Read One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by MichaelDobbs Bob Walter Online


In October 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union appeared to be sliding inexorably toward a nuclear conflict over the placement of missiles in Cuba. Veteran Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs has pored over previously untapped American, Soviet, and Cuban sources to produce the most authoritative book yet on the Cuban missile crisisIn October 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union appeared to be sliding inexorably toward a nuclear conflict over the placement of missiles in Cuba. Veteran Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs has pored over previously untapped American, Soviet, and Cuban sources to produce the most authoritative book yet on the Cuban missile crisis. In his hour-by-hour chronicle of those near-fatal days, Dobbs reveals some startling new incidents that illustrate how close we came to Armageddon.Here, for the first time, are gripping accounts of Khrushchev’s plan to destroy the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo; the accidental overflight of the Soviet Union by an American spy plane; the movement of Soviet nuclear warheads around Cuba during the tensest days of the crisis; the activities of CIA agents inside Cuba; and the crash landing of an American F-106 jet with a live nuclear weapon on board.Dobbs takes us inside the White House and the Kremlin as Kennedy and Khrushchev agonize over the possibility of war. He shows how these two leaders recognized the terrifying realities of the nuclear age while Castro–never swayed by conventional political considerations–demonstrated the messianic ambition of a man selected by history for a unique mission. Dobbs brings us onto the decks of American ships patrolling Cuba; inside sweltering Soviet submarines and missile units as they ready their warheads; and onto the streets of Miami, where anti-Castro exiles plot the dictator’s overthrow.From the Compact Disc edition....

Title : One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
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ISBN : 9781415954584
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One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War Reviews

  • Matt
    2019-03-14 08:55

    The “Doomsday Clock” is one of the great attention-grabbers ever devised. It is a symbolic clock created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to represent the countdown to a nuclear war. (At least initially. Now the representation also includes climate change). Once the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella turns into a shadow on the wall from the thermal radiation of an atomic blast. The Doomsday Clock appropriately lends itself to the title of Michael Dobbs’s One Minute to Midnight, a detailed account of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. That event, precipitated by the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, took the world closer to nuclear war than perhaps it’s ever been, before or since. This is the first book I’ve read devoted specifically to the crisis. I picked it for several reasons. It was published in 2008, meaning it had fuller access to documents than earlier books. It appeared comprehensive. And most important, it wasn’t written or influenced by a participant. In other words, I wanted a bit of objectivity. Dobbs’s stated intent was write the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis as “minute-by-minute” account, ala Cornelius Ryan in The Longest Day or William Manchester’s Death of a President. He certainly has the eye for detail, and a broad cast of characters. This is not a book that dwells long in White House or Kremlin, but zips about to players large and small spread across the world. Unfortunately, Dobbs does not quite have the literary abilities of Ryan or Manchester, but most do not. Dobbs opens his narrative on Tuesday, October 16, 1962, at 11:50 a.m. (This is the kind of over-detailed datelining that Dobbs maintains throughout the book. He is not joking about making this minute-to-minute). On that day, the CIA’s chief photo interpreter showed John F. Kennedy the spy photographs taken of Soviet medium range ballistic missiles, capable of putting a nuke into Washington D.C. in thirteen minutes. The missiles had been snuck into Cuba under orders by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who hoped to get them operational before presenting them as a fait accompli to the United States. To Khrushchev, this was a fair response to the emplacement of U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey, which Khrushchev took as a personal threat (he would tell guests the Jupiter missiles were aimed squarely at his dacha.) One of the interesting things in Dobbs telling is how the threat of war did not come from either the Soviet Premier or the U.S. President. Both Khrushchev and Kennedy – though only thinly characterized – are presented as calm, rational, and intelligent. Very early into the Crisis, though unbeknownst to the U.S., Khrushchev had already made the decision to pull the missiles out. Thus, some of the American ploys – chief among them the famous “quarantine” – were probably not the preeminent reason for Khrushchev backing down. The two wildcards in this story are the U.S. Military and Fidel Castro. The Joint Chiefs solution to the problem was a full-scale invasion. Because of course it was. They believed nothing else would serve to remove the missiles or preserve American security. The problem, as Dobbs explains, is that Castro’s megalomaniacal side really flourished with his hands near the nuclear-trigger. He was more than ready to use tactical nukes on an invasion force, a possibility that is terrifying to consider. What would the United States have done if the Cubans had slammed a tactical nuclear warhead onto the beaches of Tarará, immolating the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions? It becomes a very small step from a regional nuclear war with thousands of dead Americans to a global thermonuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. (And since the SIOP included Chinese Communist targets, there’s a possibility that China would have got it too). According to Dobbs, many of the stories told in One Minute to Midnight have never been published before. Dobbs is certain to make sure when he is introducing this material. Usually, I would have seen this as a somewhat-awkward and less-than-humble approach to storytelling. However, as a newcomer to the Cuban Missile Crisis, this was actually helpful. Some of these factoids include the plans to destroy the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay (the U.S. did not know it, but those missiles were emplaced), the fact that a Russian sub went so far as to target a U.S. warship with a nuclear torpedo; and an accidental overflight of the U.S.S.R. by an American spy plane during a period of time when it was best not to overfly the Soviet Union. This is an information-dense 353 hardcover pages. Dobbs does his best to put you everywhere, from the high-level ExComm meetings to a nuclear-armed F-106 jet crash landing on a runway outside Terra Haute, Indiana. The breadth of detail gives you the epic sweep of events. It also, at times, becomes a bit too pointillist. You can start to lose the main thread in the mass of smaller digressions. I think I might have appreciated a bit more of an overarching framework, but this is partially a function of the fact that I brought little prior knowledge to the table. I think this might be the reason that it took me awhile to finish this, even though it is of modest length and larded with all the drama you’d expect. The pacing just seemed a bit off. The Cuban Missile Crisis continues to fascinate to this day. The leadership exhibited on both sides, but mostly the role played by President Kennedy, has been both lauded and criticized. Dobbs maintains a pretty objective tone, but his insistence on de-mythologizing the Kennedy-centric accounts (especially Robert Kennedy’s Thirteen Days) and his random inclusion of JFK’s sexual dalliances (without any explanation as to how this affected his management of the Crisis) leads me to believe he is not John Kennedy’s greatest admirer. I might be wrong. In any event, he got the job done. Hindsight is a much-maligned historical tool, but with its clarifying benefit, we can see that Kennedy ultimately succeeded. Exhibit A, of course, is the nuclear war that never occurred. It can sometimes be difficult for a narrative historian to create tension, when the outcome of a story is already well known. Dobbs isn’t the most graceful or propulsive writer. But he finds that tension in all the little-known stories from people around the globe who terrifyingly had the ability to trigger the great cataclysm of mankind.

  • Andrew Smith
    2019-02-20 08:51

    This is the third account of the Cuban Missile Crisis I’ve read; following versions published in JFK & RFK biographies I’ve ploughed through in the past year or so. It’s very, very detailed and provides a view of events from both the Cuban and Russian camps, as well as from the team managing the crisis in Washington. There is quite a bit of additional information here and though it’s historically fascinating I’d have to say it’s a pretty dry read.Three things I learnt:1. RFK & JFK were not quite the shrewd, perceptive leaders depicted in their respective biographies. True, JFK did avoid the decisions that would have probably (maybe inevitably) driven the crisis to nuclear war, and he did this despite the continuous prompting of the military leaders and other hawkish members of his team. The key decision was to invoke a blockade (or quarantine) rather than attack the Cuban missile sites. But events were much more chaotic than I’d previously been led to believe and less directly driven by the Kennedys.2. The lack of controls over deployment of nuclear devices was probably the scariest element. This meant that, on both sides, individual military personnel – sometimes relatively low ranking – had the direct capability (even if not the authority) to fire a nuclear missile. Any single trigger-happy finger could therefore have set of a catastrophic and probably irreversible set of events.3. A number of random episodes came close to creating a scenario where a conflict could have kicked off. The most interesting one was the plight of the pilot of an American U2 Spy plane who was confused by the Northern Lights on a routine mission to collect air particles. During a flight from Alaska to the North Pole he strayed way off of his scheduled flight path, deep into Russian airspace. Thinking the plane was on a mission to collect information as a precursor to a first nuclear strike, Russian MiG jets were dispatched to shoot him down but failed to make contact. If they had succeeded in tracking it down and destroying it who knows how it would have played out.Overall it’s a very well researched piece, but really one for dedicated historians.

