Tiger of the Week: Eric Schlosser ’81 Uncovers Nuclear History in New Book

Eric Schlosser ’81, the author and journalist best known for his 2001 book Fast Food Nation, returned to the New York Times best-sellers list last week with another investigative work of nonfiction. This time, Schlosser set his sights on America’s nuclear arsenal in Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety.

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Author Eric Schlosser ’81 (Photo: © Rebecca Reid/eyevine/ZUMA Press)

The “Damascus accident” in the book’s title — a fatal 1980 mishap at a nuclear-missile silo in rural Arkansas — is a central thread, but just one of several incidents that Schlosser highlights in his 640-page historical chronicle, drawn from archival research and interviews. “By a miracle of information management, Schlosser has synthesized a huge archive of material, including government reports, scientific papers, and a substantial historical and polemical literature on nukes, and transformed it into a crisp narrative covering more than fifty years of scientific and political change,” Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker. Other reviewers have called Schlosser’s accounts “deeply unsettling” (Men’s Journal) and “disquieting but riveting” (The New York Times).

Schlosser, a history major at Princeton, told CBS News that the threat of accidental detonation remains, both in the United States and in other nations: “Our controls and our systems are superior to that of any other nation, but when you look at the long list of accidents and near-misses that we’ve had, despite our expertise, it gives you enormous pause about other countries like Pakistan, India, [and] North Korea having nuclear weapons.”

Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.

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