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

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  10,070 ratings  ·  1,274 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 expl
eBook Kindle, 640 pages
Published September 17th 2013 by Penguin Books (first published October 1st 2009)
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Start your review of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is the stuff of nightmares.

You no doubt assume, for your own peace of mind, that the potentially world-ending weapons in the United States' nuclear arsenal have always been carefully controlled, guarded and implanted with the best safeguards available. That they have been obsessively tracked by the military, and subjected to the strictest controls imaginable. That at all times they have been handled with the fear and care that city-vaporizing ordinance is due.

Your assumption is incor
Sep 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Maru Kun
A psycopathic narcissist whose past crimes are about to catch up with him is being blackmailed by a foreign dictator.

His friends and allies have turned on him one by one; his family hates him for making them risk jail for him. The rest of the world has its eye off the ball as people start to relax and enjoy the holiday season.

He feels increasingly isolated. In a few short months he may have to face great public humiliation. He will be forced to confront his own inadequacy, haunted by the demons
Rob Adey
Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
3-3.5 stars.
What to say? Mostly, I'm dumbstruck that the US and USSR didn't accidentally blow up the planet using nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The author describes:

-Several accidents and sometimes deaths of air crews or maintenance personnel when handling nuclear weapons during testing or transport, over a 40-ish year period;
-The culture of the Strategic Air Group (SAC) that didn't appreciate the lack of safety in the weapons' designs and actively fought against implementing changes to d
Oct 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Just how close has the world come to nuclear armgeddon? and how many times?

Schlosser can help if you have ever wondered this question. He spares no detail. It's an exhaustive history, with emphasis on the exhaustive. Schlosser's work is impeccably researched - swaths of history, from Trinity through the Cold War, the nuclear armament, the political dance, the Bay of Pigs, Chelyabinsk, Reagan's Star Wars, etc etc etc - spliced with the details leading up to the incident at the Air Force facility
Peter (Pete) 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
Oct 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: война
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
Todd N
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
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
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Scott Wilson
Oct 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Neil Fox
Eric Schlosser's " Fast food Nation" was a hilarious and scary expose of the McDonald's fast food culture in the U.S.; Command and Control is a similarly impressive feat of investigative journalism, although here the subject matter is not so light-heartedly amusing and is infinitely more terrifying than tales of unhealthy burgers produced in unsustainable conditions served up by exploited sweat-shop workers to an army of the obese. For here the topic is nuclear weapons, offering a look at someth ...more
Feb 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nuclear war is a very important topic and Schlosser delivers a well researched entertaining history from the angle of nuclear weapon safety. It's like a whole book about penicillin that only covers its side effects. That approach works in this case because the long list of hair-raising near misses, any one of which could have killed millions of people, is fascinating. Of course, a mistaken bomb detonation in the wrong place wouldn't just kill a lot of people near the bomb, it would start World W ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
‘Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety” should be required reading for everyone - not that I believe much can be done now to fix the dangers of nuclear weapons everyone in the world lives with. However, most of us are completely ignorant of the thin line of safety between all life on Earth and the one weapon of mass destruction which actually IS a current threat to all of Mankind. This book goes a long way towards rectifying that ignorance.

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
Nov 19, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Antonio Nunez
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having read Schlosser’s Junk Food Nation, and having thought it excellent, I decided to pick up Command and Control as a follow-up to Rhodes’s The Making of the Atom Bomb. Although Rhodes’s book was a towering achievement, I must say I enjoyed Schlosser’s much more: while rigorous and very well researched it is also less hard to follow for a lawyer with limited scientific understanding. Command and Control is a terrifying book. Nowadays (or at least until November last year) it is fashionable to ...more
Jose Moa
Sep 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nuclear-war
A book full with a lot of information about the command and control subject of nuclear weapons,the evolution of nuclear weapon design from the primitive canonball design,the implosion design with explsive lenses til the multiestage Teller Ulam design of a nuclear Litium-Deuteride fusion bomb and a extensive histhory of the cold war from the USA point of view.
Narrate the decision of drop the fission bombs in Japan,the narrow histhoric window when it seems that the nuclear weapons could be banned
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
It is a miracle that the world has avoided an accidental nuclear explosion. The risk of that has been greater than the risk of nuclear war. This is the kind of book that will keep you up at night. The story of the Damascus incident is interwoven with the development of nuclear weapons and all that it entails. These are the most deadly weapons that humanity has created. How are they managed? Command and Control seeks to answer.

The instances when nuclear war starting by accident has been averted,
Chris Fellows
Oct 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 highly r
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This has nothing to do with the book, but it has the worst book cover I’ve ever seen.

If any book will make a person anti-nuclear weapons, this one will. The reader will get through this book wondering how a nuclear weapon has not gone off accidentally yet, or on purpose. This is a mind blowing book about the proliferation of nuclear weapons since the first one was set off. Who has heard of the for-real “Davy Crocket Nuclear Rifle” that was around in the 50’s? I think that nuclear weapons were a
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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

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21 likes · 8 comments
“Green had been amazed by their discovery: you could break into a Titan II complex with just a credit card. Once the officers showed him how to do it, Green requested permission to stage a black hat operation at 4-7—an unannounced demonstration of how someone could sneak into the launch control center undetected. SAC had a long history of black hatting to test the security at its facilities. Black hat teams would plant phony explosives on bombers, place metal spikes on runways, infiltrate a command post and then hand a letter to the base commander that said, “You’re dead.” 4 likes
“Right now thousands of missiles are hidden away, literally out of sight, topped with warheads and ready to go, awaiting the right electrical signal. They are a collective death wish, barely suppressed. Every one of them is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder. They are out there, waiting, soulless and mechanical, sustained by our denial - and they work.” 3 likes
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