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Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (2nd Edition) [Paperback]

Graham Allison , Philip Zelikow
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 29, 1999 0321013492 978-0321013491 2

One of the most influental political science works written in the post World War II era, the original edition of Essence of Decision is a unique and fascinating examination of the pivotal event of the cold Cold War. Not simply revised, but completely re-written, the Second Edition of this classic text is a fresh reinterpretation of the theories and events surrounding the Cuban Missle Crisis, incorporating all new information from the Kennedy tapes and recently declassified Soviet files. Essence of Decision Second Edition, is a vivid look at decision-making under pressure and is the only single volume work that attempts to answer the enduring question: how should citizens understand the actions of their government?

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Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (2nd Edition) + The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (Updated Edition)
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Editorial Reviews


"A lively updating of a classic, in many ways superior to the original." -- Richard K. Betts, Columbia University

"A page turner-the review of relevant literature is comprehensive, thoughtful, and original." -- Diane Vaughan, Boston College

"More than a revised edition, this is a new book, with the most recent empirical material and sophisticated theorizing. Important as it was, the original Essence of Decision now appears to have been a first draft; this version was worth waiting for." -- Robert Jervis, Columbia University

"The revised edition updates both the theory and the history in a compelling manner. It is an impressive achievement." -- Scott Sagan, Stanford University

Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pearson; 2 edition (January 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321013492
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321013491
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Scholarship May 11, 2002
A great number of books and articles has been published attempting to explore and explain the Cuban missile crisis that had brought the world to the brink of a thermonuclear world war. Allison and Zelikow, in Essence of Decision, explain the Cuban missile crisis through three different lenses, that is, The Rational Actor Paradigm, Organizational Behavior Paradigm and Governmental Politics Paradigm, each of which is based on a different set of assumptions, each of which has a distinct bundle of organizing concepts and, each of which brings different general/specific propositions for the issue under question. Allison and Zelikow investigate the Cuban missile crisis through the lenses of three models in turn by asking three simple questions:
1. Why did the Soviet Union decide to place offensive missiles in Cuba?
2. Why did the United States respond to the missile deployment with a blockade?
3. Why did the Soviet Union withdraw the missiles?
The analyst looking to Cuban missile crisis through the lens of "rational actor model" conceives of governmental action as a "choice" made by a unitary and rational nation or national government. In this model, national government is treated as if it is an "individual" identifying problem, producing solution alternatives and picking one of those alternatives up whose result would satisfy the expected utility function of the nation best based on the "purpose" of the nation. The rational actor model analyst generates hypotheses, for example, about why the Soviet Union decided to send nuclear missiles to Cuba: to defend Cuba, rectify the nuclear strategic balance, or provide an advantage in the confrontation over Berlin?
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
I read this book in the mid-1970's, but have re-read several times. The author reviews the history and basics of three decision-models: the rational actor, organizational, & bureaucratic. Then he takes each in turn and applies it to the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, one reads three separate case studies, all of the same event, but through different theoretical glasses. Events can be explained in more than one fashion. Humility is an asset to an analyst. My book shelves hold around 250 books, so some books are given away so new ones can be added. Allison's, Essence of Decision, has remained for a quarter century.
Historical Note: The Cuban Missile crisis happened in October, 1962. The Soviets had been installing medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba. Upon discovery, the Kennedy administration had to decide what to do and how to do it. Many believe that the actions between the US and the USSR during these 10 days in October are as close as we have ever come to a nuclear war.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still One Of The Best Books On The Cuban Missle Crisis September 7, 2000
By A Customer
I first read this book in my International Politics class in college almost ten years ago. It fascinated me then and it fascinates me now to read through Allison's three models. He peels away the layers of behavior and motivation with each model and, in doing so, he exposes the strengths and weaknesses of everyone involved--from Kennedy to Castro to Khrushchev. And every time, you learn something new, some important fact or angle that turns everything just a little on its head. Required reading for anyone interested in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Also an excellent primer on the intricacies of decision-making. Still a very good read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new view May 5, 2002
By D J
This book is Graham Allison's take on the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he's far from the only author to try and tackle this event. What makes "Essence of Decision" different, however, is that Allison adopts no one, definitive answer to the "main questions" of the crisis, but rather offers three ways of interpreting the event, all with their merits and drawbacks.
Allison's main argument is that many foreign policy experts, laymen and experts alike, depend on "rational choice" theories. For an armchair analyst, using game theory or assuming one person is making all the decisions is indeed an easy way to explain the world. However, as Allison demonstrates, people simply don't work that way.
To fill this gap, Allison gives two alternate theories: a bureacratic-organization model (where information and decisions are limited by pre-existing structures) and a political process method (where those with close social links to the key decisionmakers have a decisive advantage). Allison makes a good case for these alternate theories, noting that one must discard a lot of facts to construct a "rational" model, and that, in his own words, anyone with a good imagination can construct a rational model (which, incidentally, violates the scientific law of falsifiability).
This book seems to be a deliberate attack on the "rational models" most academics use, which is its primary virtue. I myself first encountered it in a sociology class, as the basic theories Allison created to help explain the missile crisis are applicable to many things, from foreign policy to product marketing.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good for anyone intersted in decision making April 9, 2000
By A Customer
This book is not only the best I've seen concerning the Cuban missile crisis, but it also provides an excellent veiw of international policy making. Many other books concerning the crisis don't illustrate nearly as many implications that the various power centers had to deal with. It also gives an excellent portrayal of presidental decision making.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! Recommended!
This book is essential for decision-makers and public administrators. The models proposed by Allison and Zelikow applies not only for Foreign Policy, it goes beyond!
Published 3 months ago by Marco Barcelos
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it...Great Read
If you lived the Cuban Missile Crisis this will explain a lot of the details we didn't know from the news..
Published 4 months ago by Bob E. Shockley
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this gem!
This was recommended by a friend and I found it fascinating, and helpful in examining the decision making process and will recommend to others.
Published 6 months ago by Betty B. Lazarus
5.0 out of 5 stars great in-depth analysis
Although I needed this book for class, I found the in-depth analysis intriguing. Worth a read for twentieth century history buffs.
Published 7 months ago by Margaret Bell
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome analysis and insight
Must-read for anyone looking to study international relations or political decision-making, and probably should be required reading for watching the evening news as well.
Published 12 months ago by Brian Weeden
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Own
If you are a decision-maker, this is a must own book to understand the various ways you and others approach the same challenge... sometimes in vastly different ways.
Published 15 months ago by loflier
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Read
This is not a detailed history of the Cuban Missile Crisis; it is an overview of the Crisis from a leadership standpoint. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Kevin C. Rohrer
2.0 out of 5 stars Text Book
I'm a bit of a policy wonk at times, and I have a B.S. in Poly Sci. I had to use this book in a graduate class and was bored to tears. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Victor
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition has too many restrictions
This book is excellent. Unfortunately I cannot recommend the Kindle edition. It can only be read on 2 devices and I routinely use 3 (Kindle, phone, cloud reader). Read more
Published 21 months ago by W. Turnbull
4.0 out of 5 stars What I needed for class
This is the exact book I needed for my Political Science class this fall. The book is required. It was much cheaper on Amazon rather than buying from the bookstore. Read more
Published 22 months ago by Tuck
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