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The author of Fast Food Nationblends a riveting minute-by-minute account of an H-bomb accident with a chilling assessment of the grave threat we face from nuclear weapons. At the height of the cold war in the American heartland, a combination of human error, aging equipment, mismanagement, and bad luck threatened to set off a nuclear weapon far more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. In unprecedented you-are-there detail, Schlosser uses this long-forgotten incident to examine the nuclear near misses of the past sixty years. He also pays tribute to the American scientists, engineers, and military officers who struggled to ensure that nuclear weapons wouldn’t go off by accident—or by the deliberate acts of madmen and fanatics. It is miraculous, Schlosser concludes, that an American city has not yet been destroyed by a nuclear weapon. And there is no guarantee that such good luck will last. A former secretary of defense and a former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government have both suggested the odds are about even that a nuclear weapon will be detonated on American soil by the end of this decade. More than global warming or economic upheaval, this is the greatest danger we now face. Command and Controltakes us into nuclear weapons laboratories, missile silos, and the cockpits of B-52 bombers to show how perilously close we have come to disaster. Schlosser does not offer a simplistic condemnation of military warmongers or irresponsible leadership. Indeed, he finds much to admire in the men and women who risked their lives—and sometimes lost them—in order to keep America safe in the nuclear age. It is a saga of technological ingenuity and blind faith in science, of personal heroism and bureaucratic incompetence, of a desperate need for control and the ultimate illusion of control. It is a sobering account of how many lives can depend on the proper functioning of a single switch. Command and Controlunveils the risks faced by every country that chooses to possess nuclear weapons. Drawing upon recently declassified documents and interviews with arms designers, defense mavens, and the crews who manned our arsenal, Schlosser does far more than sound the alarm about today’s nuclear threat. In much the same way that Fast Food Nationused our industrial food system to paint a sweeping portrait of American society, Command and Controlshows how a system designed to control our nuclear weapons has come to endanger and control us.
ERIC SCHLOSSER is the author of The New York Times bestsellers Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness. His work has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and The Nation.