  • Geevee
    2019-02-21 09:54

    I knew of the Cuban Missile Crisis but had never read anything about it, but thanks to another GR member's review I decided to order a copy from my library. I was not to be disappointed.The author is well placed to write on the superpowers having been a foreign correspondent for the Washington Post in Europe, for much of the time in the USSR and Russia, and as a State Department reporter for that newspaper too.So with this experience and expertise Mr Dobbs delivers a book that is a fast paced and highly readable account of the days leading up to the apogee of the crisis - 27th October 1962. The days before the 27th are covered but it is that one day that features heavily as events and the times they happened are laid out for the reader. Even knowing that the two superpowers will pull back from the brink of armageddon the events within Cuba and across the world are tense and Mr Dobbs creates an atmosphere and immediacy in his text that read like a high-quality thriller.To achieve this he interviewed many of the players in the events, from high ranking politicians and officials to military staff officers and combat personnel. Not just the Americans but also importantly for balance and to tell a two - three - sided story those who served the Soviet Union and Cuba. He has also used documents already in the public domain as well as newly located papers and photographs. I found the book's depth strengthened by these (interviews and documents) as the big or highly significant events were linked to individuals and smaller and seemingly unrelated events or actions.One item I found surprising was that to communicate quickly through secure official channels it took hours even days for messages leave one superpower before ending up on the desk of the opposite leader. More suprising and horrifying was my realisation that humankind's destruction was in part saved by public radio.For those who have read much on the crisis I would advocate reading this book because of the new source material included. For those with no prior reading on this subject, I would recommend it merely because the author can tell a story: one that was true and almost stopped the world's clock from ticking past midnight on 27th October 1962.

  • Michael Kotsarinis
    2019-02-18 13:51

    3.75/5One of the books that prove history (when written in such an engaging way) is at least as good as fiction!Extensively researched, debunks many of the myths associated with the crisis and doesn't attempt to create more sensation than the actual events. I may be wrong but I also got the feeling that it's one of the most impartial books out there regarding the Cold War.

  • Jason
    2019-03-12 08:55

    John F. Kennedy was a man of peace. Whatever else anyone says or tells you, he believed firmly in a world free of war and destruction. Nowhere is this more self-evident than in the crucible of his greatest moment as President of the United States: the Cuban Missile Crisis and the thirteen days the US (and the world) stood upon the brink of an unthinkable nuclear war. Some people have said that he was assassinated for his belief in a world free of wars, alas that is a topic for another time (and quite possibly a review). He kept clear his head and his thoughts, though its amazing to discover how he did so, when so many people were "itching" just to take us towards war.Everything that happened during that week of peril had a reason for occuring, though we may not think so ourselves and find most of the events quite hard to believe. Kennedy's nemesis in all this, Nikita Khrushchev was the typical aggressor in all of this though by the resolution of the crisis itself even he, too had changed. Placing Fidel Castro and his Cuba smack within the middle of this whole sordid mess, the author gives extremely descriptive examples of the pro-Castro Cubans and their (sometimes) lopsided fight for their homeland during the crisis. Overall, I don't want to give any aspect (or part) of this story away, just to tell you, you HAVE to read this one...and with the Fiftieth anniversary of this right around the corner, I couldn't think of a better time in which to do so.ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 2006

  • Andy
    2019-03-19 07:03

    Dobb's effectively argues that once the Cuban missile crisis was set in motion, the difficulty for the two leaders was not deciding to prevent an escalation (which would almost surely have lead to nuclear war), but rather preventing the situation from spiraling out of control despite their wishes. The terrible timing of many smaller events during the crisis could have easily turned any one of them into a match for nuclear war. Most disturbing were the many descriptions of single low ranked individuals, both American and Soviet, who were directly responsible, and capable of launching or detonating, nuclear weapons during the crisis. These individuals through misinformation, accident, insanity, lack of sleep or any other reason could have solely obliterated hundreds of thousands of people and sparked WWIII. Ultimately, Dobb's led me to the conclusion that a nuclear war was just as likely to be caused by accident as by any intentional action on the part of Kennedy or Kruschev.Dobb's also persuasively argues that the peaceful outcome was due to the fact that both Kennedy and Krushchev were intelligent, reasonable and good human beings and he points out that not all leaders are. Despite this, Dobb's relegates the human aspect of the leaders to a roll of partial importance, highlighting the many powerful (but less critiqued) forces at work during the crisis. Among these are the political tug-o-war between the Pentagon and the White House, those within the cabinet itself, Krushchev's struggles with the Communist party, basic problems of military protocol and chain of command, communications (or lack thereof), bad military intelligience, and even small players trying to make a name for themselves. "One Minute To Midnight" left me with a strong sense that even in the best of times, the strongest governments are held together by string. Nukes were always a bad idea, but in this context and in a world with an increasing number of nuclear armed countries, the future looks grim.

