Cuban Missile Crisis

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Blight, James G. The Armageddon letters: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis, by James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang. Rowman & Littlefield, 2012. 304p ISBN 9781442216792, $39.95; ISBN 9781442216815 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2013

The goal of The Armageddon Letters is to have the reader experience the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis vicariously. Blight and Lang (both, Univ. of Waterloo, Canada) provide a list of six points that they argue will help the reader get into the minds of Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro. These points are that Armageddon is possible, is possible even if leaders are rational, can become highly probable in a crisis, will likely occur inadvertently, and remains virtually inevitable; as a result, nuclear weapons should be abolished. The book is centered on 43 letters and other communications among the three leaders that the authors use to describe events that occurred during those tense thirteen days in 1962. The book is organized like a play with chapters denoting the cast of characters, a prelude, acts 1 through 4, and a postscript. The chapters also provide comic strip illustrations presenting scenes of the key actors. The act chapters consist of the actual letters of the leaders during the crisis with the authors providing context that elaborates on events. The book includes a wealth of companion material including a website that offers additional information in video and audio formats. Summing Up: Recommended. All readership levels. —M. L. Keck, University of Texas at Brownsville

Blight, James G. The shattered crystal ball: fear and learning in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rowman & Littlefield, 1990. 199p ISBN 0847676099, $33.50.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 1991

A superb book. One is tempted to recommend this elegantly written, intense book for all users. Blight (Harvard University) marries the disciplines of psychology, literature, and political science into what is perhaps the most intriguing study of the Cuban Missile Crisis yet to appear. Blight’s major argument—that fear played an instrumental role in the eventual outcome of that crisis—is a central thesis. More than that, however, the book is an attempt to go inside the minds of Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the other participants in that game of near-death. Using the tools of his discipline (psychology) Blight tracks the mind-sets of the decision-makers through the crisis, concentrating on the adaptive role that fear played in their decisions, especially during the fateful last 48 hous of the crisis. In the course of his analysis Blight takes issue with both the rational and irrational actor schools of analysis, arguing that neither approach is particularly useful in explaining what happened during those fateful days in 1962, nor will these schools be particularly useful in dealing with future world crises. The argument is provocative, the writing superb, and the lesson important. Summing Up: Upper-division undergraduates and above. —E. A. Duff, Randolph-Macon Woman’s College

Cuban Missile Crisis: the essential reference guide, ed. by Priscilla Roberts. ABC-CLIO, 2012. 278p ISBN 9781610690652, $51.95; ISBN 9781610690669 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2012

Roberts (Univ. of Hong Kong) edits this well-written dictionary of key players and events surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. At the time, global nuclear war seemed a possibility when the US discovered the construction of Soviet missile bases in Cuba and publicly demanded that the USSR withdraw immediately. Roberts highlights the events that led up to the crisis, details of the standoff, and the short- and long-term implications of standing at the brink of nuclear war. Including newly found material from the Soviet archives, this volume offers perspectives from the US, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and these countries’ allies. It features an introductory essay, more than 70 alphabetically arranged entries, a large bibliography, and a chronology. Sample entries include the “Bay of Pigs Invasion,” “U-2 Overflights,” “Robert F. Kennedy,” “Monroe Doctrine,” and “Missile Crisis.” An excellent set of primary source documents enhances the book, including JFK’s “Report to the American People on the Soviet Arms Buildup in Cuba,” exchanges between President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, and letters between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. This is a concise, easy-to-read reference for high-school and public libraries and beginning undergraduates. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and general readers. —C. A. Sproles, University of Louisville

Frankel, Max. High noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Presidio Press/Ballantine Books, 2004. 206p ISBN 0345465059, $23.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2005

Veteran New York Times correspondent Frankel has provided an account of the Cuban Missile Crisis that focuses on President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev. Frankel covered Khrushchev in Moscow from 1957 to 1960 and then reported on the missile crisis from the US. As Frankel tells it, “the Missile Crisis was also a Macho Crisis.” Khrushchev acted aggressively defensive, alarmed by US moves against Castro’s Cuba and by growing US nuclear strength. Kennedy believed that he had to prove himself to his older, wily Soviet opponent. Although each leader misjudged the other, the two were equally determined to avoid nuclear war. Khrushchev chose not to threaten West Berlin, and Kennedy was prepared to sacrifice the US missiles in Turkey. Both men asserted command over unruly military subordinates. Although the author draws on his own reporting, his account is based on the published work of others. Frankel questions whether the world was on the “brink” of nuclear war in October 1962. Scholars might challenge Frankel’s judgment that Kennedy and Khrushchev maintained command and control during the missile crisis. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers. —S. G. Rabe, University of Texas at Dallas

Hillstrom, Laurie Collier. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Omnigraphics, 2015. 230p bibl index afp ISBN 9780780813489, $49.00; ISBN 9780780813670 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2016

