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15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation

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3.84  ·  Rating details ·  237 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
Packed with startling revelations, this inside look at the secret side of the Cold War exposes just how close America came to total annihilation

During the Cold War, a flight crew had 15 minutes to get their nuke-laden plane in the air from the moment Soviet bombers were detected?15 minutes between the earliest warning of an incoming nuclear strike and the first flash of
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Paperback, 400 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published January 22nd 2011)
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Nick Black
Jul 23, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oppenheimania
yet another recent example of good research (we hope; read on) and terrible editing in the Custodians of Armageddon genre (see my Oppenheimania bookshelf). there's a tremendous quantity of recently declassified DoD memoranda/letters in here, and while Keeney's rarely really inspired in his explication, he definitely got there the firstest with the mostest. one comes away with at least 3x a Wikipedia-as-of-2011 level knowledge of the various American Air Force nuclear accidents (no coverage of fo ...more
Brendan
This is a book that promises more than it delivers and is somewhat misnamed. A more accurate title might have been: "Strategic Air Command's Preparation for the War It Hoped Never to Fight."

It is a pretty easy read considering the subject matter includes nuclear physics, aeronautics, engineering and military jargon. The subject matter is fascinating, focusing on the amazing development of the Strategic Air Command, which was formed out of nothing following World War II to become the most elite
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Philip Hollenback
Why am I so addicted to reading about the cold war and nuclear weapons? I blame growing up under Reagan.

This book is a real page turner and does a good job of covering the rise of SAC and 15 minute bomber alerts. For most of the second half of the 20th century the US literally had bombers standing by, ready to be off the ground in less than 15 minutes and on the way to destroy life as we know it. The real question to ask is how did we not destroy everything?

One of the stories in this book is the
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Trav
Nov 29, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, airpower, saass, 628
An interesting read that provides a good background to the development of the US nuclear capability generally, and SAC more specifically. The book is let down though by a few simple mistakes made by the author which highlight his lack of attention to detail, and considering that the book is all about the detail, this significantly detracts from the book's appeal.

First off, the book's title is misleading. The book is not about Curt LeMay, it is about SAC. Although Curt LeMay played a vital role i
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Mark
Feb 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very nice broad history of the strategic air command in the days leading up to and throughout the duration of the Cold War. The focus is primarily on bomber forces as that was the primary delivery system of nuclear weapons for the United States. The intercontinental ballistic missiles are only given a very cursory treatment within this history. What the author does particularly well is depict the development in both the number of nuclear weapons the were built and the ever increasing destructi ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
I thought the book was a good history of the Strategic Air Command and an accurate picture of early cold war strategy and logistics. The stories about lost bombs was chilling and the mechanics of armageddon and thinking behind it makes me wonder how we survived that era and what's more will we make it through the 21st century without a nuclear war. The author quotes Stanley Kubrick from shortly after he made the movie Dr.Strangelove saying " I don't think many planets survive their nuclear age. ...more
Paul
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having been a "Cold War Warrior" and stationed at a base with a nuclear mission in the 1980's I found this book both fascinating and informative. Due to recently declassified government documents I was shocked to discover the sheer number of nuclear weapons we had on stand-by during the height of the Cold War and how close we came to disaster when bombers carrying these weapons crashed, seemingly on a frequent basis. There were parts of our nuclear deterrence program I didn't even know existed, ...more
Ilya
Jan 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is an old joke that the best way to ensure traffic safety is to equip each car with a sharp spike in the steering wheel, which would pierce the driver's chest in case of an accident; it will make him drive very carefully indeed. This was also the logic of nuclear deterrence between the two Cold War superpowers: in situations when two Great Powers of centuries past might have come to blows, the United States and the Soviet Union abstained for fear that a war would turn into an exchange of h ...more
Bubba
Mar 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great recount (by year) of progress toward thermonuclear bomb development as well as overhead bomber coverage during the cold war.
Steven Kaminski
Nov 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really compelling book that gets into the creation of SAC...the Strategic Air Command which is responsible for the US response to a potential nuclear strike.

- After WW II the US really had to figure out how to handle Russia which became the cold war. But it also had to handle who was to control the atomic weapons, where would they be stored, who took care of them. And what ended the war quickly became a huge policy problem.

- The idea of the Strategic Air Command was really just a breezy idea unt
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Bking
Apr 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John
Apr 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review is based on the Kindle edition that I read on my iPad.

This is a very good history of the development of SAC under Gen Curtis Lemay in the late 40s and through the 50s. It is told as a series of vignettes, but they do hold together very well, allowing you to follow the growth and development of SAC and its nuclear capability. I found that one of the most interesting things was how amateurish and “by the seat of your pants” things were during SAC’s early history. But as things grew, an
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Chris
Jun 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and occasionally terrifying book covering the US nuclear effort from 1946 - 1969. The book is written in anecdotes, usually 2-3 paragraphs each, explaining the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the growth and decline of the US bomber fleet, the high number of lost bombs, the rise and fall of SAC, and the technology behind deterrence. Poignant sections focus on the grossly underestimated explosion and radioactive fallout from the Bravo shot in Bikini atoll; and the poor planning and c ...more
Chris
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book. If you ever wondered how devistating nuclear war in the 50s and 60s would have been, check this book out. It focuses primarily on Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command, but it also mentions other nuclear shenanigans the US got involved in, including exposing its own troops to large doses of radiation because of simple errors, jettisoning nulear weapons onto American civilian areas (some of which are still unrecovered) and more.

The style can be a bit disconcertin
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Joe
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: 15 and up.
I received this book from the Goodreads Firstreads program.

15 Minutes is possibly one of the most important books I have read in a long time. The book chronicles the history of the Cold War, SAC and the atomic bomb from after WWII until the late 1960's. After reading these histories I find it amazing that the human race still exists. From lost (and never found) nuclear bombs to scares with the USSR it seems there are many times that we could have blown the planet to pieces. Thankfully cooler hea
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Lee
Subtract half a point for writing style, and obvious attempts to create "The Real Story Behind..." by spending multiple chapters, and sections of other chapters, on topics involving oversights and errors, such as the Texas Towers and the Eniwetok bomb tests. These were important events, but do they rate this much coverage and detail? The ending was rather abrupt, jumping from 1969 to 1992 in a paragraph, and then straight to the epilogue.

The writing style that nags at me is his constant use of r
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Lee
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
15 Minutes is a narrative of the Cold War, deterrence, near misses, disasters and unsung heroes. The book is a series of anecdotes and vignettes arranged in chronological order. From the formation of the USAF in 1947 to SAC's dismemberment in 1991.

Some of the things covered in the book are:
• Over two thousand loaded bombers that crossed American skies. They sometimes crashed and at least nine times resulted in nuclear weapons being accidentally dropped.
• A plan to use dry lake beds to rebuild a
...more
Bonnie_blu
Mar 03, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
3.5 Stars. Keeney's tale of the nuclear arms race of the 50s and 60s is, at times, both fascinating and terrifying. Unfortunately, his writing style and factual errors (e.g., calling Edward Teller "Edwin Teller") detract from the story. In addition, he jumps around in time, and the tale would have been better served by being told in chronological order so as to consistently increase the tension. Also, he includes incidents and persons that have nothing to do with the heart of the story. Neverthe ...more
Bruce
Much of my life has been lived during the "Cold War". My Vietnam service qualified me for the "Cold War" medal that was instituted after the Cold War. Thus I found this work extremely informative,with interesting details that had heretofore been classified. In the rush to defend against perceived vulnerabilities mistakes were made. I would also note that members of Congress were not above editing comments made by witnesses during hearings. Written on a chronological basis with short vignettes, t ...more
Len Svitenko
Aug 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a great look at the Atomic buildup from after World War II to Vietnam. Having family in the Air Force at that time I felt like I was reading the history of my father and uncle. Enjoyed every page.
Jeffrey Young
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding

Extremely readable, highly detailed, and fascinating. A great book for people who lived through the Cold War. LeMay is almost a side character to the H bomb in the book.
Dave Jones
This is a very interesting historical record of recently declassified stories of the lost of nuclear weapons and the drive to 15 minute alerts and the destruction of Texas Tower 4. Having worked at STRATCOM for a time, this is good context for the "SAC' frame of mind.
Dan Ward
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was a slog. The facts were interesting but the way they were presented was very hard to follow. I would love to read the same book after if it were really written in chapters.
Dave Hoff
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
SAC needs 15 minutes to retaliate if Russia launches it's Nuclear attack on the US. The Cold War from 1945 to 1991 build-up, Prop planes to Missiles.Civilian spotters to the DEW line.
Scott Baumgartner
Excellent perspective of nuclear proliferation and Strategic Air Commands role in the cold war. Good insight regarding Curtis Lemay's leadership.
Keith
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting. I had no idea we had actually detonated bombs to get them off of distressed aircraft. The near-explosions from crashes were even scarier.
Lynda
I won this on Goodreads Firstreads. This was very interesting and at some times shocking book, worth the read!!
Timothy West
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Engrossing (factual) story; really weird style.
Doug Preece
rated it really liked it
Oct 22, 2012
Bob Nitkowski
rated it it was amazing
Mar 09, 2016
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