  • Pete daPixie
    2019-02-20 09:38

    Michael Dobbs' fascinating trawl through the historical archives has produced a worthy examination of the Cuban Missile Crisis in his 2008 publication of 'One Minute To Midnight'.For those readers who were alive in 1962, as well as those born since, this book should convince all, how lucky we are to be alive and kicking.Dobbs also taught me that one of my favourite movies, Kubrick's 'Dr.Strangelove' contained a serious flaw. It wasn't insane enough. Here was the real thing, with crazy military personalities, the fledgling technologies of the day, mistakes and chance events. The thirteen days in October of '62 certainly saw us a hair's breadth away from Armageddon.Concluding his review in the final paragraph of the Afterword, Dobbs writes, "The story of the missile crisis is replete with misunderstandings and miscalculations. But something more than dumb luck was involved in sidestepping a nuclear apocalypse. The real good fortune is that men as sane and level headed as John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev occupied the White House and the Kremlin in October 1962.As well researched and written as this is, I find fault with the arrangement of the Notes for each chapter, placed at the end of this book. Also in Dobbs' Postscript he can state that "John F. Kennedy was murdered in November 1963. His assassin had been active in a left wing protest group that called itself Fair Play for Cuba." More research required here Mr Dobbs!

  • Michael Flanagan
    2019-02-16 07:42

    As a child of the 80's I often heard reference to the Cuban Missile Crisis as the day the world held its breath. I knew it had to do with some nuclear missile being placed in Cuba by the Russians that in turn upset the US, but that was about as far as my knowledge went. As I read my way through this book my eyes grew wider and wider till I thought they were going to pop out of my head. What an amazing and utterly terrifying moment in history.The authors goes to great lengths to instill into the reader just how close the world came to a nuclear war. Each event is looked at in detail and their potential ramifications explored. Never have I ever walked away from a history book with such a thorough understanding of the subject matter.For me this book is what every history book should strive to be. The narrative reads like a first rate thriller and draws the reader in. The information is set out in an extremely balanced way and invites the reader to form their own opinions. Overall this is history at its most accessible form that entertains and teaches at the same time.

  • Keith
    2019-02-24 08:43

    After a certain age when we read history we generally know the broad outlines, we more or less know how it came out in the end. What we don't often know are the details, the stories of how things came to end up in a particular configuration. In One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Kruschchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear WarMichael Dobbs accurately fills in the details of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. He has made use of many previously unpublished archival materials. He has arranged his materials in such a way that the descriptive time frame gets ever shorter until, by the conclusion, it is measured in minutes. The truly amazing side-effect of this model is that, despite knowledge of how it turned out - the so-called "eyeball to eyeball" moment resulting in the mythical "blink, followed by cessation and withdrawal - the book became for me a page-turning thriller. The stakes are so high, the danger so acute that it is possible to be as completely possessed by the spirit of this book as by any fictional thriller. What comes across is that not only was the tension high, the possibility of one action triggering another and plunging the world into a nuclear holocaust was all too real. Without knowledge of this event it is possible to shrug off the danger, especially as it recedes into history. Dobbs chillingly enumerates the dangers:The American nuclear war plan was known as the Single Integrated Operational Plan, SIOP for short. Kennedy had been horrified by the first such plan, SIOP-62, which called for the dispatch of 2,258 missiles and bombers carrying 3,423 nuclear weapons against 1,077 "military and urban-industrial targets" scattered throughout the "Sino-Soviet bloc." One adviser characterized the plan as "orgiastic, Wagnerian." Another described it as "a massive, total, comprehensive, obliterating strategic attack . . . on everything Red." . . . And we call ourselves the human race,"was Kennedy's sardonic comment, when briefed about the plan.The Soviet Union may not have had nuclear parity with the United States but they were certainly psychologically committed:The use of tactical nuclear weapons had long been an integral part of Soviet war plans. The Soviets had even dropped a live Tatyana on their own troops during a military exercise in Siberia that was meant to simulate a nuclear war with the United States. Some forty-five thousand officers and soldiers were exposed to fallout from the blast, and many subsequently died of radiation-related illnesses.In his concluding chapter Dobbs does a fine job of illuminating the consequences of the outcome of the crisis. For the U.S. it led to a belief that this type of action - "squeeze and talk" - would have similar outcomes: The most pernicious consequences of the new foreign policy mind-set—the notion that the United States could force the rest of the world to do its bidding through a finely calibrated combination of "toughness and restraint"—played out in Vietnam. The whiz kids around McNamara came up with a policy of "progressive squeeze-and-talk" to bring the North Vietnamese Communists to their senses. The objective was not to defeat the North but to use American airpower to send signals of intent to Hanoi, much as JFK had used the quarantine of Cuba to send a signal of determination to Khrushchev. The defense intellectuals in the Pentagon gamed out a series of moves and countermoves that demonstrated the futility of Hanoi's continued defiance of the vastly superior might of the United States. A bombing campaign known as Rolling Thunder got under way in March 1965. But the North Vietnamese leaders were unfamiliar with game theory as taught at Harvard and promoted by RAND Corporation. They failed to behave in a "logical" manner and ignored the signals from Washington. Instead of backing down, they matched the United States escalation for escalation. The Soviet Union took a different lesson away from the crisis. For them was a vow that never again would they be humilated like this. This led to an escalation in the Cold War arms race where, as Dobbs notes: "The Soviet Union would never again allow itself to be in a position of strategic inferiority. In order to achieve military parity with the United States, Khrushchev's successors embarked on a vast intercontinental ballistic missile program." Finally, not all the lessons Dobbs cites are mired in history. Consider this timely point: "A somewhat different—but equally mistaken—lesson from the Cuban missile crisis was drawn by modern-day neoconservatives. In planning for the war in Iraq, they shared the conceit that the political will of the president of the United States trumps all other considerations. They were fervent believers in the "eyeball to eyeball" version."This is a fascinating inside look at those six days in October. Dobbs demytholigizes much of the conventional wisdom even as it is repeated today. His portait of John Kennedy and Nikita Kruschchev and how they reacted to the push and pull of events is first-rate.q

