During a military exercise, American bombers armed with nuclear weapons streak off past the fail-safe point, headed for Moscow.
Watching blips on the air command’s radar screen blink are a congressman and a manufacturer whose equipment went into the complex system intended to make the nuclear deployment program accident-proof. All hope fervently that the radar reports are wrong.
Russians watching their radar screens are also convinced the problem is in the display: nothing has prepared them for an attack or an American accident.
The President calls Krushchev.
To prevent an unprovoked attack on Moscow, the President first tries to shoot down the US planes. When that does not work, he seizes the only option available to avert World War III.
With that material to work from and their taut prose, Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler could not help turning out a thriller.
Fail-Safe, however, is not just a few hours’ entertainment. It’s a reminder that in any complex, untested system, the occurrence of several statistically improbable errors can bring the whole system crashing down. Perhaps if that lesson had been learned from this novel, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might not have come as such as shock to the American public.
Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler
1962 Bestseller #6
My grade: B+