Cover image for Survival City : adventures among the ruins of atomic America
Survival City : adventures among the ruins of atomic America
Vanderbilt, Tom.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Princeton Architectural Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
228 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Introduction: Looking for Dr. Strangelove : the Cold War as archaeology -- Dead city : the metropolis targeted -- Survival City : this is only a test -- The domestication of doomsday : new buildings for the perilous atomic age -- The underground city : the architecture of disappearance -- Twentieth-century castles : missile silos in the heartland -- The secret landscape : some Cold War traces -- Postscript : September 11, 2001.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F595.3 .V36 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The Cold War was the war that never happened.Nonetheless, it spurred the most significant buildup of military contingency this country has ever known: from the bunkers of Greenbrier, West Virginia, to the "proving grounds" of Nevada, where entire cities were built only to be vaporized. The Cold War was waged on a territory that knew no boundaries but left few traces.In this fascinating--and at turns frightening and comical--travelogue to the hidden battlefields of the Cold War, Tom Vanderbilt travels the Interstate (itself a product of the Cold War) to uncover the sites of Cold War architecture and reflect on their lasting heritage.In the process, Vanderbilt shows us what the Cold War landscape looked like, how architecture tried to adapt to the threat of mass destruction, how cities coped with the knowledge that they were nuclear targets, and finally what remains of the Cold War theater today, both its visible and invisible legacies. Ultimately, Vanderbilt gives us a deep look into our cultural soul, the dreams and fears that drove us for the last half of the 20th century.

Author Notes

Tom Vanderbilt is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in Wired, Nest, the New York Times Magazine, & The Nation.

He is author of The Sneaker Book: An Anatomy of an Industry & An Icon.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Highlighting the Cold War era's obsession with what Vanderbilt (The Sneaker Book) calls "constant protection from an invisible threat," this is a fascinating political and cultural analysis of "cold war architecture": a vast array of structures from missile silos to small towns built to test the effectiveness of an atomic blast, presidential fallout shelters, nuclear waste dumps, monoliths like the windowless PacBell building in Los Angeles, and countless motels and diners named "Atomic." The physical structures that resulted from Cold War ideology and politics also had far deeper and extensive psychological and emotional implications and ramifications: "the domestication of doomsday." Mixing first-person narrative of his travels around the U.S. in search of Cold War sites and objects with an extensive accumulation of provocative historical facts ("the U.S. Air Force bombing raids on Tokyo exacted a higher cost in lives and property" than the later atomic bombings), Vanderbilt takes great pains to reveal the Cold War policies behind the scattered remnants he encounters. Once-ubiquitous fallout shelter signs were a result of the Kennedy administration's National Fallout Shelter Survey, undertaken by "a mobile army of atomic surveyors (many of them architecture students)." As far as blastworthiness is concerned, "the toughest job is myth control," a NORAD civil engineer tells Vanderbilt during his trip 4,400 feet underground to the North American Aerospace Defense Command Center. This book certainly does its part in debunking the "Duck, and Cover" mindset. (Apr.) Forecast: With a massive defense buildup analogous to the Cold War's in the works, this book should have resonance for anyone thinking about how policy affects our built environment. Vanderbilt's postscript, written on September 17, 2001, speculates on some of the analogies between the WTC attacks and atomic blasts. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Introduction: Looking for Dr. Strangelove: The Cold War as Archaeologyp. 6
Chapter 1 Dead City: The Metropolis Targetedp. 48
Chapter 2 Survival City: This is Only a Testp. 68
Chapter 3 The Domestication of Dommsday: New Buildings for the Perilous Atomic Agep. 96
Chapter 4 The Underground City: The Architecture of Disappearancep. 128
Chapter 5 Twentieth-Century Castles: Missile Silos in the Heartlandp. 156
Chapter 6 The Secret Landscape: Some Cold War Tracesp. 184
Postscript: September 11, 2001p. 204
Notesp. 210
Acknowledgmentsp. 227