A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

In This Review

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon
By Neil Sheehan
Random House, 2009
560 pp. $32.00
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Bernard Schriever, who died in 2005 at the age of 94, was instrumental in bringing the United States into the missile age. He had the right qualifications: a background as an engineer with an aptitude for bureaucratic politics, a respect for scientists, and some enviable patrons early in his career. He also now turns out to have been fortunate with his biographer. Sheehan last chose a formidable individual to illuminate a big story when he used Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann to criticize the conduct of the Vietnam War. Although his descriptions of the developing Cold War have a decidedly revisionist tinge, Sheehan has been drawn into Schriever's world, and he effectively cheers him on in his determination to construct operational long-range missiles before the Soviet Union does. Schriever hacked away at arcane review procedures and regulations before they added years to the project and led it to collapse, cajoled disparate groups into working together, and circumvented the obstacles put in his way by the acerbic and myopic General Curtis LeMay, who saw value only in long-range bombers. The book's rich cast of characters includes the hard-drinking official Trevor Gardner, the technological entrepreneur Stephen Ramo, and the brilliant scientist John von Neumann. It is a welcome and compelling portrayal not only of Schriever but also of the bureaucratic tussles and engineering challenges behind the missile and space programs of the 1950s
and 1960s.