  • Joe
    2019-03-11 14:51

    The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 may be one of the most analyzed events of the Cold War and hence one more book on the topic could be considered redundant – One Minute to Midnight proves this is not so. Using a multitude of sources and written from a variety of perspectives, this book reads at times like one of Tom Clancy’s early books. The reader finds himself in the White House, the Kremlin, the cockpit of a U2 spy plane, a Russian submarine and the jungles of Cuba – most of this information provided by first-hand accounts. All the major events, decisions and personalities during this thirteen day crisis are covered here with Kennedy and Khrushchev trying to contain the situation while the nuclear Armageddon clock ticked away. A few tidbits I learned from reading this book – although the quarantine was a successful ploy Khrushchev had all ready backed down once his bluff was called - recalling all of the ships en route to Cuba 24 hours prior to Kennedy’s decision to intercept them. Also – and this was scary – as the situation escalated, it was amazing to read about the number of nuclear weapons which were mobile during that time – being transported from caves in Cuba, on Russian submarines and freighters and in the bellies of B-52s. Lastly it was also startling how quickly Castro was delegated to the sidelines once nuclear war became a serious threat.Regardless if you are new to this piece of history or well versed I would recommend this book – It is great reading.

  • Alex
    2019-03-10 08:00

    We were dang close to nuclear war. I guess I knew that, but this book really drove that point home to me. Basically, humans were just lucky. We were apparently lucky that for one thing Kennedy and Khrushchev were the leaders in power at that moment (they were both gone in two years). Certainly, there were those in positions of influence on both sides who wanted to escalate the conflict.This book is written as a timeline, but it seems like it could have used that framework more effectively. In fact, I think that the level of tension that this structure was meant to create simply wasn't there. Also, there were some new additions to the history that had either been disregarded or unknown previously, e.g. a U2 went off course and overflew far eastern Siberia and, unbeknownst to the Americans, the Soviets had nuclear tipped cruise missiles in position to destroy Gitmo. While these were very interesting pieces of research, the author perhaps spent too much time on them and focused too much of the history around it.All in all, I am glad that I read this book as the story remains very compelling and important. I wonder if I could have done better with a different history of the events though.

  • Amit Tiwary
    2019-02-20 12:55

    One of the finest book on Cuban Crisis.If you have not read much on Cuban Crisis, you should pick this one.

