Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Books- tale of the Erics

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Eric Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation- you've probably read it- an eminently readable expose into the food behind fast food. If you haven't read it, you should. Then he wrote a book called Reefer Madness which I have not read. His most recent book, Command and Control, is about the nuclear weapons system, told through the story of the serious accident in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980. This book is a little longer and a little less eminently readable than Fast Food Nation, but it's still a good one, and it's quite disturbing. Where Garry Wills walks us through how the bomb has changed America's government (for the worse), Schlosser tells us just how perilous the bombs (plural) are.

You may have known, but I did not, that nuclear weapons were designed with no thoughts about safety. As in, bombmakers were concerned only with ensuring accurate eruption, not how to keep them from explosion when they weren't supposed to, like in the middle of a flight over non-enemy territory, or when a mission had been aborted, or if a switch was accidentally switched when it wasn't supposed to be. Then there were little details that were overlooked like communications between warring powers during the Cold War. At the height of the Cold War, there was no red phone like we see in movies for Russia and the United States to communicate with each other. Nuclear war could be accidentally triggered well, basically anytime- by a swarm of birds flying over the radar or the wrong disk being put into the computer system that implied that warheads had been launched. It could take hours for the communications telling the other side that it was a false alarm to arrive. Also, planes carrying live nuclear warheads were constantly in flight over Siberia, just in case. Basically, it was a miracle that there were no accidental nuclear explosions during the Cold War. Although safety measures have since improved, it's not clear (Schlosser's book stops in 1980) just how much, and honestly, I'm too scared to look. This book is a force- a little long- but worth a read. Just be warned- you might not sleep well at night afterwards.

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According to the back of the book, Eric Ambler "invented the modern suspense novel." I'm not sure how I found this book (THB?), but it is quite a suspenseful book. Written in 1939, this isn't a suspense book or a thriller like any other suspense book I've read or you've likely read- the old timey language and scenarios are more like reading Sherlock Holmes than John Grisham. There are all kinds of European shenanigans and parties and cross continent trips. There are fig pickers and faked passports and investigators in uniforms. The book is both a trip down a nostalgic (in the sense of nostalgia that you haven't lived) lane and a sweet, suspenseful read.


thb said...

I can't remember if I read this book, i do like the genre...and is Eric Ambler his real name? Really?