The Berlin Wall has been rubble for a decade and the memories of the cold war are growing dim. And yet no one is ever likely to forget the Cuban Missile crisis of October 1962, when the world stood on the brink of full-scale nuclear war as the Soviet Union and America locked horns off the coast of Florida. The Soviet navy set sail for Cuba loaded with nuclear warheads for their newly constructed missile bases, precipitating the crisis. After 10 days of high tension, the Soviet Union backed down and the warheads were sent back home. War was averted, but up until now, no one has ever been too certain just how close the world came to catastrophe. Kennedy was assassinated long before he could write his memoirs, Castro's lips are sealed, and the Soviet archives were a closed book.
Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali have taken advantage of recent unrestricted access to Soviet records and performed painstaking detective work to fill the gaps in the historical record. Some of the tension of the narrative is lost, because we know the outcome; even so, they give penetrating insights as they reconstruct the drama step by step. We learn that the Kremlin did seriously consider launching a nuclear attack on the U.S.: the appropriate orders were discussed and Khrushchev spent the night of October 22 in his office so he could be on hand to cable his authorization. Some of the most interesting facts to emerge, however, are those concerning John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert. JFK had always previously been portrayed as something of a parochial gung-ho type, but this, it emerges, was merely a public persona designed to appease the Pentagon hawks. At the same time JFK was talking about a Cuban invasion, he and his brother were engaging in a more secret policy of appeasement through the Soviet ambassador. Fortunately for all of us, diplomacy won the day. In recent years, JFK has been somewhat discredited as a leader for his unpleasant sexual carryings-on and corruption. It may just be that this view is as incomplete as his portrayal as the saintly "King of Camelot". If so, One Hell of a Gamble could be the first stage in his partial rehabilitation. --John Crace, Amazon.co.uk
From Library Journal
Those of a certain age well remember the fateful days in the fall of 1962 when the world stood on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Since that time, scholars have struggled to discern how the United States and the Soviet Union could have come so close to disaster. Graham Allison's Essence of Decision (1971) set the standard for these queries, but his work has now been vastly improved upon by the investigations of Fursenko (history, Russian Academy of Sciences) and Naftali (history, Yale). Taking advantage of the opening of heretofore closed Soviet archives, the authors have produced a breathtaking view of the inner workings of the Soviet Politburo and its efforts to come to grips with a potentially disastrous international incident. Seldom have scholars plumbed the depths of Soviet-American relations as deeply or as effectively. The resulting tale proves once again that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. This important work belongs in all libraries. Highly recommended.-?Edward Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
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