The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (Hardcover)

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Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Finalist for The California Book Award in Nonfiction
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Best of 2017 List
In These Times “Best Books of 2017”
Huffington Post’s Ten Excellent December Books List
LitHub’s “Five Books Making News This Week”


From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day.

Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.

Framed as a memoir--a chronicle of madness in which Ellsberg acknowledges participating--this gripping exposé reads like a thriller and offers feasible steps we can take to dismantle the existing "doomsday machine" and avoid nuclear catastrophe, returning Ellsberg to his role as whistle-blower. The Doomsday Machine is thus a real-life Dr. Strangelove story and an ultimately hopeful--and powerfully important--book about not just our country, but the future of the world.

About the Author


In 1961, Daniel Ellsberg, a consultant to the White House, drafted Secretary Robert McNamara's plans for nuclear war. Later he leaked the Pentagon Papers. A senior fellow of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, he is the author of Secrets and the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America. He is also a key figure in Steven Spielberg’s film about the Pentagon Papers, The Post. He lives in Kensington, California, with his wife, Patricia.

Praise For…


"The Doomsday Machine is being published at an alarmingly relevant moment, as North Korea is seeking the capability to target the United States with nuclear missiles, and an unpredictable president, Donald Trump, has countered with threats of 'fire and fury.' "- New York Magazine

"A groundbreaking and nightmare-inducing account of how the whole mad system works." - Esquire

"One of the best books ever written on the subject--certainly the most honest and revealing account by an insider who plunged deep into the nuclear rabbit hole's mad logic and came out the other side." - Fred Kaplan, Slate

"Daniel Ellsberg's The Doomsday Machine (Bloomsbury) unpacks the power of our atomic arsenal." - Vanity Fair

"Ellsberg, the dauntless whistle-blower, has written a timely plea for a reassessment of a weapons program that he describes as 'institutionalized madness.' " - Best Books of the Year 2017, The San Francisco Chronicle

"A passionate call for reducing the risk of total destruction . . . Ellsberg's effort to make vivid the genuine madness of the 'doomsday machine,' and the foolishness of betting our survival on mutually assured destruction, is both commendable and important." - Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review

"Brilliantly and readably tackles an issue even more crucial than decision-making in the U.S. intervention in Vietnam, which is policy on the handling of nuclear weapons." - 10 Excellent December Books, Huffington Post

"Gripping and unnerving . . . A must-read of the highest order, Ellsberg's profoundly awakening chronicle is essential to our future." - starred review, Booklist (“High Demand Backstory”)

"Ellsberg’s brilliant and unnerving account makes a convincing case for disarmament and shows that the mere existence of nuclear weapons is a serious threat to humanity." - starred review, Publishers Weekly

"Noted gadfly Ellsberg returns with a sobering look at our nuclear capabilities . . . When the author hurriedly copied the contents of his RAND Corporation safe to reveal, in time, what would become known as the Pentagon Papers, that was just the start of it. He had other documents, even more jarring . . . Especially timely given the recent saber-rattling not from Russia but North Korea and given the apparent proliferation of nuclear abilities among other small powers." - Kirkus Reviews

"His point is simple: We and our political leaders must stop thinking of nuclear war as a manageable risk. We must stop thinking of the possibility of nuclear war as normal." - St Louis Post-Dispatch, "Our Favorite Books of 2017"

"The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner blends personal recollections and historical analysis with a set of considered proposals for reducing the threat of apocalyptic war. Many years in the making, it’s a book that arrives at an opportune moment." - San Francisco Chronicle

"Ellsberg’s book, perhaps the most personal memoir yet from a Cold Warrior, fills an important void by providing firsthand testimony about the nuclear insanity that gripped a generation of policymakers . . . The Doomsday Machine is strongest as a portrait of the slow corruption of America’s national security state by layer upon layer of secrecy. He relates how the Cold War, the nuclear build-up and trillions of dollars of defense spending were compromised by information purposely withheld from the policymakers and politicians who debated and shaped our path" - Washington Post

"History may remember Ellsberg as the whistleblower who leaked the Pentagon Papers and helped end the Vietnam War, but his alarmingly relevant new book should also assure his legacy as a prescient and authoritative anti-nuclear activist. The Doomsday Machine, which takes its title from Dr. Strangelove, reads like a thriller as Ellsberg figures out that America's pledge never to attack first was fiction and that the so called 'fail-safe' systems are prone to disaster." - Los Angeles Times

"Ellsberg writes briskly in the service of opinions formed by long and sober study. What he means is never in doubt and it is always interesting . . . He is a vigorous writer with a gift for dramatic tension and the unfolding of events as they cascade toward disaster." - Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books

"Ellsberg presents his thoughts on how best to dismantle a program that could lead to global annihilation, while once again proving how deeply disturbing and radically ignorant our country's leaders are when it comes to thermonuclear warfare." - SF Weekly

