Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner” as Want to Read:
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  1,376 ratings  ·  235 reviews
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
...more
Hardcover, 387 pages
Published December 5th 2017 by Bloomsbury Press
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Doomsday Machine, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
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)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.25  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,376 ratings  ·  235 reviews


Sort order
Bill Rasche
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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!
Annie
May 22, 2018 rated it liked it
————————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
...more
Bettie
Feb 27, 2018 marked it as wish-list
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
...more
Mal Warwick
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
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
...more
AC
Dec 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Extremely interesting, often illuminating, disturbing book, marred only by a certain naïveté expressed by Ellsberg’s concluding optimism, such as it is.
Marc Sims
Feb 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book, written by the same Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war during Nixon’s presidency, was eye-opening. A little slow at first, at about the half-way point the book became fascinating. The book is part memoir, party history lesson, and part policy recommendation.

The author worked for the Rand Corporation and the Department of Defense through the Cold War, planning nuclear war with Russia and its allies. By the end of the book, here is what he convinced me of
...more
Bob H
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Erin Carrington
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Vheissu
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
...more
Charles Gonzalez
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Wow.

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.
...more
Bill
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Behzad
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
...more
Alan
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Scariest fact: During the Cuban Missile Crises, Ellsberg played a role as an aid to Sec of Defense McNamara. Days after the crises, Ellsberg assessed the risk of nuke conflict at very low. Decades later, after learning the hidden Russians side of the story, he changed his mind to “if the crises had gone on another 24 hours, it would have been total nuclear war — the end of all human civilization” That’s even with the assertion that neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev wanted war and would have backed ...more
Dick Reynolds
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Kevin
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
...more
Dariel
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Philip Hollenback
Dec 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Well that was depressing. Once again I am reminded that there's basically no reason humans should still exist, given how good we are at destroying ourselves.
Andrewh
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Daniel Ellsberg became famous, or notorious, for the Pentagon Papers, by which he blew the whistle on various aspects of the Vietnam War under President Nixon. In this book, he reveals much more dangerous secrets (which are now declassified under FOI) about US nuclear policy, gained from his personal experience as a RAND policy advisor in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War. These constitute the ‘confession’ (first) part of the book, while the other half is a more general analysis of the ‘T ...more
Tõnu Vahtra
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Decision making under extreme uncertainty when the stakes could not get much higher (nuclear winter or possible setting the atmosphere on fire). It is actually rather remarkable that there haven't been any "major accidents" yet. The solutions presented in the end of the book are really unlikely to work considering the current balance of forces and lack of common interests in the world.

“These two systems still risk doomsday: both are still on hair-trigger alert that makes their joint existence u
...more
Christina
Aug 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.

Part 1 was fine - an interesting reflection on Ellsberg career and how terribly mismanaged the nuclear doomsday machine has been (and still is more or less). Had to skim
...more
Galen Weitkamp
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Adrienne
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The Doomsday Machine" was a terrifying insight into just how close the earth is to nuclear annihilation. It seems that all it would take is one error, one miscommunication, or one rogue action is all that is needed to set the Doomsday Machine into motion.

I always questioned the practicality of having the "nuclear football," the briefcase that supposedly houses all the nuclear codes and the president only has access to it. I knew that submarine commanders could order their weapons to be fired w
...more
Eric Layton
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I very rarely give 5-star reviews to books. However, just in the past few weeks, I've done just that to two related books; this one by Ellberg, and the previous one being Eric Schlosser's Command and Control.

This book that I'm reviewing here should be required reading for everyone, not just citizens of the U.S. It should be required in schools, for citizenship, maybe even to get a damned driver's license. I'm not kidding here.

I'm over 50, so not much surprises me these days. I've had my suspicio
...more
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
...more
Lance L
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • A Short History of Nuclear Folly
  • My Journey at the Nuclear Brink
  • The Wizards of Armageddon
  • Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War
  • The Return of Marco Polo's World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century
  • How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon
  • Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder
  • Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century
  • Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power
  • Manhattan Project: The Birth of the Atomic Bomb in the Words of Its Creators, Eyewitnesses and Historians.
  • A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico
  • Monsters: The Hindenburg Disaster and the Birth of Pathological Technology
  • The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age
  • The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency
  • Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America
  • The Physics of War: From Arrows to Atoms
  • Convergence: The Idea at the Heart of Science
  • The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction
See similar books…
104 followers
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
...more
“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.” 2 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?” 2 likes
More quotes…