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The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  1,117 ratings  ·  201 reviews
Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Non-Fiction

From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, the first insider exposé of the awful dangers of America's hidden, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that is chillingly still extant

At the same time former presidential advisor Daniel Ellsberg famously took the top-secret Pentag
Kindle Edition, 424 pages
Published December 7th 2017 by Bloomsbury Publishing (first published December 5th 2017)
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Don Dennis I would say it is suitable for a reader of any age, if they feel drawn to read it. I wouldn't assume that a young teenager has not the depth of…moreI would say it is suitable for a reader of any age, if they feel drawn to read it. I wouldn't assume that a young teenager has not the depth of perception to find this book compelling, though I would not expect the average 13 or 14 yr old to wish to read it. Is it a book for 14 yr olds? No, it was not intended as such. But I wouldn't prevent a 14 yr old from picking it up.(less)
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Feb 27, 2018 marked it as wish-list  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Bob H

Description: From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the awful dangers of America’s hidden, fifty-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day.

When former presidential advisor Daniel Ellsberg famously took the top-secret Pentagon Papers, he also took with him a chilling cache of top secret documents related to America’s nuclear program in the 1960s. Here for the first time he reveals the contents of those documents, and makes clear their
Bill Rasche
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Remember Daniel Ellsberg from the Watergate era? His book will freak you right on out when you discover just how close we came to a nuclear holocaust more than 50 years ago. Spellbinding!
May 22, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
————————THE BASICS————————

Ellsberg was a member of the RAND Corporation, and who worked for the White House. He was the main whistleblower and leaker of the Pentagon Papers, which revealed things the US had done/was doing during the Vietnam War (not what they told America they were doing).

He also had another batch of classified papers on nuclear war policy that he planned to release after the Pentagon Papers had a chance to reach the American public through the media. However, he never had a ch
Mal Warwick
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
In the closing scene of the classic 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Major T. J. "King" Kong straddles a nuclear bomb as it soars down onto the Soviet Union while the World War II hit song We'll Meet Again blares in the background. Major Kong is the commander of a B-52 bomber sent to attack the USSR by the deranged general Jack D. Ripper—and the protocol will not permit the President of the United States to recall the plane. When the bomb explodes, ...more
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extremely interesting, often illuminating, disturbing book, marred only by a certain naïveté expressed by Ellsberg’s concluding optimism, such as it is.
Michael Frank
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finished on the same day as the Hawaii ICBM alert.

Every adult needs to read this book and put pressure on Congress to reduce our On Alert Nuclear status. .. below is a quote from Kruschev a few years after the Cuban missle crisis.

“When I asked the military advisors if they could assure me that holding fast would not result in the death of five hundred million human beings, they looked at me as though I was out of my mind, or what was worse, a traitor. The biggest tragedy, as they saw it, was n
Sean Wilson
This is probably one of the most important books I'll ever read. I'm sure other reviewers have said the same. Daniel Ellsberg is one of my heroes. Apparently this book was rejected by over ten different publishers due to its content matter. That's very understandable, as 'Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner' is incredibly disturbing and sometimes too truthful. You won't see the world the same way again once you finish this powerful treasure trove of information.
Bob H
This is a frightening story of the US nuclear war policy from the 1950s on, by someone who was a witness (at RAND) and a participant. Daniel Ellsberg was privy to the secret war planning at that time, which apparently is still largely in place. The film "Dr. Strangelove" turns out to be uncomfortably close to true life, he says.

We find out that:

- there really was a doomsday machine, of sorts: in the US, a single plan for nuclear war, triggered by any use of nuclear weapons, tactical or strategic
Erin Carrington
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a rollercoaster. And by rollercoaster, I mean only the part where you're slowly click-clacking your way further and further up toward impending doom. And, while you're making your way up there the person next to you leans over and tells you that your best friend killed your cat because she's actually a homicidal lunatic.

But, really, this book is phenomenal as a historical record, a dire warning to humanity, and a call to action. My only hesitation in recommending it to others is th
This book will interest general readers as well as subject matter experts, including students of bureaucratic politics.