"The Doomsday Machine is chilling, compelling and certain to be controversial." - Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Is it really necessary to declare that a knowledgeable, detailed and passionate book about the odds-on danger of cataclysmically destroying all human life on earth is important? Daniel Ellsberg's The Doomsday Machine demands to be widely read. Its claims should be examined by experts, corroborated, rebutted, taken up by Congressional committees (alas, unlikely) and generally forced into public consciousness . . . The Doomsday Machine is engrossing and frightening." - Peter Steinfels, America Magazine

"In the era of barbed insults regarded as precursors to nuclear threat, the warnings yielded by The Doomsday Machine have become required reading. . . . Daniel Ellsberg's title evokes Kubrick's film on purpose, a metaphor that culminates in his definition of the 'Strangelove Paradox.' The United States has thousands of 'Doomdsay Machine' weapons and hundreds of 'fingers on the button.' The question the reader must ask, now mortified by the necessary horrors of Ellsberg's masterpiece, is how to save the world" - Nuclear Age Peace Foundation

"The Doomsday Machine is, in fact, a Bildungsroman, a tale of one intellectual’s disillusionment with the country in which Ellsberg had placed so much trust. It reveals how the horrors of US nuclear war planning transformed a man of the establishment into a left-wing firebrand." - Los Angeles Review of Books

"[The Doomsday Machine is] an important tome that’s as optimistic as it sounds. It’s vital reading that reminds people that both poor planning--such as the US under Dwight Eisenhower having no contingency in place for only bombing the USSR into dust, but it being a package deal with China, something that confirmed the rigidity of these planners as well as their blithely democidal tendencies--and the potential for simple mistakes still run rampant in US nuclear policy." - antiwar.com

"Gripping . . . The Doomsday Machine is essential reading--both a terrifying ‘Doctor Strangelove’ saga and a hopeful consideration of future scenarios." - Mercury News

"Ellsberg's book is essential for facilitating a national discussion about a vital topic." - starred review, Library Journal

"Alarming, galvanizing, and brilliantly written." - Barnes & Noble Review

"Given the current crises, both domestic and international, the timeliness of Ellsberg’s exposures—and warnings—is unnerving... The Doomsday Machine is not for the faint of heart, but its sense of urgency should make it required reading, and—more importantly—a call to action." - BookPage

"From a close insider's perspective, he describes how the U.S. came to create and adjust this potentially world-destroying arsenal, how presidents have used it to threaten foreign leaders, and the responses of other nuclear powers. We have narrowly avoided many previous crises, but he fears that the current U.S. administration could charge straight into a worst-case scenario. This book deserves to be widely read, discussed and acted upon." - Shelf Awareness

"In his recent book The Doomsday Machine, Daniel Ellsberg reports that the basic elements of US preparations for nuclear war have been little changed over the past three generations . . . Ellsberg's warning needs to be taken seriously." - Truthout

"Speaking with the authority of an insider who was intimately involved with nuclear strategy and policymaking at the highest levels, he reveals that practically everything the American public believes about nuclear war and nuclear weapons is, quite simply, a 'deliberate deception.' . . . One can only hope Daniel Ellsberg's singular combination of moral credibility and personal knowledge will work its magic one more time to forestall an even greater tragedy than the Vietnam War." - Undark Magazine

"The book is a revelation, and it raises so many essential questions that have been very inadequately discussed about nuclear war, realistic appraisal of its consequences and nuclear winter. Ellsberg places his discussion inside a history of the law of war since the early 20th century. . . . Ellsberg has performed his greatest public service yet with the publication of this book." - The Concord Monitor

"Shocking . . . The Doomsday Machine is full of deeply disturbing revelations. The book sometimes reads like a thriller, as Ellsberg describes his mounting horror and revulsion over the discoveries he made over the years." - Five out of Five, Berkleyside

"An absolutely imperative read in this day and age of Trump, Putin, Kim Jong Un, and global instability." - Helen Caldicott, Founding President, Physicians for Social Responsibility

"This long-awaited chronicle from the father of American whistle-blowing is both an urgent warning and a call to arms to a public that has grown dangerously habituated to the idea that the means of our extinction will forever be on hair-trigger alert." - Edward Snowden

"Nobody could have told this horrifying story better than Daniel Ellsberg. He introduces us to the men who have coldly and with a God-like sense of righteous entitlement, put in place a plan that can, on a whim--not virtually, but literally--annihilate life on Earth. What a book." - Arundhati Roy, anti-nuclear activist and author of THE MINISTRY OF UTMOST HAPPINESS and the Pulitzer Prize-winner THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS

"A fascinating and terrifying account of nuclear war planning by a consultant from the RAND Corporation at the highest levels of government in the Kennedy administration. Ellsberg tells us of the close calls with nuclear war and of the policies developed then that still threaten the planet with annihilation. I couldn't put the book down." - Frances FitzGerald, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of FIRE IN THE LAKE

Product Details
ISBN: 9781608196708
ISBN-10: 1608196704
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: December 5th, 2017
Pages: 432
Language: English
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