Review by Booklist Review
In October 1962, Americans--indeed most of the world--lived through a fortnight of existential terror as the United States and the Soviet Union entered into a standoff that brought the two great powers to the brink of nuclear war. American intelligence had discovered that the Soviets were arming Castro's Cuba with troops and missile technology, including nuclear weapons. Clearly, having Soviet nukes that close to Florida was unacceptable, and President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev began a deadly game of diplomatic and military brinkmanship. While the Cuban missile crisis and its resolution have been well documented in the six decades since the incident, a raft of new information has come to light, including firsthand accounts and unclassified documents, particularly from the Russian side since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Historian Plokhy (Chernobyl, 2018) makes good use of this new information to paint a clearer picture of the behind-the-scenes machinations, the motivations, the politics, and the errors in judgment that almost brought about a nuclear holocaust. Plokhy pulls it all together with sober yet accessible prose that reads like a suspenseful thriller. For anyone interested in the Cold War, this is an indispensable read.
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Harvard history professor Plokhy (Forgotten Bastards) offers a comprehensive study of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis focused on the "misjudgments and misunderstandings" that nearly led to nuclear war. Bolstered by "ideological hubris" and afraid of appearing weak, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev "marched from one mistake to another," Plokhy asserts, yet both held back from pushing the button because they feared the consequences of nuclear entanglement. (Kennedy's military advisers informed him there would be 600,000 American casualties if a single missile reached a major U.S. city.) Plokhy dives deep into the events leading up to the crisis, documenting Khrushchev's boasts and lies as he used the threat of escalating tensions in Berlin to "distract attention from Cuba." Drawing on firsthand accounts, Plokhy also spotlights the Soviet military personnel who arrived in Cuba to unload and prepare the missiles for deployment, unaware of the high-level diplomatic maneuvers to defuse the conflict, and describes how Khrushchev attempted to assuage Fidel Castro's wrath when the Cuban leader learned the Soviet missiles wouldn't stay on the island. Though the storytelling bogs down in places, history buffs will savor this balanced and richly detailed look at both sides of the crisis. (Apr.)
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Review by Library Journal Review
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was not an exercise in rational diplomacy, but rather a series of blunders by President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, claims Plokhy (history, Harvard Univ.; Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front). The book's strength, based on the author's deep research of newly declassified records, shows how the Crisis played out in the Soviet Union and Cuba. Kennedy grossly underestimated the number of communist troops. Conversely, Khrushchev underestimated Kennedy's resolve, believing that the young president could be bullied based on the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco. Cuban Premier Fidel Castro, enraged by Khrushchev for not consulting with him but negotiating directly with Kennedy, pushed for a nuclear attack on the U.S. Plokhy concludes that Khrushchev tried to spin the Missile Crisis as a victory for world communism because Kennedy did not invade Cuba. However, the rest of the world, including the Soviet Union, viewed Kennedy as the victor. Two years later Khrushchev was removed from power by the Soviet Central Committee. VERDICT This important, absorbing work shows that the full story of the Cuban Missile Crisis must be told from its global perspective. See Martin Sherwin's Gambling with Armageddon for another account that places the Crisis in its Cold War context.--Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
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Review by Kirkus Book Review
A fresh examination of the historical milestone. On the heels of last year's highly praised Gambling With Armageddon, Plokhy, Harvard professor of Ukrainian history, covers similar ground in this companion volume. From John F. Kennedy's humiliation after the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1962 humiliation when he withdrew Soviet missiles from Cuba, "both Kennedy and Khrushchev marched from one mistake to another…caused by a variety of factors, from ideological hubris and overriding political agendas to misreading the other side's geostrategic objectives and intentions, poor judgment often due to the lack of good intelligence, and cultural misunderstandings." Although delighted after the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro had no doubt that America would try again and appealed for Soviet protection. Khrushchev accepted because he was losing the arms race with the U.S. He argued that "since the Americans have already surrounded the Soviet Union with a ring of their…missile installations, we should pay them back in their own coin." Having detected the missiles in October 1962, Kennedy believed they should be removed, and the debate was between air strikes and an invasion. Shocked at America's reaction, Khrushchev backpedaled. Most readers know that he ultimately withdrew the missiles in exchange for an American promise to remove missiles from Turkey. Despite a plethora of speeches, diplomatic notes, and editorials, Plokhy keeps the pages turning, and he includes far more Soviet material than earlier scholars. Surprisingly, Kremlin archives contain notes and transcripts of Khrushchev's secret discussions that parallel Kennedy's, and there is also no shortage of memoirs. Soviet soldiers hated Cuba and raged at laboring to build the sites just to tear them down. Plokhy concludes that both sides assumed that nuclear war meant the end of civilization, so they relented. Unfortunately, he adds, "there is little doubt that today there are world leaders prepared to take a more cavalier attitude." Far from the first account but superbly researched and uncomfortably timely. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.