Review by Choice Review
Despite the obvious importance of the Cuban Missile crisis, one must be forgiven for wondering what new can be said for such a heavily studied historical moment. After all, the subject has already been explored in detail in fine works such as R. L. Garthoff's Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis (CH, Jul'88; rev. ed., 1989); J. S. Blight and D. A. Welch's On the Brink: Americans and Soviets Examine the Cuban Missile Crisis (CH, Oct'89, 27-1158); A. Fursenko and T. Naftali's One Hell of a Gamble: Khrushchev, Castro, and Kennedy, 1958-64 (1997); and Sheldon Stern's The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (2005). The assumption that there is no more room for yet another study of the Cuban Missile Crisis is wrong, however, as Washington Post journalist Dobbs has put together a wonderfully written and well-researched page-turner that will inform, entertain, and even terrify professional historians and laypersons alike. The last section provides a detailed account of the climactic final day of the crisis that is as gripping as an episode of the television show 24, though One Minute to Midnight is more anxiety producing for being the real account of the world teetering on the edge of catastrophe. Summing Up: Essential. General and undergraduate collections. G. Eow Yale University Library
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review
Any new entry in the crowded field of books on the 1962 Cuban missile crisis must pass an immediate test: Is it just another recapitulation, or does it increase our net understanding of this seminal cold war event? By focusing on the activities of the American, Soviet and Cuban militaries during those tense October days, Michael Dobbs's "One Minute to Midnight" passes this test with flying colors. The result is a book with sobering new information about the world's only superpower nuclear confrontation - as well as contemporary relevance. Dobbs, a reporter for The Washington Post, states his central thesis concisely in a description of the state of play on Oct. 25, the 10th day of the crisis: "The initial reactions of both leaders had been bellicose. Kennedy had favored an air strike; Khrushchev thought seriously about giving his commanders in Cuba authority to use nuclear weapons. After much agonizing, both were now determined to find a way out that would not involve armed conflict. The problem was that it was practically impossible for them to communicate frankly with one another. Each knew very little about the intentions and motivations of the other side, and tended to assume the worst. Messages took half a day to deliver. ... The question was no longer whether the leaders of the two superpowers wanted war - but whether they had the power to prevent it." Ten days earlier, a U-2 spy plane had produced photographic evidence that the Soviets were sneaking nuclear missiles into Cuba. In "High Noon in the Cold War," published four years ago, Max Frankel described this reckless action as "worthy of the horse at Troy." Within hours of the discovery, Kennedy made a decision: the United States would not tolerate the missiles remaining in Cuba. During the next week, a small group of officials who would go down in history as the Executive Committee, or ExComm, deliberated in total secrecy. Most narratives focus on the dramatic debates in the Cabinet Room, during which America's leaders changed their positions frequently as they searched desperately for the proper mix of diplomatic and military pressure. Dobbs gives relatively short shrift to that first week, covering it in only 54 pages. His focus - extending over almost half the book - is Oct. 27, "Black Saturday," the darkest day of the cold war. On that day a Soviet missile team in Cuba shot down a U-2, killing its pilot; the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended immediate military retaliation; Castro sent Khrushchev a wildly emotional letter saying that he was facing an imminent American invasion, and Khrushchev sent a second letter to Kennedy, far tougher than an earlier one. That night men in Washington went to sleep not knowing (as Dean Rusk told me later) if they would awake in the morning, and wives debated whether to stay in Washington with their husbands or go to safer rural hideaways. (Almost all stayed, including Jackie Kennedy.) By Black Saturday, the two leaders seem to have been transformed by the magnitude of this crisis. But as they searched for a peaceful, face-saving way out, their military machines kept preparing for war. Dobbs is at his best in reconstructing the near misses, misunderstandings and unauthorized activities that could have led to an accidental war. He follows secret CIA. infiltration teams deep into the swamps of Cuba as they try to carry out a previously authorized plan te sabotage a copper mine. He traces the flight of a U-2 pilot, Chuck Maultsby, who, confused by the Northern Lights, wanders hundreds of miles into Soviet airspace and somehow escapes without triggering a Soviet reaction. ("There's always some sonofabitch who doesn't get the word," Kennedy notes with characteristic irony.) Dobbs also finds Soviet missile unit commanders in Cuba who, uninstructed by Moscow, prepare to fire missiles at the United States on their own authority if they feel threatened. And all the while, some military leaders in each country agitate for military action. Robert and John Kennedy confer