The title derives from the classic film, Dr. Strangelove. Ellsberg demonstrates that Stanley Kubrick got some things right and some things wrong in his movie, although in both respects things in the late 1950s and early 1960s were much, much worse than the disaster depicted on screen. One of the things Kubrick got right was the problem of a "doomsday shroud." In reality, it wasn
Charles Gonzalez
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I wasn’t expecting to give this book a 5 star rating - I started it on the basis of the title , taken from the work of Herman Kahn , and its author , the celebrated source of the Pentagon Papers. While I had an inkling of Ellsberg’s history in intelligence matters I really had no idea of the depth of his experience and knowledge as it related to nuclear planning. The man is a veritable Zelig , making an appearance, even taking a leading role in most of the key and mostly unknown nuclear weapons ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
Part memoir of Ellsberg worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations in the sixties and an anti-nuclear piece from someone who knows how it plays out at a policy level and understands the stakes namely the survival of humans as species. The author lays out in great detail his work planning for nuclear war and a general outline of our capabilities, command and control systems, who authorizes the use of nuclear weapons and the times we came close to unleashing them to our final ruin. I get th ...more
Matthew Fenlon
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Not the easiest book to read. Lots of breaks in sentences, and a lot of repetition particularly in the early chapters. In fact I nearly gave up before the halfway point because it became quite tedious the way that the relatively few points were laboured upon. The second half focuses on the early days of nuclear weapons and is a far better read. If you can push through the early meh, it gets good, and scary!
Janne Peltola
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I thought I was relatively knowledgeable about WMDs. I've read Richard Rhodes' scholarly epics about the origins of nuclear weapons and then tempered my technocracy with Scholler's Command & Control and Hoffman's Dead Hand. All very good books that provide one with a comprehensive view of WMD history and policy.

Turns out, I was naive.

Ellsberg's book is the best antidote to the idea that technology is an unmitigated good or that socio-technical problems can be solved by better technology.
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and compelling. An insider's view of what seemingly rational decisions led us to the path we're on. A lot in here to like for fans of nuclear policy and military and political history. If you think the end of the Cold War made most of this irrelevant, think again. Despite being fairly long there was a lot to cover and I found it easy to finish. It also has a dark humor in it, in particular with the comparisons to Dr. Stangelove. I especially appreciated that Ellsberg presented it thr ...more
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So many details that I never thought could be there and Ellsberg elaborated on them masterfully and sometimes with humor.

The complexity and multiple layers of Nuclear War planning is quite frankly unbelievable. This is particularly so because despite all the complexity the trigger has not been pulled since the first use of nuclear bomb.

The book is very well written, filled with details that is not commonly known. Towards the end we are confronted with questions that are original, at least for s
Dick Reynolds
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not a good book to read at night because you probably won’t get any sleep.
Daniel Ellsberg reveals much about his career at the RAND Corporation following his 1957 discharge from the Marine Corps. Along the way he punctures the balloons of many myths regarding the safety and employment of nuclear weapons by U. S. forces. Contrary to public opinion, the authority to launch such a weapon was not solely entrusted with the President and his nuclear “football.” Instead, such authority was de
Lucky escapes do not actually resolve issues; nuclear disarmament needs to be front-and-center for mass movements.

The Good The Dire:
--Corporate news will have you believe the nuclear crisis is a Cold War era issue, and only to be dusted off as a threat (to countries that already have nukes) as the empire sets off on their next invasion.
--“Pentagon Papers” Ellsberg explains how the US threatening others with nukes and the continued existence of “defensive” systems resembling Doomsday Machines a
All my life I have been unlearning the propoganda I was fed by our society.

One of the great nuclear war myths of our peace-loving nation of honor was that we would never be the first to use nuclear weapons. Setting aside that we had already used nukes, our nations strategic war plab actually was always to be the first! Obviously a surprise sneak attack would work best even if it killed one third of the world!

Daniel Ellsberg tells it all in the most horrifyong, truth-telling book I have ever read
Galen Weitkamp
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner
by Daniel Ellsberg.
Review by Galen Weitkamp.

This is a somber and clear-eyed look at our past seventy years of nuclear first-use policy, its consequences, uses, costs and threat to our future.

The Norden bombsight used by the Army Air Corps in WWII failed to live up to its hype. Except under the most ideal circumstances, bombers were incapable of cleanly hitting specific military targets: hangars, artillery emplacements, armament factories
Elle Maruska
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is terrifying but necessary reading. Since the election of our current president, Americans have been worried about the instability of our government and the very real chance of destructive global conflict but Ellsberg's book shows us that these concerns are not new. Since the first atomic bomb was tested in New Mexico, the United States has stood at the edge of a precipice of its own making, holding the rest of the world hostage. Nuclear weapons and the proliferation of these weapons ...more
Ryan Lackey
Wow. I went into this just thinking Ellsberg was a random functionary who had leaked the Pentagon Papers; I also discounted him as a generic antiwar/leftist/commie scum. I was wrong. Overall, this is a very good book, and presents both the issues of the US nuclear/national security establishment and Ellsberg as a person pretty fairly.

