A Pulitzer Prize–winning author chronicles the Soviet-American arms race through the life story of the man who was indispensable to the creation of the intercontinental ballistic missile.
By 1951 Air Force legend Curtis LeMay’s Strategic Air Command had encircled the Soviet empire and served as the centerpiece of America’s military-defense strategy. Still, LeMay’s bomber strike force was already being undermined by innovations spurred by the post–World War II vision of General Hap Arnold, who looked to a then-obscure colonel, Bernard Schriever, to carry forward his vision of an Air Force more reliant on science and brains than on combat courage. Sheehan (After the War Was Over: Hanoi and Saigon, 1993, etc.) charts Schriever’s career from his Texas boyhood to his WWII service, where he specialized in maintenance and aeronautical engineering. Following the war and responding to Arnold’s call, Schriever punched the tickets necessary for a fast-rising officer, all the while developing his expertise in radar, rocketry and nuclear weaponry. Just as with his Pulitzer- and National Book Award–winning A Bright Shining Lie (1988), Sheehan uses the career of one man as a window into a larger, more complex story, in this case the Cold War arms race. The wide-ranging narrative covers the postwar Allied scramble to gather up German rocket scientists, Stalin’s A-bomb program, the pervasive espionage that helped speed up the Soviet push for parity, America’s Cold War politics and diplomacy and many intriguing profiles of scientists, politicians, contractors and military men who played critical roles in helping, or occasionally hindering, Schriever fight the bureaucratic battles necessary to develop the ICBM. With a reporter’s respect for fact, a historian’s care for context and a novelist’s attention to narrative flow, Sheehan transforms an otherwise arcane topic into a must-read for any citizen interested in how and why the country assembled a deadly arsenal designed to prevent another Pearl Harbor and make nuclear war unthinkable.