at the White House in October 1962. In Washington, the Joint Chiefs, whose members include several World War II giants, push for action. Gen. Curtis LeMay, the brutal, cigar-chomping Air Force chief of staff, with 3,000 nuclear weapons under his command, barks at Kennedy that his blockade of Cuba is "almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich." In a dramatic confrontation in a Pentagon war room, the chief of naval operations tells secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara that the Navy will handle any engagement with the Soviets in accordance with long-standing Navy procedures and tradition, and needs no supervision from civilians. Furious, McNamara puts new procedures into place that give him and the president greater direct operational control - or so they think. More than 40 years later, there is no longer any dispute about the most critical meeting of the crisis. It started at 8:05 p.m. on Black Saturday, when, at Kennedy's instruction, his brother Bobby summoned the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, to his cavernous office in the Justice Department, and told him that the crisis had reached its moment of truth. "We're going to have to make certain decisions within the next 12, or possibly 24 hours," he declared. With the downing of the American U-2 that day, Bobby Kennedy said the American military, and not only the generals, were demanding that the president "respond to fire with fire." This meeting, coupled with a letter to Khrushchev skillfully drafted by Bobby Kennedy, Ted Sorensen and others, led to the Soviet announcement the next day that the missiles would be removed from Cuba. But threats were only part of Kennedy's brilliantly calibrated approach. He also offered Khrushchev a public pledge that the United States would not invade Cuba again, a virtually meaningless offer from Washington but politically valuable for Khrushchev with Castro. And there was one more thing - a secret both sides obscured for years - the story of the Jupiter missiles in Turkey. The Soviets had suggested they would remove their missiles from Cuba if the United States withdrew its 15 medium-range Jupiter missiles from Turkey. By the time these missiles had been deployed in early 1962, they were already obsolete; Kennedy had asked that they be removed before the missile crisis, but no action had been taken. Kennedy was more than willing to dismantle them, but he was determined not to leave a public impression that he had made any sort of deal or "trade" with Moscow. Asked by Dobrynin about the Jupiters, Bobby Kennedy said they were not an "insurmountable obstacle" but that they could not be linked - ever - to the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles. Bobby Kennedy also said that there would have to be a time lag of several months before their removal. It was this "non-deal deal" that opened the door for a resolution. In "Thirteen Days," his posthumously published chronicle of the crisis, Bobby Kennedy carefully edited his account of the Dobrynin meeting to remove any hint of a deal on Turkey. But almost from the beginning, many people suspected the truth, and looking back on it today, it may seem surprising to see how hard the Kennedys sought to conceal it. But in 1962, with the midterm elections days away, Kennedy did not want to appear weak. Dobbs's research uncovers some juicy nuggets for history buffs. My favorite is the debunking of the once-famous "back-channel" between the ABC reporter John Scali and Aleksandr Feklisov, a K.G.B. station chief. The Kennedy administration attached great importance to this connection, and spent much time drafting a message for Scali to give to Feklisov. But on the basis of extensive analysis and interviews, Dobbs believes that the so-called back channel was a self-generated effort by an ambitious spy to send some information to his bosses in Moscow, as well as self-promotion by an ambitious journalist, who parlayed his meetings with the K.G.B. agent into a public legend that eventually led to his becoming the American ambassador to the United Nations. Dobbs, one of the most thorough journalists in Washington, concludes that "there is no evidence" the K.G.B. cable containing Scali's message "played any role in Kremlin decision-making on the crisis, or was even read by Khrushchev." He calls it "a classic example of miscommunication." Nonetheless, Dobbs adds wryly, "the Scali-Feklisov meeting would become part of the mythology of the Cuban missile crisis." "One Minute to Midnight" is filled with similar insights that will change the views . of experts and help inform a new generation of readers. For those not versed in the full story, I would recommend reading this book in conjunction with Frankel's short and elegant overview. For those already familiar with the crisis, Dobbs's account more than stands on its own. IT is hard to read this book without thinking about what would have happened if the current administration had faced such a situation - real weapons of mass destruction only 90 miles from Florida; the Pentagon urging "surgical" air attacks followed by an invasion; threatening letters from the leader of a real superpower and senators calling the president "weak" just weeks before a midterm Congressional election. Life does not offer us a chance to play out alternative history, but it is not unreasonable to assume that the team that invaded Iraq would have attacked Cuba. And if Dobbs is right, Cuba and the Soviet Union would have fought back, perhaps launching some of the missiles already in place. One can only conclude that our nation was extremely fortunate to have had John F. Kennedy as president in October 1962. Like all presidents, he made his share of mistakes, but when the stakes were the highest imaginable, he rose to the occasion like no other president in the last 60 years - defining his goal clearly and then, against the demands of hawks within his administration, searching skillfully for a peaceful way to achieve it. 