Big Red: Three Months On Board a Trident Nuclear Submarine

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9780060194840: Big Red: Three Months On Board a Trident Nuclear Submarine

The author chronicles three months aboard a nuclear submarine, introducing readers to the secretive lives of submariners as they monitor the enemy, maintain their deadly cargo, and survive under the ocean. 75,000 first printing.

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Review:

Big Red might have been subtitled The Anthropology of a Submarine. On these pages, Time magazine correspondent Douglas C. Waller--granted surprising levels of access by the Pentagon--describes life onboard the USS Nebraska, a Trident nuclear submarine, in compelling detail. Big Red lacks the thrills of Blind Man's Bluff, but it is nonetheless an engrossing book on the routines of the silent service.

The Nebraska is an awesome triumph of military engineering: standing on end, it would be taller than the Washington Monument. And its might is impressive, including missiles that could wipe out Moscow and torpedoes "with three times the explosive power of the 1995 blast that leveled the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City." Readers will gain an intimate understanding of how the Trident works without ever having to set foot on one themselves. Waller has an uncanny sense of what questions to probe, such as why Trident submariners aren't likely to drown in claustrophobic compartments--a staple scene in submarine movies. (Answer: Flooding would cause the sub to sink, and then crushing water pressure would end the ordeal before the air ran out.) And yet movies are more than diversions, writes Waller: "Practically every Trident submariner had seen Crimson Tide and been jarred by it.... Officers still discuss Crimson Tide during private seminars on commanding a ship."

Waller also displays a powerful sense of irony. He describes a Sunday service onboard the Nebraska, and then deadpans, "Their worship over, [the submariners] would now practice how to destroy much of what God created." He also isn't afraid to ask difficult questions, such as whether women and gays should be allowed onboard (currently, neither are), or to note that marital fidelity is a problem for both husbands at port call and the wives they leave back home. It would be wrong to say Big Red reads like a potboiler--there are no Crimson Tide-like moments of near launches or mutiny--but it is exciting in its own way. This is at once an impressive journalistic achievement and an incredibly informative book. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Douglas C. Waller is a correspondent for the Time magazine. Previously, he was a defense and foreign policy correspondent for the Newsweek. He has also served on the legislative staffs of Senator William Proxmire and Congressman Edward J. Markey. He is the author of five previous books on foreign policy and defense, including The Commandos: The Inside Story of America's Secret Soldiers and Air Warriors: The Inside Story of the Making of a Navy Pilot. He lives in Annandale, Virginia, with his wife and three children.

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