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The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality (Stanford Nuclear Age Series) Paperback – September 5, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Stern's book is a great example of how much is being discovered and revised regarding the Cold War and its major events as more archival sources are declassified. This work is a must read for any scholar of the Cuban missile crisis or the Kennedy administration. It provides a complicated and broad understanding of both the crisis and the Kennedy presidency."—Javan D. Frazier, H-War


"[Stern's] new book marshals irrefutable evidence to succinctly demolish the mythic version of the crisis . . . Reached through sober analysis."—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic


"Stern is not alone in questioning the precision of the transcripts offered, but he has made the most painstaking attempt to clarify what was really said and done."—Alice George, Journal of American History


"Timed for the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Stern. . . exposes myths about the crisis. [He] provides an important interpretation grounded in careful research."—Karl Helicher, Library Journal


"The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory offers a compelling reassessment of [the] events [of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis]. Using tapes of ExComm meetings (the ad hoc group formed to meet the crisis), Stern challenges much of the received wisdom. In particular, he rejects Robert F. Kennedy's dovish self-portrayal in Thirteen Days (1969), finding instead a consistent hardliner who, for instance, opposed an American naval blockade in favor of air strikes."—James Clyde Sellman, Colloquy
"In Stern's judgment, President Kennedy displayed leadership, remaining calm during the crisis and staring down his belligerent civilian advisers and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. . . Recommended."—S. G. Rabe, CHOICE
"The latest addition to the outstanding Stanford Nuclear Age series . . . Informed and informative, The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality is a seminal work of impressive scholarship and a highly recommended addition to academic library 20th Century American History reference collections in general, and 'U.S. – Soviet Union Cold War Studies' supplemental reading lists in particular."—James A. Cox, The Midwest Book Review
"The Cuban missile crisis may be the most thoroughly documented yet grossly misunderstood episode in Cold War history, and the value of Sheldon Stern's splendid book is that it punctures the myths and unearths the truth so compellingly, drawing on irrefutable evidence, that you'll never think about the crisis or about JFK and his 'best and brightest' advisers in the same way again."—Fred Kaplan, Slate's "War Stories" columnist; author of 1959 and The Wizards of Armageddon
"For nearly half a century national security decision makers have relied on three lessons derived inappropriately from the Cuban missile crisis: success depends on (1) the threat of superior force, (2) toughness and inflexibility, and (3) the use of a small ad hoc group like the ExComm to advise the President. Sheldon Stern's trenchant analysis, based on the most careful and exacting review to date of the ExComm's recorded conversations, turns the three traditional missile crisis lessons on their head. He effectively demonstrates that the outcome depended on President Kennedy's repeated refusal to use or threaten to use force, and on his persistent search for a compromise that could end the stand-off peacefully. Most important, Stern highlights that the ExComm did not provide Kennedy with the well-considered advice he supposedly used to avoid war, but instead Kennedy directed its discussions towards the conclusions he sought. This is a clearly written, timely, and significant contribution to our understanding of the Cuban missile crisis."—Philip Brenner, American University
"It has taken nearly 50 years to get a history of the Cuban missile crisis as it really was, as opposed to how it was initially (and for many decades) managed and manipulated by the Kennedy inner circle as well as gullible journalists and historians. For that we have Sheldon M. Stern to thank."—Max Holland, Contributing Editor, The Nation, and Editor, washingtondecoded.com

About the Author

Sheldon M. Stern taught U.S. history at the college level for more than a decade before becoming historian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts from 1977 to 2000. He was the first non-member of the ExComm, as well as the first historian, to listen to and evaluate all the secret White House tape recordings made during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Stern is the author of Averting the Final Failure: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (2003), and The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis (2005), both in the Stanford University Press Nuclear Age Series.
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Product Details

  • Series: Stanford Nuclear Age Series
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (September 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804783772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804783774
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #267,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book provides an insightful look at what really happened as leaders of JFK's administration debated what to do during the tense days of the Cuban missile crisis. The author relies on the actual tapes of what was said at the meetings of JFK and his top advisors. This provides what might be an unprecedented look at how decisions are reached during crises.

The book allows us to understand the confusion and stress that affect participants' advice. Many advisors contradicted themselves--almost never wtih acknowledgement that they were changing their minds, but simply by advocating different positions as the discussion proceeded. Remarkably, the only person in the meetings who seemed to have a touchstone to which he returned again and again was the President, John F. Kennedy. He was not swayed by the frenetic advice of his top officials who urged him to bomb the Cuban missile sites, board Soviet ships, or invade Cuba. He remained calm and focused throughout lengthy discussions with advisors who were all too ready to risk nuclear war.

The book lays waste to later claims of various participants that they were far-seeing statesmen who found a way to resolve the crisis with the Soviet Union. Put simply, those who claimed this lied. RFK was first among the liars with his self-serving account of the crisis in his book, Thirteen Days. He offered hawkish advice throughout and seemed obsessed with electoral politics at the expense of world safety. MacGeorge Bundy provided a steady flow of patronizing and hawkish advice to the President. This guy was supposed to be smart? Maybe in his own mind, but the actual record of what was said at the meetings showed him to be a pompous fool ready to plunge the world into war.
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I was a bit disappointed. I went looking for books on this topic by Sheldon Stern for the specific reason that he's been referenced as the researcher who has listened to all the source tapes that were made during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So I thought I'd be seeing a lot of the actual dialogue for the key parts of the crisis.... like the discussion between the JCS guys and others discussion the response to the Cuban downing of the U2, or the dialogue having to do with processing the information about the Russian Submarines threatening the blockade. The book is not like that. Instead, it's organized in mini-viginettes of the players with description and quotes to support the author's hypothesis. Other reviewers noted that Mr. Stern portrays Bobby Kennedy as a less than informed hawk and dispute the claim. Unfortunately, we get quotes and descriptions but none of the dialogue that put the descriptions in context of the attitudes and comments of the other players in the meetings.

I almost cried when the author described JFK making audio recordings of his thoughts about the crisis when it was in full swing and he was alone, at night, summarizing into the recorder. Not in the book. Just some references to the act and the flavor. Although not lost to history, there's a lot lost to history if you get my meaning.

So this is a good book for folks to get a summary of what "really" happened by an author who had the credibility required of the subject but not the inclination to let us decide from the dialogue ourselves. He recognizes the fact right off the bat like you will and points the reader to the availability of the source recordings on the web. So you really don't need to read the book if you're looking for the detailed perspective that the author and his reviewers portend this book provides. Go to the University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs where you can hear the audio.
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Anyone interested in learning how the Cuban Missile Crisis really went down should take a look at this book. The author examines the public version of the crisis in the Kennedy White House against what was actually said in ExComm tapes that were later released. So many facts were hidden or misrepresented in the version we've all learned growing up. The tapes show that you can't trust the version Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy or even RFK have created. It really contradicts RFK's 'Thirteen Days' a lot.
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Let's really understand our history. This is quite unpropagandistic, but takes serious exception to the famous Bobby Kennedy memoir where he depicts himself as cautious and dovish. But Bobby's memoir, the resulting movie, and this more historically faithful account all provide important confirmation of the necessity of our constitution's mandate for civilian control of the military. This book is eminently readable. It's organized by telling the story over and over from the point of view of the different key players. JFK fans should be mostly happy, but we do get some realistic hardball accounts of the arm wrestling that went on in the cabinet meetings. The big plus of this account is that it relies on the actual tapes of the meetings. Great read.
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By John on December 13, 2012
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I lived through this as a child. About 20 years ago, when we were cleaning out my grandmother's house, we found a huge stash of pills. Turns out they were to be used to put us all to sleep if the Russians launched missles during this crisis. The book is outstanding as the author has pretty much the first take on the tapes that covered this dangerous event. Those that made themselves to be calm heroes really are not. Lots of incite and great history.
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