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The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis Paperback – September 1, 1998

3.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For 13 days in October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union teetered on the brink of a nuclear exchange after the Soviets placed intermediate-range missiles on the island of Cuba. U.S. forces were poised at red alert while the Soviets pledged to launch nuclear weapons if the island was invaded. As the world watched anxiously, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev negotiated a truce that averted disaster. Throughout this tense period, Kennedy and his closest advisors planned their strategy carefully, while--unknown to all but Kennedy, his secretary, and possibly his brother Robert--the historic discussions were being taped by hidden microphones placed in the Oval Office. More than 23 hours of meetings and telephone calls were recorded, all of which have been painstakingly transcribed and documented in The Kennedy Tapes, providing an intimate perspective on the decision- making process and the personalities involved. Enhanced by the commentary and analysis of historians Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow, this volume is the essential reader on the Cuban missile crisis. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

The glimpse we get into the making of US policy in a crisis-- in this case the Cuban missile crisis--is unique and, in light of the historical and legal problems of the taping of White House conversations by presidents, may well remain so. Which is a great pity, for despite the apparently poor quality of the tapes and various unresolved questions relating to them, the picture of US officials dealing with the most serious crisis of the Cold War is memorable. Although the editors, both scholars at Harvard, rightly remark on the ``inherently disorderly character'' of such meetings, the quality of understanding and analysis the participants brought to the task was high. There are some exceptions: The lack of esteem felt by Kennedy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff seems justified by their performance (General LeMay openly equated Kennedy's actions with ``the appeasement at Munich''); the congressional group brought in to advise was less than helpful, Senator Fulbright, ironically, calling for an immediate all-out invasion. Kennedy privately chews Secretary Rusk out for failing to do contingency planning on the US missiles in Turkey. But the praise given by the editors to Kennedy seems justified, not only for his clear recognition of the awesome responsibilities of his actions, but for asking questions that his advisors had neglected. The editors write of his ``cold analytical mind,'' and indeed he alone notes that US allies think that on the subject of Cuba ``we're slightly demented''; if anything, he tends to be pessimistic (``He'll grab Berlin, of course,'' he says of Khrushchev). But it is particularly impressive when contrasted with the idiosyncratic, unsystematic, and uninformed policymaking of Khrushchev. A remarkable and truly historic record, well analyzed and put in context by May and Zelikow. (20 b&w photos, not seen) (Book-of- the-Month Club/History Book Club selection) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674179277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674179271
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,237,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback

What JFK Really Said
A review by Sheldon M. Stern

[Ed. note: This review originally ran in the May 2000 issue of the Atlantic Monthly].

My twenty-three years as the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library, in Boston, were punctuated by intensive work on sound recordings. I conducted scores of taped oral-history interviews and verified the accuracy of the transcripts, edited President John F. Kennedy's recorded telephone conversations, and, in 1981-1982, evaluated tapes made during the Cuban missile crisis, in October of 1962, as the library prepared for their declassification. The work was fascinating and exhilarating, but the poor technical quality of the tapes frequently required that I listen to the same words dozens of times, sometimes to no avail. It was, notwithstanding, a historian's ultimate fantasy -- a chance to be a fly on the wall during one of the most dangerous moments in history, and to know, within the technical limits of the recordings, exactly what happened. I spent just over a year on the tapes, and in 1983 I received an award for "careful and perceptive editing and proofreading of the JFK tapes" from the archivist of the United States. From 1983 to 1997 the library declassified twenty-two hours of tapes, and I continued to review them before each declassification.

Imagine my surprise when, in the summer of 1997, I learned that Harvard University Press was about to publish The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis,edited by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow -- complete transcripts of all twenty-two hours.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To be honest, I bought this book used after seeing the movie "13 Days." In fact, I ordered this book the very night I came home from the movie, wondering if it would be worth the money spent.. Now, having read through it, I must admit that this was a very fascinating and intriguing book.
The book is an actual copy (i.e. transcript) of taped conversations that occurred in the Whitehouse during the Cuban Missile crisis. The book was so fascinating for the sole fact that it presents (true to life) all the details which were actually being spoken of, on, about, etc. The reader can actually sense the emotion, tension, anguish, and despair that comes out in some of these conversations. In fact, the intensity in this book puts the movie to shame (which is usually the case with most good books).
This book consists of conversation's of the National Security Council, President Kennedy,Robert Kennedy, and the President's advisors. The book is very revealing and honest (since it is true to life) and it paints a very vulnerable picture of just how easy things could fall apart in this 'invincible' place we call home. Fortunately, we as readers today actually know the outcome is positive. However, the terror comes through the pages when, as I read, the realization that these men have no idea what is going to happen as this whole situation unfolds. That was one of the riveting things about this book.
Overall, this is a great book for those who are interested in American history, or Presidential history, etc. I recommend it, especially since it is so fascinating and also because it is an actual account word for word accurate. That makes for great objective history.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading these transcripts place you in a chair at the table in the Cabinet Room in 1962. What is history now is a current event then. Pearl Harbor and Berlin. The Cold War at it's peak. The world's worst potentially deadly crisis is being debated right before your eyes. Many options are available, and each could lead to global nuclear war. Immediate strike with no warning. Strike with warning. Blockade and no strike. All options are considered an act of war. This book allows you to see a president in office who listens to and learns from advisors, sifts through evidence, and makes decisions as best any man can. Definitely a book that future presidents can and should learn from. It taught me that my vote for president is the most important thing that I do in my life.
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Format: Paperback
After all those years of looking at photos taken around the time of the Cuban miissile crisis of Kennedy and his advisors, deep in conversation, it's great to finally find out what they were talking about. What comes across is the perception and early understanding of the position they faced and their clear sighted thinking as they sought to come to grips with it. I was interested how the idea of the quarantine developed from almost an aside into the first line of policy. What is impressive throughout is how President Kennedy himself was able to ask probing questions, guide discussion and appear to be the only one to have a thorough understanding of all the influences and pressures. He was particularly strong in resisting hasty pressures to invade, a decision for which we can all be thankful now.
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By A Customer on July 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
President Kennedy's White House taping system accomplished what one can assume was the goal in installing it . . . to accurately capture history as it happened. There has possibly been too little attention paid to the Cuban missile crisis, or perhaps the passage of 37 years has dimmed our collective memory. One has only to read these transcripts to learn how close the world came to a nuclear holocaust, and how detailed and laborious discussions and debates among Kennedy and his cabinet narrowly avoided it. This is a superb and rare glimpse into the "inner sanctum" of our government during one of the most tense moments in our history.
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