Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Norton. Apr. 2021. 464p. ISBN 9780393540819. $35. HIST
The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was not an exercise in rational diplomacy, but rather a series of blunders by President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, claims Plokhy (history, Harvard Univ.; Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front). The book’s strength, based on the author’s deep research of newly declassified records, shows how the Crisis played out in the Soviet Union and Cuba. Kennedy grossly underestimated the number of communist troops. Conversely, Khrushchev underestimated Kennedy’s resolve, believing that the young president could be bullied based on the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco. Cuban Premier Fidel Castro, enraged by Khrushchev for not consulting with him but negotiating directly with Kennedy, pushed for a nuclear attack on the U.S. Plokhy concludes that Khrushchev tried to spin the Missile Crisis as a victory for world communism because Kennedy did not invade Cuba. However, the rest of the world, including the Soviet Union, viewed Kennedy as the victor. Two years later Khrushchev was removed from power by the Soviet Central Committee.
VERDICT This important, absorbing work shows that the full story of the Cuban Missile Crisis must be told from its global perspective. See Martin Sherwin’s Gambling with Armageddon for another account that places the Crisis in its Cold War context.
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