by L. Douglas Keeney

St. Martin’s Press,$26.99, 384 pages

This fascinating book traces the development of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the military organization at the heart of America’s nuclear forces, from the end of World War II to its dissolution at the end of the Cold War. SAC, based in Omaha, was responsible for the Air Force’s nuclear bomber forces.  SAC bombers stood on 15 minutes readiness, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 40 years.

15 Minutes is brilliantly written, and engrossing. Although this book covers what could be a narrow and technical subject, it is thoroughly enjoyable. As a history teacher, this Reviewer was constantly alert to how this could be used in a US history class. It is well researched, with a comprehensive bibliography and a glossary of terms that allows the novice a chance to keep up with the jargon.

Material in this book is presented sequentially, rather than thematically. The development of SAC as an institution is interposed with concurrent political and military events.  This reminds us that in the fluid, confusing, and constantly alarming world of real-time Geo-politics, World War III could happen accidentally. Keeney’s book shows us the world beyond the press-releases of American propaganda, into the imperfect, human world of missing nukes, air-mishaps and the oh-so-close, two minutes to midnight of Nuclear Armageddon. It is a must-read for anybody interested in the Cold War, or anyone with an interest in the 20th century.

Reviewed by Brad Wright