Anyone unfamiliar with the Cuban Missile Crisis will benefit from this concise review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the event and the people involved by writer Hillstrom. Contents are organized into sections; the chapters of the first describe the standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, define the Cold War, and place the event in historical context. Other chapters describe the US’s adversarial relationship with Cuba and document the reaction by President Kennedy and senior staff following discovery of missiles in Cuba. Chapter 4 provides a blow-by-blow account of the blockade by the US, with a gripping narrative about the crisis and the behind-the-scenes diplomacy to avoid war. The next chapters address lessons learned and the eventual end—and legacy—of the Cold War. References complete each chapter, while separate text boxes and photographs highlight particular aspects of the crisis. Section two includes narrative biographies of leading figures involved, with sources. A collection of key speeches, diplomatic cables, and personal letters appear in the third section. Each section is introduced with a brief explanation of the document and how it relates to the crisis. Front matter describes how to use the book and offers research topics for students to consider. Back matter offers a glossary of people, places, and terms, a chronology of events, a list of further monographic, journal, and online readings and photo credits. The work is a valuable, relatively affordable resource for beginning researchers to study the crisis and its role in the Cold War. Summing Up: Recommended. Undergraduates and community college students; general readers. —R. V. Labaree, University of Southern California

The Kennedy tapes: inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis, ed. by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow. Belknap, Harvard, 1997. 728p ISBN 0674179269, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 1998

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy secretly taped many of his lengthy meetings with advisors; the Kennedy Library has now released all of these tapes. With the help of professional court reporters, May and Zelikow have prepared the first complete transcripts. To establish the context, the editors have also penned an introduction and conclusion and included transcripts of unrecorded meetings, key letters and speeches, and the president’s conversations with Prime Minister Macmillan. The transcripts demonstrate that Kennedy positioned himself between advisors, like Ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson, who called for peaceful negotiations, and those, like the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who recommended a military assault on Cuba. The president never wavered, however, in his determination “to take out these missiles.” Throughout the crisis, Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara seemed relatively precise, clear, and focused. Kennedy constantly speculated about Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s motives and the “mystery of the Communist system.” Other presidential advisors rambled and drifted, especially on October 27, the height of the crisis. The editors have celebrated Kennedy’s management of the crisis, downplaying decisions Kennedy took on Cuba and nuclear missiles that helped precipitate the confrontation. They should have addressed the Cuban perspective on the crisis, not just the “Soviet side.” Summing Up: Recommended. All levels. —S. G. Rabe, University of Texas at Dallas

Scott, L. V. Macmillan, Kennedy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis: political, military, and intelligence aspects. St. Martin’s, 1999. 251p ISBN 0312219156, $65.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2000

Many questions remain to be answered about the behavior of the US’s closest ally during the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. Did British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan give President Kennedy good advice? Did Kennedy ignore Macmillan? Did the British-managed spy Oleg Penkovsky play a vital role? Did Britain’s independent nuclear force make a difference? Did the joint US-UK Thor missiles figure in a secret swap for the Soviet missiles in Cuba? Scott (Univ. of Wales, Aberstywyth) has searched recently declassified British official records on all these questions, but he has uncovered few surprises. He concludes that Macmillan and, especially, the British ambassador to Washington, Sir David Ormsby-Gore, played positive and effective roles in the crisis—not because of Britain’s weapons or spies but because of a “complex of shared values, beliefs and concerns” that were the true basis of the “special relationship.” Summing Up: Recommended for libraries with diplomatic history collections. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —J. R. Breihan, Loyola College in Maryland

Stern, Sheldon M. Averting “the final failure”: John F. Kennedy and the secret Cuban Missile Crisis meetings. Stanford, 2003. 459p ISBN 0804748462, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2004

This book certainly ranks among the most significant works yet written on one of the most precarious moments in all human history. Stern, historian at the John F. Kennedy Library from 1977 to 1999, presents a detailed account of President Kennedy’s Ex Comm meetings concerning the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Top administration advisers debated how to respond to the placement of Soviet missiles 90 miles from US shores. This book differs from The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis, ed. by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow (CH, Feb’98), and the three-volume John F. Kennedy: The Great Crises, ed. by Philip Zelikow et al. (2001), in that it offers a cogent running narrative that clarifies much that would appear confusing to even experienced readers. President Kennedy himself is shown to be a consistently moderating figure, ever seeking such options to nuclear confrontation as a swap involving NATO missiles in Turkey. Robert F. Kennedy, contrary to claims made in his memoir Thirteen Days (1969), was confrontational throughout the crisis. The precariousness of these times is well captured. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —J. D. Doenecke, New College of Florida

White, Mark J. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Macmillan, UK, 1996. (Dist. by New York University.) 291p ISBN 0333630521, $45.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 1996

White has crafted the materials of a Cold War doomsday confrontation into a historiographical tour d’horizon. Focusing on the perspectives, motives, and maneuvers of John and Robert Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, Adlai Stevenson, Dean Acheson, and Kenneth Keating, White’s crystalline, structured, evocative narratives are this generation’s definitive account of the famous crisis over Russian nuclear rockets in Cuba. White argues that an excitable American Cold War rhetoric and the wages of Cold War domestic politics prompted an anxious and harassed Khrushchev to perilous counteraction, to silence his own Maoist and militarist McCarthyites. The Kennedys, determinedly anti-Castro and myopically antiliberal, ignored genuinely irenic Soviet and Cuban overtures of 1961-61, boosted the atomic arms race, and noisily plotted the overthrow of Castro’s bombastic Cuban communism. The unimaginative Soviet response was rocket installations in Cuba. Once these were discovered by US photoreconnaissance, it took the Kennedys a week to think their way through the politically useful but diplomatically vacuous Cold War propaganda that had cluttered their minds until then. It was an impressive achievement, sadly not replicated by their immediate successors in the White House. Summing Up: Recommended to anyone who wishes to learn how the political world actually works. All levels. —L. J. Mahoney, Spokane Community College