Command and Control by Eric Schlosser Penguin 4 stars David Wilson Global warming is not the only threat to civilisation. Remember the menace presented by nuclear weapons, argues investigative journalist Eric Schlosser in his latest non-fiction blockbuster, Command and Control . The idea of safety is a joke, judging by his book, which highlights the impact of America's atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the second world war's final phase. Schlosser - a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly - charts the mega-death carnage dramatically, especially in Hiroshima's case. "The blast wave flattened buildings, a firestorm engulfed the city, and a mushroom cloud rose almost ten miles into the sky. From the plane, Hiroshima looked like a roiling, bubbling sea of black smoke and fire," he writes, describing the view from the Enola Gay bomber. Elsewhere, Schlosser documents accidents, close scrapes, spasms of heroism, and scientific "advances". His narrative is anchored in exhaustive research that pans out as recently declassified documents and interviews with sources who devised and handled "nukes". Schlosser's source list includes bomber pilots, missile commanders, maintenance crews, and other everyday servicemen who risked everything to prevent a nuclear holocaust. Given that he is dealing with sensitive content, he gleans surprisingly deep insight into the character of key players such as senior airman David Livingston, who plays a lead part in Schlosser's core cold war story: the effort, amid the rolling hills of Damascus, Arkansas, to avert the eruption of a ballistic missile packing the most potent nuclear warhead ever made by America: Titan II. Close call. The core question, Schlosser reckons, which dates back to the birth of the atomic age, is how any power can deploy ultra-potent weapons without being annihilated by them. Twinned with ballistic complexity, human fallibility remains a huge threat to our future. Command and Control is typically ambitious and offbeat Schlosser terrain. He has covered everything from pot growers to pornographers and violent crime victims. Also, he has gone on duty with a police bomb squad, so he has some "form" on the weapons paraded through his book's 640 pages including appendices. One quibble: the blurb's assertion that Command and Control has the vibrancy of a first-rate thriller seems inflated. Also, Schlosser's premise that nuclear weapons remain a threat is hardly news. Still, the part-time playwright makes his case persuasively. "Right now thousands of missiles are hidden away … topped with warheads and ready to go, awaiting the right electrical signal. They are a collective death wish, barely suppressed. Every one of them is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder," he warns at the end of the last chapter. Do not be seduced by the illusion of control our leaders concoct, says Schlosser: we are unlikely to stay lucky forever.