Command and Control

  • by Eric Schlosser
  • Narrated by Scott Brick
  • 20 hrs and 39 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A myth-shattering exposé of America's nuclear weapons.
Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America's nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses, extraordinary heroism, and technological breakthroughs, Command and Control explores the dilemma that has existed since the dawn of the nuclear age: How do you deploy weapons of mass destruction without being destroyed by them? That question has never been resolved - and Schlosser reveals how the combination of human fallibility and technological complexity still poses a grave risk to mankind. While the harms of global warming increasingly dominate the news, the equally dangerous yet more immediate threat of nuclear weapons has been largely forgotten.
Written with the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller, Command and Control interweaves the minute-by-minute story of an accident at a nuclear missile silo in rural Arkansas with a historical narrative that spans more than 50 years. It depicts the urgent effort by American scientists, policy makers, and military officers to ensure that nuclear weapons can't be stolen, sabotaged, used without permission, or detonated inadvertently. Schlosser also looks at the Cold War from a new perspective, offering history from the ground up, telling the stories of bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other ordinary servicemen who risked their lives to avert a nuclear holocaust. At the heart of the book lies the struggle, amid the rolling hills and small farms of Damascus, Arkansas, to prevent the explosion of a ballistic missile carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead ever built by the United States.
Drawing on recently declassified documents and interviews with people who designed and routinely handled nuclear weapons, Command and Control takes readers into a terrifying but fascinating world that, until now, has been largely hidden from view. Through the details of a single accident, Schlosser illustrates how an unlikely event can become unavoidable, how small risks can have terrible consequences, and how the most brilliant minds in the nation can only provide us with an illusion of control. Audacious, gripping, and unforgettable, Command and Control is a tour de force of investigative journalism, an eye-opening look at the dangers of America's nuclear age.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A miracle that we escaped the Cold War alive....

Command and Control was excellent, if occasionally chilling, listening. The book takes the form of a thriller - flashing back between an accident at a missile silo in Arkansas in 1980, and the history of the control of American nuclear weapons. The thriller becomes a bit of a horror show as Schlosser shows how often disaster was narrowly averted, and the potential consequences of a catastrophic accident. There are many mind-boggling facts along the way: the Davy Crockett nuclear anti-tank rocket had a blast radius as large as its range, the military occasionally classified things so highly the president couldn't see them, and there were many occasions where a nuclear war nearly happened.

The evolution of the Damascus Accident is especially well-written, as is the story of the evolution of nuclear strategy and command. As one reviewer in the LA Times pointed out, Schlosser is decidedly liberal, but the heroes of the book (such as they are) are McNamara and Reagan, who actually tame the nuclear beast, at least for a while. Similarly, there are great explanations of the development of the atomic bomb, and the technical details involved.

There are only a few weaknesses. First, the emphasis on bomb safety and the final parts of the Damascus Accident drag a bit, making the last third of the book somewhat less pointed and novel than the terrific first part. Second, the book seems to lose steam after Reagan, barely giving any time to the post-Cold War situation, or to other countries. While this isn't necessarily bad, it means that we spend most of the book in increasingly high levels of concern, and are left without either a lot of discussion over how to reach a safer world, or a clear sense of what the nuclear system looks like today.

In any case, this is a great read for fans of nonfiction and history, as it covers a huge amount of ground. And the final sentence is absolutely chilling and revelatory.
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- Ethan M. "On Audible since the late 1990s, mostly science fiction, fantasy, history & science. I rarely review 1-2 star books that I can't get through"


What did you love best about Command and Control?

The story brings together the history, science and military facets of nuclear weapons, by building on an actual Titan ICBM accident.

What did you like best about this story?

Having served in the Strategic Air Command and kept B-52s aloft with live nukes, the stories were a revelation - so many accidents and near catastrophes - that one can only conclude we were saved from ourselves.

Any additional comments?

It is hard to appreciate the overwhelming threat that nuclear weapons posed in the 60s and 70s, and the relief at the end of the cold war.

But then, the weapons haven't gone away...

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- S. Mersereau

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-17-2013
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio