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Averting 'The Final Failure': John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (Stanford Nuclear Age Series) Hardcover


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Averting 'The Final Failure': John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (Stanford Nuclear Age Series) + The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (Stanford Nuclear Age Series) + One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (Vintage)
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Product Details

  • Series: Stanford Nuclear Age Series
  • Hardcover: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (July 11, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804748462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804748469
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,089,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Anyone who lived through the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the most perilous moments in contemporary history, will find Sheldon M. Stern's Averting 'The Final Failure' a real page turner. In highly readable fashion it details the inside story based on Oval Office tapes of the 13 days that shook the world."—Arnold Beichman, The Washington Times


"...Stern's skillful analysis of these Kennedy tapes provides a welcome addition to the voluminous literature on the crisis, showing that evaluations of Kennedy's leadership, crisis resolution, and Cold War policies are far from complete."—Journal of American History


"Stern's Averting the Final Failure greatly contributes to our understanding of the ExComm deliberations and JFK's role as a crisis manager."—Presidential Studies Quarterly


"Anyone seeking to expand their understanding of the missile crisis would do well to entertain the arguments contained in [this book]....It now stands to reason that Stern's work must be taken into account if one is to undertake any serious investigation of decision-making on the American side. Indeed, simply as a corrective to Robert Kennedy's own crisis memoir, Thirteen Days, Stern's work is indispensable."—The Journal of Conflict Studies

From the Publisher

Winner, CHOICE Oustanding Academic Title Award, 2004

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Customer Reviews

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Read this book to learn how and why.
C. Scanlon
Sheldon Stern's story of the Cuban Missile Crisis is history (both definitions) at its best.
Fred Freitas
It will temper dislike with respect and add doubt to adulation.
James A. Cooke

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ruth F Quattlebaum on December 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
For nearly 20 years, I have taught an elective for high school seniors that surveys the origins and spread of nuclear power & weapons from 1895 to the present. Every year the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a highlight, especially because we drove vans right to the JFK Library and heard its historian Sheldon M. Stern lay out stunning detail, complete with audio clips, transcripts of ExComm tapes, Adlai Stevenson's actual UN photo set, and more.
But now, Stern has put it in book form, and if ever the devil was in the details, this book is a glorious teaching opportunity to show students how details and exact evidence are indispensable -- especially in a 9/11 age where imprecise Intelligence can have huge consequences at home and abroad. Certainly Intelligence proved breathtakingly faulty before and during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and the consequences then were almost cataclysmic, as Stern's book demonstrates in chilling chapter and verse.
The Cuban missile crisis is a history teacher's dream assignment anyway, for its layers and layers of historiographical changes, as new revelations have kept trickling out, not only with the gradual release of the ExComm tapes, but also Soviet sources after the Cold War ended. Stern's volume makes this "crystal," and breaks through student glaze, by showing as well as any monograph I have ever read how once in a while an historian really can become the proverbial fly on the wall during momentous spoken history. Check out the moments when General Curtis LeMay provocatively invokes Munich, or JFK snaps uncharacteristically at Dean Rusk, or the Cabinet room almost goes nuts when the U-2 gets shot down.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Moody on April 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the book, I'd wager, that everyone thought they were getting when they purchased "The Kennedy Tapes" (Zelikow and May, 1997 Harvard Press). After struggling through that seminal work, the need for a narrative form of this compelling side of the Missile Crisis was palpable...fortunately, retired JFK Library historian Sheldon Stern also saw the need and completed what was clearly a passionate "life's work" with "Averting the Final Failure". Stern takes years of study and scrutinization of the White House tapes that eavesdropped on the EXCOMM (Executive Committee of the National Security Council) as they advised and debated the day-to-day issues associated with the Crisis and turned a complex story into an amazingly lucid and cogent narrative that should become THE source for White House activities during the Crisis.
Newly declassified and available, Stern has added immensly to the growing amount of literature/transcripts of these profound tapes. The difference here is that Stern is clearly the one who has spent the most time and study on these tapes and, coupled with his surprisingly apt story-telling capability, has developed an authoritative work that defines the "who? what? where? when? and how?" of the Kennedy advisor "inner-workings". Time and again, Stern destroys myths and legends as his narrative describes each meeting and the theme that each one invoked. He interprets each discussion and adds his own attempt at tone and voice inflection to give not only the content of the discussion, but the "atmosphere" as well. The result is almost as good as hearing the tapes themselves...giving the true feel for what these "Best and Brightest" advisors went through.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Fred Freitas on January 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
History has two definitions: a chronological record of significant past events, and a story. Sheldon Stern's story of the Cuban Missile Crisis is history (both definitions) at its best. The scholarly, time-consuming, and meticulous research that went into this work abounds throughout its pages. The author's willingness to challenge earlier historical works on the translation of the crisis's audiotapes makes this book a must for any student of JFK, his administration, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Because of the comprehensive nature of history, a reader might conclude that this is just another dry historical work. Far from it - this book reads like a Robert Ludlum novel. The reader is caught in the tension as the missiles are first discovered, held as the conflict escalates to an almost unbearable crisis, and released as the resolution unfolds. But this was no political thriller, it was real life. Mr. Stern has taught us all a great lesson of history: that real people make real decisions, that these decisions have consequences both foreseen and unforeseen, and that there could have been other choices made with different outcomes. Our world would be a much different place if JFK had listened to his advisors. I believe this book will become the classic study for the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Averting the Final Failure is a must read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James A. Cooke on December 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Averting the Final Failure is a chilling, provocative page-turner. It's a riveting story and the fact that we are here to read it gives away the ending. The "Final Failure" is President Kennedy's phrase for the nuclear holocaust that he hoped to avert in confrontation with Russia over the presence of their missiles in Cuba. We who are old enough to remember those days in 1962 and the years that followed know that we came close to annihilation. Sheldon Stern, retired Historian of the Kennedy Library, tells us just-how-close-we-came. Dr. Stern was the first person to listen to the secret tapes of JFK's executive committee meetings on the crisis. He is one of a very few people to listen to them all. He knows his subject well and in the course of his work, got to meet some of the participants who had never known they were being taped. Hollywood has visited this episode in our history several times with their usual indifference to accuracy. The facts of the matter are more dramatic than any fictional treatment to date. This is a book for those who love or hate John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It will temper dislike with respect and add doubt to adulation.
We often hear the term, "loose cannon" to describe a reckless, irresponsible individual. While reading Averting the Final Failure, I was reminded of a Victor Hugo story, "The Runaway Gun." Finally, I had to find it and read it again. Hugo tells of a cannon that is improperly secured aboard a sailing vessel. It comes loose in a storm; as the ship rolls, so does the cannon. It seems certain the gun will burst through the wooden planking and sink the ship. A man is killed trying to get a rope around it. Nobody can stop it. It is as if it were alive.
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