Book review of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser. Or, if I was asked to name the book, "It’s all fun and games until somebody loses a planet."

Wow. Just holy screaming wow.

This is a magnificent and incredibly important book. Superb research. Brilliant writing. I felt like I was there! Well, actually, I was there, just 50km from launch complex 533-7 in Wichita, KS when the world started to end. Imagine watching a horror movie where some hockey masked force of evil stalked people and attempted to kill them in gruesome ways with forestry equipment. Now imagine the movie was based on a true story! Now imagine you find out that in 1978 he was in your closet and you luckily just missed him! That’s what this book was like for me. The fact that the antagonist was about to murder untold millions of other people with power generation equipment did not diminish the suspense for me in any way. And just like a horror movie just when you think it’s safe and the danger is gone, you turn the page and ahhh! There he is again! Seriously terrifying. And did I mention that it’s nonfiction? And the killer is still out there?

Apparently I’m kind of unusual because the thought of millions of people being vaporized in an instant seems like an actual serious problem to me. So much so, that when I first heard about the Titan Missile Museum years ago, it was immediately on my must do list. I’ve now been twice. To stand there and behold a planned genocide on a scale that can not be properly imagined is something surreal. In the past my mind was already challenged enough to just comprehend the heaviness of a planned use of these things. To see a B43 warhead up close and realize that one hothead flying in one plane could pretty much light that up anywhere is pretty unnerving. Or to imagine it wandering off its base, it’d fit in a cargo van nicely. This is what I used to worry about.

But now, thanks to this fine book, these problems seem mild. At the Titan Missile Museum, I had learned of the Damascus accident. The book goes into all of the minute details which, to me, were pretty interesting. That event was certainly something to give one pause for reflection. Little did I suspect that you could fill a huge book with such hijinks! Accidents - turns out, they happen! Cover ups. Immense secrecy. Yup. You may have suspected some of this, but now we know. Thanks FOIA!

And if you saw Dr. Strangelove, another seed was planted in your head. Just who has the authority to pull the trigger? Movies depict the POTUS with the "button". (Not that I’ve ever been terribly reassured by that.) But the reality, it turns out, is more complicated. What if the prez is vaporized along with the next 20 in line? In this sport, such things happen. So maybe some authority is delegated. Maybe not. Maybe it is and that fact is denied. Well, now we know. This book spells it all out and the lack of sense any of it makes is pretty deeply disturbing.

More complicated is definitely a theme here. I must commend the author’s incredibly rigid neutrality in presenting this material. I was personally freaking out on every page, but the author’s delivery was calm and balanced presenting all the information and perspectives. This book is by no means a condemnation of nuclear weapons. It is simply an extremely honest and thorough look at a topic that may be the most important ever. That may sound like hyperbole, but we’re not talking about a kitten down a well here.

The historical perspective was excellent and I learned a tremendous amount about the context of cold war thinking. To have access to the previously classified insights from historical figures was fascinating. There was a lot of information about how various presidents and political figures felt and acted presented with not a trace of partisan bias.

The only criticism I would have of the book which could and should be easily corrected in future editions is that it was often very difficult to visualize the complex hardware being discussed. Some illustrations of the Gadget, a Titan complex, a B-52, etc, would have been very helpful. Having been in a Titan missile silo personally, I still was occasionally confused about what was where. However, I must say that if you’re going to be in Tucson, AZ, definitely start reading this book and check this crazy thing out.

This book was long but every page was fascinating. It held my interest from start to finish. The writing was superb, well-researched and objective. The topic is, in my opinion, one of the most important ever. This is on my top 20 list of favorite books. It was that good.