Kirkus Reviews QR Code
COMMAND AND CONTROL by Eric Schlosser Kirkus Star


Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

by Eric Schlosser

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59420-227-8
Publisher: Penguin Press

The chilling, concise history of America’s precarious nuclear arsenal.

Investigative journalist Schlosser’s (Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, 2003, etc.) vivid and unsettling treatise spreads across a 70-year span of the development and control of nuclear weaponry. At the core of the author’s scrutiny is the suspensefully narrated back story of the Arkansas-based Titan II military missile silo. A disastrous mishap in 1980 involving an accidentally punctured fuel tank caused a near-detonation and collapse of the missile, killing a young repairman and sparking an investigation into the hazardous nature of all military nuclear armaments. Schlosser frames this incident around four decades of the Cold War, the Eisenhower and Truman administrations, the Cuban missile crisis, the bravery of servicemen like Gen. Curtis LeMay, and the eerily accurate predictions and statistical determinations of nuclear strategist Fred Iklé. Testimony from a massive list of scientists and engineers further elucidates what Schlosser considers to be the nation’s perpetual military defense conundrum: “the need for a nuclear weapon to be safe and the need for it to be reliable.” Throughout, he chillingly extrapolates the long-standing history of nuclear near-misses with the engagement of a fiction writer. He also examines the heavily endorsed anti-nuclear foreign policies proselytized by politicians and probes the operational processes of nuclear missiles and warheads, though the specter of decimation at the hands of a weapon of mass destruction looms over each chapter. With this cautionary text, Schlosser, who pinged processed food and the underground economy onto America’s cultural radar, succeeds in increasing awareness for more stringent precautions and less of the casual mismanagement of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, he respectfully memorializes those Cold War heroes (and countless others, like nuclear weapon safety lobbyist Bob Peurifoy) who’ve prevented nuclear holocausts from being written into the annals of American history.

An exhaustive, unnerving examination of the illusory safety of atomic arms.