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A Fiery Peace in a Cold War


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Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

About the Author

Neil Sheehan is the author of A Bright Shining Lie, which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1989. He spent three years in Vietnam as a war correspondent for United Press International and The New York Times and won numerous awards for his reporting. In 1971, he obtained the Pentagon Papers, which brought the Times the Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for meritorious public service. Sheehan lives in Washington, D.C. He is married to the writer Susan Sheehan.


The military-industrial complex proves an unlikely arena for plucky individualism in this history of the men who built America's intercontinental ballistic missile program in the 1950s and '60s. Sheehan paints air force Gen. Bernard Schriever and his colorful band of military aides, civilian patrons, defense intellectuals and aerospace entrepreneurs as a guerrilla insurgency fighting Pentagon red tape, and a hostile air force brass, led by Strategic Air Command honcho Curtis LeMay, who advocated megatonnage bomber planes over ICBMs. Sheehan gives a fascinating run-down of the engineering challenges posed by nuclear missiles, but the main action consists of bureaucratic intrigues, procurement innovations and epic briefings that catch the president's ear and open the funding spigots. Like the author's Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning A Bright Shining Lie, this is a saga of underdog visionaries struggling to redirect a misguided military juggernaut, this time successfully: the author credits Schriever's missiles with keeping the peace and jump-starting the space program and satellite industry. Sheehan's focus on personal initiative and human-scale dramas lends an overly romantic cast to his study of cold war policy making and the arms race, but it makes for an engrossing read. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Oct. 6) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

"Excellent. . . . Deeply researched, compulsively readable and important."
--The New York Times Book Review "An important contribution to our understanding of those decades when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. held each other--and the world--in a balance of terror. . . . Engrossing."
--Los Angeles Times "Utterly riveting reading. . . . Schriever is a fascinating person, and Sheehan [is] to be commended for his careful gathering of interviews and documents to put flesh on this most unexpected warrior."
--San Francisco Chronicle "Even more thoroughly researched, bristling with facts and figures and faces, than A Bright Shining Lie."
--San Antonio Express-News "A deep look at American defensive thinking in the Cold War. . . . Sheehan's book is rich in cultural detail, beyond iconic moments of the Cold War as refracted through the lens of the missile race."
--Newsday "An ambitious story. Sheehan tells it well."
--Dallas Morning News "Absorbing. . . . Sheehan is a terrific reporter and an excellent writer, capable of weaving multiple storylines into a seamless narrative. . . . Unforgettable. . . . More than a worthy successor to A Bright Shining Light. . . . It is hard to imagine a more accomplished and informative expos of the deep gears grinding in the engine room of the Cold War."
--The Oregonian "A success story, in which the military, or a part of it anyway, instead of becoming mired in a folly of its own creation, prevailed over bureaucracy and incompetence and probably averted catastrophe."
--The New York Times "Fascinating. . . . Sheehan's scope is vast, and the narrative proceeds with the measured beauty of a complex mathematical proof."
--GQ "Neil Sheehan is a master of historical portraiture. His new book casts light on a critical but largely forgotten moment of the Cold War, with all the dazzling research and authority we have come to expect from him. Sheehan tells a fascinating story wonderfully vividly."
--Sir Max Hastings "Schriever is a charismatic figure, and the supporting characters are fascinating, too."
--The New Yorker "Schriever's part in the development of the ICBM is a story that needed to be told . . . and Sheehan tells it with enthusiasm."
--The Boston Globe "Here, masterfully recounted, is the epic tale of the decisive scientific battle of the Cold War--for supremacy of the skies and space--told through the remarkable story of Air Force general Bennie Schriever. Once again, the legendary reporter Neil Sheehan has unearthed a hidden trove of the history of our time. . . . A stunning achievement."
--Carl Bernstein "Sheehan does an excellent job of describing, in terms that a layman can follow, the technical challenges involved in developing an ICBM and how they were overcome."
--Michael Dobbs, The Washington Post "A fascinating tale."
--The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) "Neil Sheehan has triumphed again in this sweeping and absolutely fascinating book. . . . Sheehan takes on the epic tale of how science, the military, and politics became interwoven during the Cold War. It's a crucially important topic, but also a colorful narrative tale filled with memorable characters such as Bennie Schriever and the geniuses he enlisted in his cause."
--Walter Isaacson "A story of many characters, and some of the major ones, such as mathematician John von Neumann and Gen. Curtis LeMay, are very colorful. . . . There is much to like in this book. . . . Sheehan's book helps make sense of things we know."
--Seattle Times "In this amazing book, Neil Sheehan shows us how the grand movements of history turn on the character of individuals. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War is the gripping account of the events, largely hidden until now, that saved the Cold War from turning into Armageddon."
--Anthony Lewis

Air Force general Bernard Schriever's most important work was on the development of the inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). The story of Schriever and the ICBM is as much about the rivalry between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force as it is about the Cold War. At times it seems that Schriever and his air force associates feared the Soviets-but really hated the army. Schriever also had to navigate the rivalries between military contractors and superior officers within his own service branch. While a tale of bureaucratic wrangling could very easily be boring, Pulitzer Prize winner Sheehan (A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam) has made this work exciting by weaving in fascinating personal stories of the individuals involved as well as lucid snapshots of Cold War politics. The climax is his brief synopsis of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the weapons Schriever helped develop came to being deployed. VERDICT Highly accessible to lay readers, this book is for anyone interested in learning how the military industrial complex worked during the Cold War. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/09.]-Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary, Oviedo, FL Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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