Ellsberg was an intelligent RAND analyst with both interest in making nuclear war planning more sane, and access to a lot of information due to his position (and th
Lance L
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most dangerous man in the world with the scariest thing you’ve ever heard. Essentially, a demonstration that Dr. Strangelove is not satire, but potential documentary. I vividly remember the feeling of growing up in the late 70s and early 80s absolutely convinced that none of us would live to be adults because of the certainty of nuclear destruction. I (along with I suspect most other people) have put those fears in the past and stopped worrying about it after the end of the Cold War. This bo ...more
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is no joke. I won a copy from a Goodreads giveaway. Written by famed whistleblower and former nuclear war planner (he was in the room with top officials during the Cuban Missile Crisis)for the Rand Corporation, Daniel Ellsberg, this book will let you in on many dirty little secrets (many now declassified) of potential nuclear war. The title obviously comes from the movie Dr. Strangelove with its crazed military leaders and scientists blowing up the world. In some ways the reality is wo ...more
Jun 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Read it. I read the first part 5 months ago, but it was a library book so I was unable to get it back until now. It’s a dense academic read. Difficult in both the subject matter and the writing itself. Like reading a dry thesis. But some of the facts related are just incredible! As well as incredibly depressing. Essentially we are screwed. Nuclear winter will kill us all if the US or Russia ever strike or accidentally strike, or even mistakenly think there is a strike. And no one even blinks twi ...more
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely the scariest book I've ever read. And after reading it, I feel extremely lucky just to be alive. Turns out, the Pentagon Papers were just the second rate secret documents that Daniel Ellsberg had secreted from his Dept of Defense work for Rand Corporation. The BIG trove was documents about United States nuclear weapon research, development, deployment, and planned usage. Ellsberg, an economist at Rand, specialized in decision making analysis. Add all this together, and you've got an i ...more
Matěj Bregant
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ellsberg's account of war planning spans several decades of US nuclear policy and it is a disheartening read. Vivid descriptions of several instances when it was basically luck that saved us from damnation make sure that this book is at times unputdownable. Also the "nuclear football" doesn't exist - it's just a briefcase, you can't launch nukes directly from it. Also there are the US president doesn't have "launch codes" for nukes - it's all for show. If you ever thought war is cool you gotta r ...more
John Crippen
Jun 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ellsberg argues that humankind has too many H-bombs and that that fact increases the risk of omnicide, a risk that did not exist prior to the late 1940s. The book is a fascinating, sobering look at how this happened, all that could go wrong, and a possible way forward to dismantling the Doomsday Machine(s). His message is the kind that will probably be ignored or discounted as scaremongering, at our peril.
Anthony Frausto
Feb 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good but also very frightening. An encompassing history of how the US and Russia have planned to wage nuclear war for the past 70 years. After reading, it is amazing we haven't destroyed each other and the rest of the world. Most people would be shocked at how close we have come to launching missiles at each other. Very sobering.
Martin Berman-Gorvine
A Vital Message for Americans and Humanity at Large

Daniel Ellsberg, who ought to be a hero to all Americans for his role in exposing the lies that led to the catastrophe of the Vietnam War, here presents his insider's knowledge of an infinitely greater catastrophe that has been waiting to happen for the better part of a century: global nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia. Ellsberg rightly calls the nuclear arsenals possessed by our two countries a dual Doomsday Mach
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Daniel Ellsberg is a former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of US government decision-making about the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers.

Ellsberg is the recipient of the Inaugural Ron Ridenhour Courage Prize, a pri
“Yet what seems to me beyond question is that any social system (not only ours) that has created and maintained a Doomsday Machine and has put a trigger to it, including first use of nuclear weapons, in the hands of one human being—anyone, not just this man, still worse in the hands of an unknown number of persons—is in core aspects mad. Ours is such a system. We are in the grip of institutionalized madness.” 1 likes
“These two systems still risk doomsday: both are still on hair-trigger alert that makes their joint existence unstable. They are susceptible to being triggered on a false alarm, a terrorist action, unauthorized launch, or a desperate decision to escalate. They would kill billions of humans, perhaps ending complex life on earth. This is true even though the Cold War that rationalized their existence and hair-trigger status—and their supposed necessity to national security—ended thirty years ago. Does the United States still need a Doomsday Machine? Does Russia? Did they ever? Does the existence of such a capability serve any national or international interest whatsoever to a degree that would justify its obvious danger to human life? I ask the questions not merely rhetorically. They deserve sober, reflective consideration. The answers do seem obvious, but so far as I know they have never been addressed. There follows another question: Does any nation on earth have a right to possess such a capability?” 1 likes
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