A memoir of a life spent developing a high-tech silent service.
Craven, the descendant of a long line of naval officers, saw service as a seaman during WWII, in the course of which he developed the conviction that the only way for the US to avoid future bloodshed was to become the undisputed toughest kid on the block. As Chief Scientist of the Navy’s Special Projects Office from 1958 to 1970, he had plenty of opportunity to develop weaponry that gave the enemy (in his time, the Soviet Union) pause—notably the Polaris missile system (which, he hints, kept the Cuban Missile Crisis from boiling over into full-out war). As he discusses the baffling array of death-dealing technology that emerged from his office, Craven sometimes forgets that his audience may not share his expertise, but no matter; fans of Tom Clancy (whose Hunt for Red October was inspired by real-life events in which Craven took part) will get a charge out of his adventures all the same, especially when reading his often funny sketches of the Soviet spies who followed him around. At the dramatic heart of his story lies a little-known episode in Cold War history: An American long-range bomber collided with a refueling plane over Spain and dropped its payload of nuclear weaponry on and near a small fishing village. Craven’s account of the delicate salvage operation (which ended happily and made a fortune for a fisherman who helped locate one of the bombs out at sea) develops with nicely rendered tension. His prose is a little ham-fisted, but he makes up for it with ample anecdotes about the strange internal politics of the military-industrial complex—and he even explains why government-issue toilet seats cost so much.
Useful reading for students of Cold War history and modern technology.