Command and Control Book Summary - Command and Control Book explained in key points
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Command and Control summary

Eric Schlosser

Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

4.8 (35 ratings)
27 mins

Brief summary

Command and Control by Eric Schlosser is a non-fiction book that explores numerous accidents and unexpected events in the history of nuclear weapons and defense systems. It investigates the risks involved in handling these weapons and the potential consequences of a grave error.

Table of Contents

    Command and Control
    Summary of 11 key ideas

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    A nuclear bomb contains a mix of high explosives which trigger a devastating chain reaction.

    On July 12, 1945, in a small New Mexico farmhouse, a plutonium core was placed inside the first nuclear bomb.

    This event was the culmination of approximately three years of work conducted by the team behind the Manhattan Project – a group of British, US and Canadian physicists who were put together as an allied response to the German physicists who were busy creating their own super bomb.

    The bomb about to be tested in New Mexico housed a plutonium core surrounded by a series of high explosives, each of which pointed inward toward the core. When the explosives detonated, they would all fire at precisely the same instant, thus imploding the core and causing a chain-reaction explosion the likes of which had never before been seen.

    After years of intense research, the scientists had eventually discovered that there were two materials that could cause this kind of explosion: uranium-235 and plutonium-239.

    Nuclear bombs rely on fission – when atoms split and release energy. Both uranium-235 and plutonium-239 have a high proton count, making it easier to start a fission reaction. The idea was to split the atoms in the bomb’s core, releasing a massive amount of energy – and causing an unprecedented explosion.

    When fission happens under strictly controlled circumstances, such as in a nuclear power plant, the produced energy can be used to fuel electrical generators.

    However, on July 17, 1945, during the first bomb test, no one was exactly sure what was going to happen.

    They knew the detonation had to trigger all the explosives at exactly the same time if the reaction was to be successful, so the scientist Donald Horning came up with the X-Unit. This was an electronic triggering device that would simultaneously set off all 32 explosives in the bomb. These explosives completely surrounded the core in the shape of 12 pentagons and 20 hexagons; it looked like a big soccer ball.

    Horning’s triggering device worked perfectly, and the first test produced a mushroom cloud that bloomed eight miles into the sky. The sight, along with the accompanying roar, caused at least one technician to think that this must be what doomsday would look like.

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    What is Command and Control about?

    Command and Control (2013) uncovers the disturbing truth behind the troubled and accident-prone US nuclear weapons program. Find out what’s really been going on since World War II, when the first nuclear bomb was invented, and how lucky we are to still be here despite numerous accidents and close calls that could have kicked off Armageddon. If you think the stockpile of nuclear weapons in the United States has always been safely stored under lock and key – think again!

    Command and Control Review

    Command and Control by Eric Schlosser (2013) is a gripping account that delves into the terrifying history of nuclear weapons and the potential disasters they could cause. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With meticulous research and in-depth interviews, it provides a chilling insight into the grave risks involved in the management of nuclear weapons.
    • The book uncovers classified information, shedding light on near-catastrophic accidents that have occurred, making it fascinating and eye-opening.
    • By exploring the complexity and interplay between human error, technology, and politics, it delivers a thought-provoking analysis of a vital issue that affects us all.

    Best quote from Command and Control

    The need for a nuclear weapon to be safe and the need for it to be reliable were often in conflict.

    —Eric Schlosser
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    Who should read Command and Control?

    • Readers interested in nuclear threats past and present
    • History buffs
    • Anti-nuke advocates

    About the Author

    Eric Schlosser, an investigative journalist, is the best-selling author of Fast Food Nation. His work has also appeared in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and the Atlantic, among other publications.

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    Command and Control FAQs 

    What is the main message of Command and Control?

    The main message of Command and Control is the chilling history and potential dangers of nuclear weapons.

    How long does it take to read Command and Control?

    The reading time for Command and Control varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Command and Control a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Command and Control is a thought-provoking read that sheds light on a crucial aspect of modern history—nuclear weapons. Highly recommended.

    Who is the author of Command and Control?

    The author of Command and Control is Eric Schlosser.

    What to read after Command and Control?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Command and Control, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Doomsday Machine by Daniel Ellsberg
    • Atomic Accidents by James Mahaffey
    • Killing the Rising Sun by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
    • The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • Hidden Potential by Adam Grant
    • Foundation by Isaac Asimov
    • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
    • The Mindful Body by Ellen J. Langer
    • The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt