What do you think of when you think of nuclear weapons? Do you think of bunkers full of the most technologically sophisticated equipment in the world? Do you think of layers of security and safety protocols to ensure that an accident is next to impossible? Do you think of all the “command and control” structures to make sure that every weapon is accounted for and never used in response to a false alarm or by a rogue group or individual?
My assumption had long been that the most powerful weapons in the world would have merited the best of all the above. In “Command and Control” Eric Schlosser pulls back the curtain and reveals just how close we came over and over again to nuclear disaster in the past sixty years. He uses the accident in Damascus, AR as the main narrative thread for the book. But what really makes the book stand out is how he weaves the account of the disaster in Arkansas with a history of nuclear weapons in the United States and the many near misses that should have made the government far more safety conscious than it was at the time of the explosion in Damascus. At first, it seems like he’s just providing a little historical color when he gives the history of the nuclear arsenal and the near misses but he pulls all the threads together in the end and the result is a nail-biting conclusion and a truly well crafted book.
Schlosser brings a great deal of narrative skill to the book. It doesn’t read like dry history but rather has a pacing more in line with a fictional techno-thriller. This is a book that will keep you up far past your bedtime in an effort to get in just a few more pages to find out what happens next. Educational, sobering, and a real page turner. Pick this one up if you have the opportunity.