicious use and weapons that will go off (if needed). We take it for granted that nuclear weapons are designed not to go off if dropped or burned (when planes crash while carrying bombs), but they had to be designed ...more
Scott Wilson
This is one of those books in which every page seems full of information -- never too much at a time, though, and not just data or raw facts. A broad plurality of voices, from interviews the author conducted as well as from his careful distillation of seemingly every source available (almost 150 pages are devoted to endnotes), conveys both big-picture policy and idiosyncratic detail over every generation of the nuclear age. There's a narrative through line, and there is even suspense -- at least ...more
Rob Adey
This is a book about the many, many times the world has come *this close* to nuclear armageddon and somehow, Eric Schlosser has managed to make it a really boring one.

It's crushed by the weight of its own research - I'm all for underground silos, but I don't need to know what colour all the walls are painted.

Human interest is injected via tiny, CV-like biogs. Those of the accident victims end with the age of their wife and the number of kids they had - presumably there's a formula you can use to
Todd N
How many ways are there to mishandle a nuclear weapon? Turns out about a million: Drop them from planes, crash them in planes, catch them on fire, put them in planes and catch them on fire, leave them on top of missiles about to explode, park them at a NATO ally with an unstable government and one lone soldier armed with a revolver guarding them, forget to take warheads off the missiles and fly them across the USA, have random criticality accidents in the nuclear lab, just to name a few...

And ho
Probably the best argument for the existence of God that I have ever read... that is, it seems vanishingly improbable that the litany of catastrophic near-misses described in this book *never* destroyed civilisation, or at the least several medium-sized cities in Texas and North Carolina. Sheesh. Like one source quoted in the book says, divine intervention seems like the most likely explanation.

It was also sobering how much of the technological infrastructure of the 21st century was driven by th
Mary Storm
I am just starting, only on page 100, but this is hair raising; not only because of the near disasters, but also in the descriptions of dangerous and insanely expensive materials. The thought of how much tax money went into these engines of destruction is almost as appalling as the idea of their use. Update: The book is over-long and often repetitive in that annoying "History Channel" style, but interesting nevertheless. It just needed a ruthless editor. There is often the impression with this t ...more
Bryan Alexander
Dropping a nuclear weapon was never a good idea. (168)

Command and Control is a far more interesting book than it may seem. At first glance Schlosser's topic is fairly technical, even rarefied: safety problems for atomic weapons during the Cold War. And yet I* couldn't put the book down without a struggle, and read parts of it out loud to my family.

What makes this book so good? To begin with, Schlosser creates a nice narrative structure, intertwining two timelines, big and small. The macro story
Michael Flanagan
This book left me gobsmacked on just how close we came to a nuclear accident taking out a fair chunk of humanity, and we are only talking about from the US side of the Cold War. Eric Schlosse's books takes a look at the nuclear arms race and the controls and structure put in place around the use and storage of the weapons.

This book had me shaking my head in disbelief so much I ended up with a sore neck. In a brillinat piece of writing the author delivers history of the highest level. There is no
Around 6:30pm on September 18, 1980, two missile technicians were servicing a Titan II ICBM in a silo in rural Arkansas. As one of them was unscrewing an oxidizer pressure cap with a socket wrench, a socket fell off the wrench and dropped through the gap between the missile and the work platform; falling about 70 feet, the nine-pound socket bounced off the thrust mount platform, hit the missile and punctured its skin, causing a leak of rocket fuel. Incompetent management of the emergency by Air ...more
Command And Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
Eric Schlosser
Read it in Hardcover at an investment of 640 pages thick with it.

Browsing the book bin at Costco is dangerous, especially when you walk out the door with a 640 page tomb. None the less this was excellent and consumed it greedily.

"They are out there, waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial - and they work." - Schlosser

Command and Control looks at the events leading to the creatio
Seems nearly impossible that the country/world survived the '60s given the enormous piles of nuclear weapons produced, the completely primitive and accident-prone controls on them, and the often hostile geopolitical environment. This is a really well researched and dramatically effective book which not only recounts one of the most egregious near misses of nuclear weapon accidents (Damascus, AK in 1980 when a TItan II nuclear missile exploded in its silo due to a tiny human error) but also the h ...more
Philip Hollenback
Hey, do you like being terrified? Are you the sort who obsesses about armageddon? Then boy howdy do I have a book for you.

