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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (201 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Neil Sheehan Narrator: Robertson Dean Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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From Neil Sheehan, author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning classic A Bright Shining Lie, comes this long-awaited, magnificent epic. Here is the never-before-told story of the nuclear arms race that changed history—and of the visionary American Air Force officer Bernard Schriever, who led the high-stakes effort. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War is a masterly work about Schriever’s quests to prevent the Soviet Union from acquiring nuclear superiority, to penetrate and exploit space for America, and to build the first weapons meant to deter an atomic holocaust rather than to be fired in anger.

Sheehan melds biography and history, politics and science, to create a sweeping narrative that transports the reader back and forth from individual drama to world stage. The narrative takes us from Schriever’s boyhood in Texas as a six-year-old immigrant from Germany in 1917 through his apprenticeship in the open-cockpit biplanes of the Army Air Corps in the 1930s and his participation in battles against the Japanese in the South Pacific during the Second World War. On his return, he finds a new postwar bipolar universe dominated by the antagonism between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Inspired by his technological vision, Schriever sets out in 1954 to create the one class of weapons that can enforce peace with the Russians–intercontinental ballistic missiles that are unstoppable and can destroy the Soviet Union in thirty minutes. In the course of his crusade, he encounters allies and enemies among some of the most intriguing figures of the century: John von Neumann, the Hungarian-born mathematician and mathematical physicist, who was second in genius only to Einstein; Colonel Edward Hall, who created the ultimate ICBM in the Minuteman missile, and his brother, Theodore Hall, who spied for the Russians at Los Alamos and hastened their acquisition of the atomic bomb; Curtis LeMay, the bomber general who tried to exile Schriever and who lost his grip on reality, amassing enough nuclear weapons in his Strategic Air Command to destroy the entire Northern Hemisphere; and Hitler’s former rocket maker, Wernher von Braun, who along with a colorful, riding-crop-wielding Army general named John Medaris tried to steal the ICBM program.

The most powerful men on earth are also put into astonishing relief: Joseph Stalin, the cruel, paranoid Soviet dictator who spurred his own scientists to build him the atomic bomb with threats of death; Dwight Eisenhower, who backed the ICBM program just in time to save it from the bureaucrats; Nikita Khrushchev, who brought the world to the edge of nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and John Kennedy, who saved it.

Schriever and his comrades endured the heartbreak of watching missiles explode on the launching pads at Cape Canaveral and savored the triumph of seeing them soar into space. In the end, they accomplished more than achieving a fiery peace in a cold war. Their missiles became the vehicles that opened space for America.

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Quotes & Awards

  • A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, Neil Sheehan’s deeply researched, compulsively readable and important book…reminds us that, as the founders warned, the survival of the United States depends on our ability not only to choose wise presidents, but also to maintain a federal government that attracts extraordinary talent at all levels.”

    New York Times

  • “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…Sheehan is also good at tracing the origins of the military industrial lobby and the twisting of intelligence for political (and commercial) purposes.”

    Washington Post

  • “Highly accessible to lay readers, this book is for anyone interested in learning how the military industrial complex worked during the Cold War.”

    Library Journal

  • “With a reporter’s respect for fact, a historian’s care for context, and a novelist’s attention to narrative flow, Sheehan transforms an otherwise arcane topic into a must-read for any citizen interested in how and why the country assembled a deadly arsenal designed to prevent another Pearl Harbor and make nuclear war unthinkable. Simply outstanding.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred 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.”


  • “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 exposé of the deep gears grinding in the engine room of the Cold War.”


  • “Fascinating…Sheehan’s scope is vast, and the narrative proceeds with the measured beauty of a complex mathematical proof.”


  • “Schriever’s part in the development of the ICBM is a story that needed to be told…and Sheehan tells it with enthusiasm.”

    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

  • “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

  • Selected for the November 2009 Indie Next List
  • One of the 2009 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Nonfiction

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Sue | 2/11/2014

    " I didn't actually "read" this book, nor did I choose it. It was chosen by the person who was giving me rides to work, so I listened perforce. Nevertheless, I found parts of it fascinating, parts chilling. Extremely thorough & very well written. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Ericmgb1974 | 1/30/2014

    " A decent popular history/biography. Like most books of it's kind, it's a quick and easy read but barely scratches the surface of the topic. This particular book also suffers from a bit of a split personality by trying to simultaneously be a biography of General Schriever and a history of the early Cold War arms race. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Jb | 1/24/2014

    " Story of the Cold War nuclear arms race is told through Schreiver's life. As an Air Force officer who eventually rose to four-star rank, he pushed through and led development of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles. Mean-spirited generals sometimes stood in his way but along with help of brainy scientific types the ICBM program grew to awesome quantity. U.S. missile superiority bought time and by 1990 the Soviets self-destructed from their own internal contradictions. Northern hemisphere civilization was saved. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Midge Bork | 1/11/2014

    " I gave up. Good subject matter buried under too much useless descriptive details. Get an editor! "

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