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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