It's pretty close to just dumb luck that a nuclear weapon has never exploded accidentally. Schlosser does a hell of a job of describing the various near misses and accidents that have occurred with nuclear weapons in the past 70 years or so. He also explains a great deal about the culture that surrounds the production and storage of nuclear weapons in the US and how that has
I first heard about this book at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, a few days after j and I visited Los Alamos, which is one the strangest places I've ever been. My dad has also been giving me all sorts of information about the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, since he lives relatively close to Japan. So, I've kind of been obsessed with nuclear science and history for the last six months.

This book is really fascinating and tremendously important, and I high
Sean O'Hara
As an army brat I've always found it odd how Americans view the military as a bunch of uber-competent and noble professionals. Uh-uh. No, no, no. The military is made up of a bunch of dorks who couldn't think of anything better to do after graduating high school or college. Putting them in a uniform and giving them basic training doesn't change that. Trust me here, I watched my dad and his friends drop water balloons from an 11th floor balcony and get into drunken silly string fights. Dorks. Esp ...more
A fantastic and frightening account of our nuclear armament situation. The fact we haven't blown up the world accidentally is shocking and Schlosser shows exactly how close we have come (many times over). A required read for anyone interested in the Cold War or systematic failures of the government.
Scott Rhee
Eric Schlosser, who exposed the fast food industry for the totally unsafe and unhealthy obesity-causing multi-billion dollar lobbying group that it is in his book "Fast Food Nation", turns his sights on the frightening issue of nuclear weapons and our country's nuclear arsenal in "Command and Control", the title of which is meant to be ironic, as any sense that we have of a command and control over these weapons is strictly an illusion. It has been a blend of the thankless dedication and hard wo ...more
This is one of the most highly readable books on nuclear command and control you'll find anywhere. Open this book and read about an Arkansas accident that could have set off a warhead that would have killed untold numbers of American civilians.

I didn't detect an overt political theme here. The book's message seems to be that human fallibility is ever with us, and that's certainly true of those who work with the nation's nuclear arsenal. You will never again stand naively under an open sky and l
For those who like very scary horror stories, you can do no better than reading about the real history of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, and all the things that can go and have gone wrong (or perhaps worse, can go right). As Schlosser says, if you think having some 3,000 Americans killed as they were on 9/11 was bad, contemplate the possibility of having at least half a million killed not even in a war but in an accidental nuclear detonation.

This story uses a 1980 accident at the missile silo
This is a complete history of the nuclear weapons program including specific examples of accidents related to nuclear weapons. This really is everything you wanted to know about the subject and I wish it could have been condensed to about half of its size. But this is a topic that very few people really know well and I was amazed to learn about some of the nuclear mishaps that have actually happened. There have been many nuclear weapons accidents since the advent of the nuclear bomb. Yet, as the ...more
If you are a child of the cold war or perhaps were a SAC veteran (I am both), then this book really is a must read for you. If you have any interest in the history of nuclear weapons development or how we decided to deploy and safeguard nuclear weapons - again, a must read.

The book takes the story of a key mishap (The Damascus Incident) and uses it as a framework to tell the story of atomic/nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project up until today. I found it absolutely fascinating and chilling.
Command and Control reads very much like a thriller mixed with the history of America's nuclear program. The thriller part describes the very real-world situation surrounding a Titan II missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas. Due to a combination of issues, a disaster unfolds in the complex, potentially imperiling the lives of not only the missile crews, but the surrounding counties due to the nuclear missile. The Damascus narrative is bracketed by historical context about the nuclear program in the ...more
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Eric Schlosser is an award-winning American journalist and author known for investigative journalism. A number of critics have compared his work to that of Upton Sinclair.

Schlosser was born in Manhattan, New York; he spent his childhood there and in Los Angeles, California. His father, Herbert Schlosser, a former Wall Street lawyer who turned to broadcasting later in his career, eventually became
More about Eric Schlosser...
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“When news of the false alarm leaked to the press, the Air Force denied that the missile warning had ever been taken seriously. Percy, who later became a Republican senator from Illinois, disputed that account. He recalled a sense of panic at NORAD. A subsequent investigation found the cause of the computer glitch. The BMEWS site at Thule had mistakenly identified the moon, slowly rising over Norway, as dozens of long-range missiles launched from Siberia.” 1 likes
“Dropping a nuclear weapon was never a good idea.” 1 likes
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