  • Tom Carrico
    2019-03-04 11:45

    Book ReviewOne Minute to MidnightBy Michael DobbsThe death of Osama Bin Laden was met with many emotions and prompted much rhetoric in the press. One of the commentaries which I found quite compelling was one by a talking head on CNN who spoke of “the children of 9/11.” He was not referring to the children of victims of that tragic day’s attacks, but the children who have grown up under the specter of terrorism. He wondered how growing up in an “unsafe and unpredictable world” would affect these kids as adults. That got me thinking back to my childhood and the specter of nuclear annihilation which my generation grew up with. I was ten years old during the Cuban Missile Crisis and I lived and went to school 3.8 miles from the Pentagon. We had a Civil Defense air raid siren on the corner of our playground. We were made to bring bottled water and canned goods to school in case we were trapped. We practiced getting under our desks during a nuclear strike. Who were we kidding? We knew we were toast. I have recollections of John Kennedy appearing on TV that fateful Sunday to inform the American people that the U.S. had discovered Russian missiles on the island of Cuba. I remember the Naval embargo and watching the TV with bated breath as Soviet ships approached the embargo line in the Caribbean. Then my recollections get a bit fuzzy, but I remember that it seemed like it was quickly all over: the Russians backed off, Kennedy had prevailed and the world was sort of safe again. That was not exactly the case.Michael Dobbs has written what is probably the definitive book about the Cuban missile crisis. He uses recently declassified American and Soviet documents and photos. He also interviewed many of the key players (American, Soviet and Cuban) who were part of the Russian weapons deployment, the United States’ response and the Cubans who were ostensibly the pawns in this whole nuclear showdown chess match. He has written a minute by minute narrative of every detail of the crisis which reads with more spell binding, fear inspiring, trembe inducing terror than any Ludlum, Clancy or Le Carre novel. The opening of the book recreates the political atmosphere which created the crisis. America was feeling technologically inferior to the Russians and the common thinking (albeit false) was that the US lagged the Russians badly in the production of nuclear weapons. This supposed “missile gap” was, in fact one of the major issues which got John Kennedy elected in the first place. The US had also been embarrassed by the loss of a U2 spy plane shot down over the Soviet Union and Dwight Eisenhower’s obfuscation of the plane’s mission (he claimed it was on a weather data collection flight over Turkey, when in fact, the Russians proved it was taking photos of military installations while flying over the Soviet Union). Castro, not long in power and paranoid of an American led counter-revolution, was in fear of a more organized Bay of Pigs style invasion of his island country. The Soviet Union felt besieged by NATO (i.e., American) nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. This led to the unlikely alliance of Castro and Nikita Kruschev and the placement of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba.What the US was unaware of then and until recently, was that the Soviets also had battlefield or “tactical” nuclear weapons in Cuba which would have easily annihilated an American invasion force. The US was also unaware of the number of Soviet troops in Cuba and the fact that there were longer range missiles there which could have easily reached New York, Washington and many other Southeastern American cities. There were, indeed, preparations in place (code named “Operation Mongoose”, organized by the CIA and under the control of Robert Kennedy) for an invasion of Cuba. The American leadership was also under the impression that there were no nuclear warheads in Cuba yet, but this, again, has been proven to be false.The American people had no idea of the division of opinion in the upper levels of government regarding how to respond to this Soviet nuclear threat in our own back yard. The author makes it painfully clear that there were many who advocated a “first strike” approach with a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. Air Force General Curtis LeMay, the commander of the Strategic Air Command and future Vice Presidential candidate with George Wallace (1968), when asked what he would do about the Cubans, replied “Fry ‘em.” (Incidentally, LeMay was the inspiration for the crazed Air Force General Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s classic movie “Dr. Strangelove.”) Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and others felt that Kruschev could not be trusted and that an aggressive first strike was the only acceptable response. Fortunately, or we all would not be alive to learn about this, cooler heads prevailed. The Naval blockade was implemented after much debate, and, after much wringing of hands, Bobby Kennedy met with the Soviet ambassador late on “Black Saturday”, October 27, 1962, the day which nuclear war seemed imminent. He proposed the exchange of aging American weapons in Turkey and a promise of no American invasion for the removal of the nuclear weapons from Cuba.While debate was raging in Washington, Castro became furious that the Soviets were backing down from their commitment to defend his island from America. He demanded a Soviet first strike on the United States, anticipating an imminent invasion (which was, in fact, scheduled for the following Tuesday if talks broke off between the Americans and Soviets). His willingness to die for his cause and take his island nation into nuclear holocaust with him is unbelievable. The author also writes of many inadvertent events, any of which could have triggered a nuclear holocaust. Another U2 wandered off of its flight path over the North Pole and mistakenly entered Russian airspace just as Kennedy and Kruschev were exchanging the beginnings of what became the ultimate compromise. American ships dropped dummy depth charges on four Soviet submarines (armed with nuclear tipped torpedos) in the Caribbean to try to pinpoint their location. These subs had lost communication with Moscow and they were uncertain as to whether they were actually at war or not. One of the subs came incredibly close to firing its nuclear torpedoes which would have taken out an entire carrier group and, obviously, triggered a nuclear response. Another U2 was shot down over Cuba, despite orders from Moscow to the contrary. Any or all of these events could have triggered nuclear war. This book is packed with facts and documented like an academic treatise. It is suspenseful and terrifying at the same time. It is an event which seems almost anecdotal nearly sixty years later, but had one small decision or event gone differently and the world as we know it would not exist. So, this gets me back to my original question? Do the “children of 9/11” have more uncertainty and lack of safety than previous generations? I think not. I think that, unfortunately, every generation has had its 9/11, its Cuban Missile Crisis, its Pearl Harbor, its near-Apocalyptic event. This age of information may make us more aware of our dire straits, but they have always been there. Awareness of these historical events is prudent, though, because as was stated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:“If men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us! But passion and party blind our eyes, and the light which experience gives is a lantern on the stern, which shines only on the waves behind us.”

