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The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs Hardcover – April 5, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

What I love about Jim Rosenberger's richly detailed, startlingly revisionist account of the Bay of Pigs invasion is his sheer storytelling ability, the wonderful, steady march of plot and counterplot, of heroes and foils. His tale is chock full of larger-than-life-characters - from JFK to Castro, mafia bosses, and the steely-eyed, hyper smart men of the New Frontier. The Brilliant Disaster is what history ought to be: sharply drawn and with a constant eye on the big picture.A" - S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Jim Rasenberger is the author of The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs and High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World’s Greatest Skyline. He has written for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, and The Wilson Quarterly, among other publications. A native of Washington, D.C., he lives in New York City with his wife and sons.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 141659650X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416596509
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,131,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard of Connecticut VINE VOICE on April 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
It is very strange that a story as important as this one has simply not received either the historical attention or public attention that it deserves. Very simply, President Kennedy's people will tell you that prior to entering office, JFK was briefed in a meeting with Eisenhower about plans for CIA trained Cuban exiles (some 1400 in number) to invade Cuba and foment a revolution against Castro. Eisenhower's people deny that this ever happened.

Since JFK entered office on January 20th, 1961, and the Bay of Pigs occurred in early April, just a shade over two months later, it is highly likely that the invasion was planned during the previous administration. Seventy days is far too short a period to plan, train for, and execute such an operation. Nevertheless, President Kennedy must take and did take full responsibility for the mission and its failure.

The embarrassment was extensive, and as the President said to then CIA Director Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell who was Deputy Director for Plans, if this were a Parliamentary form of government, it would be me leaving office, but it is a democracy and therefore you and Dulles will suffer. Dulles and Bissell over a period of months were quietly forced into retirement.

Strangely, there have been only two real books written on the Bag of Pigs invasion in the last 50 years. One was by Haynes Johnson in 1964 while the other by Peter Wyden was done in 1979. The author of this book had access to two new sources of information. The first is the national Security Archives which are kept at George Washington University, and the second is the CIA Inspector General's report on the invasion which was written right after the failed invasion, but remained classified until recently.
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Format: Hardcover
It's a gifted historian and writer who manages to be prodigious in gathering reserch -- authoritative in tone -- and is never dull on the page. Of course it helps when said historian has a terrific story to tell. Five stars, then, for Jim Rasenberger and "The Brilliant Disaster" -- his at once edifying and page-turning treatment of the Bay of Pigs. Well-known as a CIA-led fiasco, this account of a true U.S. foreign-policy nightmare is also a dispiriting look at the early days of the Kennedy White House. Among the many successes of Rasenberger's book is its portrait of the newly-minted President -- the missteps made, signals missed and warnings ignored as the national security apparatus lumbered toward "disaster" just south of Florida. A young Fidel Csstro is of course the other key character here, in a story rich in characters -- Dulles to Bundy, RFK to Adlai Stevenson, Che Guevara to Nikita Khruschev, and more. Finally -- the book will likely please both Bay of Pigs experts and those who know nothing of what happened on those three days in April, a half-century ago. That, too, is an achievement for any writer of history. Well worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a well-crafted and well researched book about an important event in history, that influenced US foreign policy for the next four decades.
All of the true facts will never be known, but this is the definitive account of the events that took place in Cuba in the spring of 1961.
In a word, superb.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Rasenberger does a good job of pulling together all the various info sources, including newly released "secret" documents. All of which embellishes the story that is reasonably well known, that the anti-Castro program created by Eisenhower was a clusterflub from the get go. Ike and the CIA has successfully brought down a few Latin leaders and they presumed they were good at that sort of thing. But, as Rasenberger shows, the American backed invasion was an unrealistic goal depending two unrealistic assumptions, haphazardly organized by bright, even brilliant men who together behaved pretty much like idiots. Rasenberger does a good job of showing how brilliant people could commit such folly and there appears to be plenty of blame to go around and no virtually no one involved failed to make very bad decisions and the more involved they were the more more then tended to lie about their bad judgement. For example, after the fiasco, Eisenhower denied ordering that the plan to remove Castor be instigated -- saying he only "ordered a program" "not a plan" is rather like saying I didn't spill the coffee I dropped it. It is not only dishonest but embarrassingly so.

Undoubtedly, many will find that one or another of the involved parties doesn't receive enough condemnation in Rasenberger's account. But his aim appears to be to show how wise men commit folly not to find which head can be mounted on the highest pike.

Despite the generally well written text, one line by the writer brought a laugh. Talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Rasenberger wrote: "For several days that October, Americans went to bed at night unsure that the world would still be there when they woke up.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In constructing this history of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the author draws on previous books by Haynes Johnson (1964) and Peter Weyden (1977) as well as upon thousands of pages of documents declassified during the last 15 years. The book begins with a description of the "nearly hysterical" fear about the spread of communism in the fifties. Castro's visit to the United States in 1959 is reviewed as is the planning for effecting regime change in Cuba by the Eisenhower administration in the summer and fall of 1959. Finally, on 3/17/60, the author shows how Ike approved the CIA produced "Program of Covert Action" which "made the overthrow of Fidel Castro official US policy" just months before his administration was set to expire.

Rasenberger argues that planned regime change in Cuba resulted from our inability to live with a socialist government 90 miles from Florida rather than from any imminent danger to national security. He points to the "irrational forces and fears in the broad American public" combined with an attitude within American government that results were all that mattered. (CIA Bay of Pigs planner Richard Bissell is quoted in his memoirs saying, "My philosophy during my last 2 or 3 years in the agency was very definitely that the ends justified the means, and I was not going to be held back.")

Castro's takeover in Cuba dominated the first televised Presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy. The strong positions taken by JFK in the debate and on the campaign trail served to limit his later flexibility in decision-making. In his first 90 days in office, the new president slowly and reluctantly moved forward with the invasion plan inherited from the prior administration while trying to learn upon whom he should depend for reliable information.
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