Having read "Fast Food Nation" in which Schlosser dissects the fast food industry and it's effects on the world economy, and the entire human condition, I couldn't pass up this work, which does a similar job on the story of the nuclear arms race. This book nails two thoughts into the mind of anyone who lived through the cold war - How did mankind ever survive that era, and , how will it ever survive the increasing possibility of a new cold war with Russia or China? Younger folk who are unaware of or unconcerned about these issues need to read this book and read it now! Forget Global warming. Yes. it's real, but the threat it poses to human existance is miniscule compared to the threat of instant annihilation from nuclear weapons - which remains ever present. This book is not just a great read; it's an essential read.
Essential reading for anybody involved in development, maintenance, or operations of critical systems. It highlights how despite the best efforts of system designers the personalities of people involved sway the outcomes of situations enormously, for good or ill.
This is a superb work, the result of 10 years of patient, diligent and incisive research. I wish all PhD dissertations were this good! Schlosser has read far and wide to contextualise the incident which nearly resulted in a thermonuclear explosion obliterating Damascus, Arkansas, in 1980. But 'contextualise' seems a weak word to describe what this book does. It pursues the story of nuclear weapons, including their technical development and the evolution of operational strategy, from 1945 through to the end of the Cold War (with a few gestures to the more recent past). Overwhelmingly, though, the book is about the complexity of sociotechnical systems, the inherent risks and unforeseen consequences of small decisions, errors, omissions and misfortunes. As Schlosser points out, these are the chains of consequence that can magnify an everyday accident – such as dropping a socket off a wrench – to 9 megaton scale within moments. The title is true to the topic; the author focuses on the command decisions that ramify up the chain from the humblest airman to the President of the United States, and the illusions of control that sustained America's nuclear policy for nearly five decades. Beyond the sheer depth of research and – without any irony intended – Schlosser's command of detail, he writes with a clear, purposeful prose that balances moment-to-moment reconstructions against geopolitics. Although the text is nearly 500 pages, I felt bereft when I finished; I could have happily consumed the same amount again. The publishers should also be congratulated for permitting such a generous notes section and bibliography; it not only confirms the scale of Schlosser's research, but provides an impressive resource for anyone interested in human-technology interactions, large systems, nuclear weapons or Cold War history. The hardback book cover by Jennifer Jerde and Scott Hesselink is also a triumph of design. I recommend this book without hesitation, and I just hope I don't have to wait another decade for his next title.