Flashback Friday: Fail-Safe

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Fail SafeFailSafeNovel.jpg

Fail-Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler

(first published 1962)

From Goodreads:

Something has gone wrong. A group of American bombers armed with nuclear weapons is streaking past the fail-safe point, beyond recall, and no one knows why. Their destination — Moscow.

In a bomb shelter beneath the White House, the calm young president turns to his Russian translator and says, “I think we are ready to talk to Premier Kruschchev.” Not far away, in the War Room at the Pentagon, the secretary of defense and his aides watch with growing anxiety as the luminous blips crawl across a huge screen map. High over the Bering Strait in a large Vindicator bomber, a colonel stares in disbelief at the attack code number on his fail-safe box and wonders if it could possibly be a mistake.

First published in 1962, when America was still reeling from the Cuban missle crisis, Fail-Safe reflects the apocalyptic attitude that pervaded society during the height of the Cold War, when disaster could have struck at any moment.

Fail-Safe is one of many Cold War era novels which vividly portray the fear of living in a nuclear age. Concepts like Mutually Assured Destruction were real and terrifying, and to Americans, the Soviets were the ultimate big bad. Fail-Safe perfectly captures the paranoia and helplessness of a populace facing potential annihilation at a moment’s notice.

The title refers to systems that ensure the success of a mission — but when the systems fail, there’s no way to intercede, and politicians world-wide are left to scramble for a solution to a situation that appears to have no ending but the utter destruction of mankind. As the world teeters on the brink of nuclear devastation, both sides work frantically to find a solution to what appears to be a hopeless situation.

I remember reading this book on the edge of my seat, finding it harder and harder to breathe as it went along. Fail-Safe builds in intensity and tension, page by page, until it’s practically unbearable. And oh, that ending!

I won’t give anything away, but if you want to read a book that truly conveys the terror of the Cold War and nuclear brinkmanship, Fail-Safe is an awfully good place to start.

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!


Do you host a blog hop or book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

2 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: Fail-Safe

    • It’s a modern “classic” — and I believe there have been a couple of movie and/or TV versions as well. I think I may need to do a post on more books with the Cold War/nuclear scare theme…

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