  • Frank Stein
    2019-02-16 12:54

    This is a kaleidoscopic view of humanity's most dangerous thirteen days, tracking everyone from the President of the United States and the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party to the U-2 pilots and submarine captains who fought out this almost silent war across the globe. Though the narrative can sometimes get lost in the details, Michael Dobbs knows that the details are fascinating, and they were often what determined the course of events.Dobbs emphasizes that by Tuesday October 23rd, about a week after the United States had discovered the Soviet R-12 missiles in Cuba, both President John F. Kennedy and Secretary Nikita Khrushchev had decided to do almost anything to avoid the possibility of war. Both had faced the horrors of World War II, and understood the dangers of military chauvinism, and were therefore the most pacifist minded of all their advisers. What Dobbs perhaps insufficiently emphasizes, but what forms the subtext of the entire book, is that each leader still believed the provocations by the other had to be met with at least equal force, so the possibility for escalation was constant in every minor scrap and every encounter.These minor encounters were exaggerated because each side was doing so much to antagonize the other at the time. For instance, the dashing General Edward Lansdale was picked by the Kennedys early in their administration for a sabotage campaign of Castro's Cuba, named Operation Mongoose, and he formulated an aggressive strategy that envisioned the overthrow of Castro in little over a year (by October 1962, in fact, the month of the missile crisis). Twelve days into the crisis, however, when a single aggressive misstep could have set the world on fire, Bobby Kennedy was shocked to learn that Lansdale and others were still infiltrating saboteurs into Cuba, and ordered a halt, but one team was already out. If they hadn't failed in their task of exploding a copper mine they could have caused an irreversible international incident. Likewise, on what Theodore Sorenson called "by far the worst day" of the crisis, the final "Black Saturday," routine U-2 expeditions to the North Pole to gather information about Soviet nuclear tests continued without the President's knowledge. One pilot, confused by the aurora borealis, went off course into Soviet territory, where MiG jets were scrambled to fight back what some Soviets worried was prelude to a first strike. These data gathering expeditions were then, belatedly, called off. When another U-2 intentionally overflew Cuba to collect info, local Soviet commanders shot the U.S. plane down without Russian authorization. Both sides viewed these not as local mistakes but as provocations ordered by the other's leader that demanded some strong response. And all these dangers were amplified because messages between the chiefs of each nation could take up to 12 hours to transmit, at least until they hit upon the idea of communicating to each other through public radio and television releases.In the end, one gets the impression that Kennedy was by far the more aggressive leader. The Soviet missiles in Cuba were no more dangerous to the U.S. than the U.S. missiles in Turkey were to the USSR, after all, and Kennedy's categorical refusal to allow them could seem odd at the time, though maybe understandable given fears of Soviet and Cuban stability. Even after deciding that almost anything should be done to prevent war, Kennedy still refused any scenario that allowed the missiles to remain in Cuba, and for this reason he was pushed by General Curtis LeMay and others to plan an invasion of the island for Monday, October 28. This, it turned out, was the day after Khrushchev sued for peace. It was a close call, and though Kennedy unquestionably "won" the standoff, this book helps one remember how close such stances, along with many minor mistakes, brought the earth to nuclear destruction.

  • Eric Bittner
    2019-02-20 10:49

    Easily one of the best books that I've read in the last 5 years, and by far the best book I've read on the Cuban Missile Crisis (and I've read at least 5 others). The author demolishes a lot of the mythology and conventional wisdom surrounding the events of October 1962. What emerges is an even more frightening account of just how close we came to a nuclear holocaust. Among the frightening revelations that are made in this book for the first time, the Soviets were prepared to strike the US base at Guantanamo Bay with nuclear cruise missiles, even going so far as to move the missiles into final firing positions just 15 miles from the base. Each missile possessed a warhead equivalent to the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb. US intelligence was aware of the movement of this missile unit, but was completely unaware of the true nature of its weapons. The book also recounts multiple occasions where nuclear weapons were placed in a position where they could have been released by a relatively junior officer - a pilot, sub commander, or commander of an individual missile battery - instead of solely on orders from the highest levels, as is commonly thought. One can only guess at what might have happened if one of these nuclear weapons had been used, but it's hard to imagine events remaining under the control of the leaders of the US and USSR. It's quite likely that events would have spiraled out of control, with a nuclear war as the result. Indeed, the book points out that one of the main lessons to be drawn from the crisis is that despite their best efforts, Kennedy and Khrushchev were constantly at risk of losing control of events. We are all fortunate that both men realized that war was something to be avoided, and even in the face of opposition within their own governments, did what was necessary to end the crisis.

