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Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (2nd Edition) Paperback – January 29, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0321013491 ISBN-10: 0321013492 Edition: 2nd

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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: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

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Customer Reviews

As the conclusion of that exercise, we see that his view is very strong.
Dr. Who, What, Where?
Within this context, Model II illuminates the organizational routines that produce the information, options, and action.
Tansu Demir
For history buffs, especially those looking at the psychology behind decisions, this book is a great read.
B W Gardner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

79 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Tansu Demir on May 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
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 By Dex Randall Howard on March 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
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 By A Customer on September 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
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 By D J on May 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
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 By A Customer on April 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
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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