'We're going to have to make certain decisions within the next 12, or possibly 24 hours,' Bobby Kennedy said. Richard Holbrooke, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, is the author of "To End a War."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Booklist Review
The 1962 Cuban missile crisis is probably the single most analyzed episode of the cold war. In the past decade, declassified American and Russian documents have proved that a nuclear exchange was even closer than most scholars had previously realized. Dobbs, a reporter for the Washington Post, has used those sources as well as numerous new ones gleaned from two years of research in the U.S., Cuba, and Russia. Although nothing presented here will change the overall view of the crisis, Dobbs presents new and often startling information that again confirms that the thirteen days in October brought the world to the edge of an unprecedented cataclysm. Dobbs spends little time describing the characters of the key players, but he does convey a sense of men under immense stress as events threaten to outstrip their ability to cope with them. This is a well-written effort to explain and understand our closest brush with nuclear war.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2008 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Washington Post reporter Dobbs (Saboteurs) is a master at telling stories as they unfold and from a variety of perspectives. In this re-examination of the 1963 Bay of Pigs face-off between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., Dobbs combines visits to Cuba, discussions with Russian participants and fingertip command of archival and printed U.S. sources to describe a wild ride that--contrary to the myth of Kennedy¿s steel-nerved crisis management--was shaped by improvisation, guesswork and blind luck. Dobbs¿s protagonists act not out of malevolence, incompetence or machismo. Kennedy, Khrushchev and their advisers emerge as men desperately seeking a handle on a situation no one wanted and no one could resolve. In a densely packed, fast-paced, suspenseful narrative, Dobbs presents the crisis from its early stages through the decision to blockade Cuba and Kennedy¿s ordering of DEFCON 2, the last step before an attack, to the final resolution on October 27 and 28. The work¿s climax is a detailed reconstruction of the dry-mouthed, sweaty-armpits environment of those final hours before both sides backed down. From first to last, this sustains Dobbs¿s case that "crisis management" is a contradiction in terms. (June 5) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
What really happened during the Cuban missile crisis; with a three-city tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A nuanced account of the events of October 1962, when the Cold War almost ran hot. Countless historians have noted that the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear catastrophe, but Washington Post reporter Dobbs (Saboteurs: The Nazi Raid on America, 2004, etc.) gives a vivid account of just how close to the brink the world truly came. The story begins at the Bay of Pigs, with John F. Kennedy's disastrous effort to land CIA-trained Cuban exiles in Cuba and bring down Fidel Castro's government. Castro's victory there, Kennedy was convinced, gave Nikita Khrushchev cause to devalue the American president: "Probably thinks I'm stupid. Maybe most important, he thinks that I had no guts." JFK had no love for his Soviet counterpart, to be sure, and less so when Khrushchev, citing treaty obligations, installed missiles on Cuba easily capable of delivering nuclear warheads anywhere in America. JFK was prepared to go to war to keep the missiles from going online. Khrushchev may not really have been, though, as Dobbs sagely observes: "Once set in motion, the machinery of war quickly acquired its own logic and momentum," adding that the unwritten protocol that neither side could appear hesitant made it difficult to back away from a martial stance once it was assumed. There were other difficulties, the author observes, including the slow speed of communications in those days, often still through letters delivered by hand. So it was when Khrushchev, having almost unleashed an attack on the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay, finally stepped back, writing to JFK that he had ordered the offensive missiles to be crated and sent back home. That decision, Dobbs notes, gave the Soviet Union an edge in public relations, "yet another triumph for Moscow's peace-loving foreign policy over warmongering imperialists." Hard-line Soviets saw it as surrender, though, which contributed to Khrushchev's later fall. Dobbs's careful narrative supposes no prior knowledge of those long-ago events, making it a welcome introduction to that perilous time. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.