On the road to Survival City, Tom Vanderbilt maps the visible and invisible legacies of the cold war, exhuming the blueprints for the apocalypse we once envisioned and chronicling a time when we all lived at ground zero. In this road trip among ruined missile silos, atomic storage bunkers, and secret test sites, a lost battleground emerges amid the architecture of the 1950s, accompanied by Walter Cotten’s stunning photographs. Survival City looks deep into the national soul, unearthing the dreams and fears that drove us during the latter half of the twentieth century.
“A crucial and dazzling book, masterful, and for me at least, intoxicating.”—Dave Eggers
“A genuinely engaging book, perhaps because [Vanderbilt] is skillful at conveying his own sense of engagement to the reader.”—Los Angeles Times
“A retracing of Dr. Strangelove as ordinary life.”—Greil Marcus, Bookforum ... Read more
Customer Reviews (9)
Should have been Named How to Build a Building
A terrible book. I thought I was reading a book on Architecture and how to build buildings and or cities. The only adventures this author saw was looking out of a window or walking around some ruins that he was trying to make exciting and the only things that kept us out of the Atomic War. This was not an adventure, but a boring trip down a college Architectural course.
Great Book For The Cold War History Buff
The "Ruins" of the Cold War are fading fast.Time, weather, and man's inattention to preserving history are everyday factors leading to the eventual disappearance of the relics of the cold war infastructure.Survival City is a facinating look at some of these relics and how and why they were developed.It is a very interesting journey and I really enjoyed reading this book because like the author, I too enjoy looking for, and finding these cold war artifacts.Thank you for a facinating and interesting journey into Atomic America.
contemplating the mysteries
In 1969, shortly after the Atlas ICBM program was shut down, I was a college freshman filled with curiosity who more eagerly explored every silo location near the town where I went to school than I did the subjects in my classes. Inactive for such a short time, they were likely to be in pristine condition if only I could find one that was open. Flooded entrances, welded doors and no trespassing signs usually greeted me so how exciting it was when I finally found one that was wide open and with operating electricity! Someone appeared to live there who, probably fortunately, wasn't home. Unlike so many who followed me and vandalized these places, my policy was look but don't touch and leave everything as you found it.
It was with familiarity, then, that I read Vanderbilt's account of his own descent into an Atlas site of exactly the same design.
Like Vanderbilt, I was always fascinated with the old silos, Nike sites, weapons plants and other military detritus that spoke of great power, huge expense and top security now turned to open ruins left to rot, yet telling a story for the amateur detective to interpret. To think that these crumbling places might have meant The End and that what was now casual climbing might once have meant setting off alarms and being shot by an armed guard.
Vanderbilt's book is not a dry description of the specifications of such ruins (though he does seem to be fond of mentioning the number of inches of thickness of reinforced concrete) but a lively account that puts them in place among the ideas and technologies of the Cold War period. Unlike my often clueless speculations on visits to some of the sites, this author has educated himself and brings along others who can expand his knowledge and ours. For me, it's like a dream come true - to visit the places and have along with you knowledgeable company to answer your questions. This investigation is impressively thorough and filled with the detail that his more recent book, Traffic, also shows. Unlike Traffic, the information provided in Survival City would otherwise be far more difficult to come by. He takes his subject and squeezes it for all the juice it can provide. The pictures are an added treat and illustrate the often stark quality one finds in these places.
This book gives voice to otherwise mute monuments of man's power to destroy and in Vanderbilt's writing they are quite conversational. Survival City will never come close to Traffic in popularity but I think it's a much better book both for the depth of thought that the author shares with his readers and the compelling nature of the subject.
The fading ruins among us
Author Tom Vanderbilt takes us around the country examining the evidences left by the Cold War, a war which did and yet didn't happen.From missile silos being destroyed to ones being turned into homes, from "proving grounds" to backyard bomb shelters, Mr. Vanderbilt uncovers sites which often sit right in front of us and simply blend into our landscape in spite of their obviously militaristic features.But he goes beyond the aging and disappearing signs indicating "fallout shelters" and discusses how the threat of nuclear annihilation shaped our cities and our thinking.Cities became the targets, and today's suburbs, often denigrated under the label of "urban sprawl," were a reaction to and a defense against the calamities which befell the densely packed cities of Germany and Japan which proved so fatal during the firebombing raids of WWII.Attempts to fortify buildings, strategies for minimizing casualties, underground cities, interstate highways, early warning systems, NORAD, massive retaliation... it all walks a fine line between critical and absurd, interesting and boring.
I can't help imagining the puzzlement the younger generation must feel at seeing some of these things.Growing up in the 70s and 80s I only saw the end of the Cold War, but the Reagan years witnessed an increase in tensions with the USSR (do younger people even know who that was or what it stood for?) and I recall some events like the local opposition which prevented the deployment of MX missiles in the Utah desert in the late 70s.It also reminded me of movies I saw as a teenager like "War Games" and "The Day After," or music by Sting ("Russians") or Frankie Goes To Hollywood ("Two Tribes") which reflected the contradictions of a peace maintained by the ability of two nations to assure "mutual destruction" of each other within minutes.And yet that seemed to be the reality of the world we lived in, and I thought this book captured that sense very well.Mr. Vanderbilt ends with some sobering observations on how September 11th relates to this struggle to protect ourselves without falling into a "bunker mentality."Overall, an interesting and reflective look at a fading time, a look at the darker side of the optimism and technological advances of the 50s and 60s, with lots of great pictures (all in stark b&w) although maybe not quite 4 stars.
A Fantastic Storyteller Explores the Cold War
Tom Vanderbilt's book is not only factual, but provides a riveting adventure through the remnants of America's Cold War.His writing is compelling. What he reveals is astonishing, and the pictures placed through out the book give the story crucial details that portray the reality of the Cold War in a way that words simply cannot articulate.The book draws you in and changes your perspective on and knowledge of history as well as the residue that coats America today.
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