  • Cailean
    2019-03-10 10:07

    Extraordinary detail and research went into this book. At times I wanted to stop because it was so dense and took a lot of mental power to truly comprehend all the details and the timeline. I could only read it in 30-minute sessions and would tell my husband after each one, "My brain is tired!" I persevered because I had to know what would happen next. Sure, the author could have written a much shorter book and said basically "this happened, the end" but that's what Wikipedia is for, right? This book is for the die-hard history fans, especially those who are interested in the political and world history of the early 60s. A volatile time! I found it interesting how the author took a relatively neutral stance on the events. It was written chronologically and would skip from what the US was doing, what the Russians were doing, what Cuba was doing...and how oftentimes there were miscommunications or assumptions that caused some of the problems. Amazing how much corruption happened - "Let's bomb our own country/ships/etc. and blame it on another country to give us an excuse to start a war." It was fascinating to read the respective leaders' thought processes and background motivations for how and why they acted and reacted the way they did during the missile crisis. This is an excellent book, practically textbook level detail. It was pretty exhausting to read. As a warning, there is some bad language (quotations from leaders, etc.)

  • Tony
    2019-02-24 09:46

    Dobbs, Michael. ONE MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War. (2008). *****. This is probably the best account I have ever read of the Cuban Missle Crisis. The author has used recently declassified sources to explore the actual events that occurred in October of 1962 and gone back to original sources and new interviews to characterize the personalities involved. The book reads like a top-notch spy novel by LeCarre or Furst, but is unbelievable based on true events. We have ultimately come to realize that nuclear war between the two super-powers of the time was averted. The book “gives a day-to-day perspective on how two world leaders, John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, showed their ability to manage a crisis.” We can be thankful that during this crisis both leaders took the time to think, and not rely too much on their military leaders. Of note in the book is the first full account of an overfly of the Soviet Union by a U-2 spy plane at the height of the crisis. When it comes right down to it, there were so many screw-ups during the crisis that it is a miracle that we didn’t end in a nuclear holocost. It is interesting to note that the author in his afterword traces the influence of this crisis on subsequent political thinking down to this day. This is a must read book if you have any interest at all in Russian-American relations or the Cold War in general. Highly recommended.

  • Martin
    2019-03-12 11:46

    A minute by minute account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this exhaustively researched history book is a compulsive page-turner, like a Cold War spy novel of the time. The players are not just JFK, RFK, McNamara, Kruschev, Castro and Che, but everyone involved directly or indirectly, from a pilot gone off course over Siberia to a Swedish captain of a cargo ship taking Russian potatoes to Cuba. The author states that any of the smallest actions could have had tremendous consequences if reacted to with haste. What amazes me most is how the technology at that time permitted greater communication but still no greater understanding of the thoughts and intentions of one’s enemies. I believe that one of the best outcomes of the crisis is that Kruschev appeared to hold more temperate views of both Kennedy and Castro following the crisis, although it still contributed to the continuation of the arms race. One of Castro’s goals was to maintain his dignity, which although he may have been little more than a pawn between the superpowers, may have ultimately been achieved through his longevity. Kennedy’s, meanwhile, was to prevent lives from being lost needlessly, which came from both his experiences in World War II and from a recently published award-winning history of early WWI by Barbara Tuchman called “The Guns of August” which examines how miscommunication and misunderstanding can lead to great nations going to disastrous war.

  • Annabelle
    2019-02-21 13:42

    extremely well put together day by day/hour by hour account of the cuban missile crisis in the week leading up to 'black Saturday' 27th of October 1962 and how the powers that be from all sides were responding to news as it came in. Also told in such vivid detail that it brings home how terrifying close the world came to nuclear war. This book really takes you behind the scenes. I've read many books and articles on how the ordinary people were reacting to nuclear threat, all the protests movements and campaigning etc but this tells it from a totally different perspective so I found it very interesting. I was pleased it even gave bob dylan a very small mention. I mean, you can't write about the events of that period without mentioning him, right? 10/10.

  • Aditya Pareek
    2019-02-23 11:53

    I absolutely love the writing's pace and the trilogy deserves more exposure than it has, sadly the author is absent or inactive on GRs since 2012, when he apparently "bothered" with a little online marketing of his work.Michael you won't get far without engaging your readers.Still The best book on geopolitical history I have ever read.The included pictures of the FKR cruise missiles pointed at Guantanamo marine base..never in my life have I come across such an in-depth history in such an engaging flow.Highly recommend, no I would go as far as to prostrate myself at the quality of this work.

  • Bryan Craig
    2019-02-16 07:59

    This book goes far beyond the naval blockade and "eye ball to eye ball." The author uses recently declassified documents to paint a scary picture of how close we could have gone to war. The Cuban side of things is great. This might be my new standard on the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • BrokenTune
    2019-02-21 14:49

    Review posted on BookLikes:

  • Campbell
    2019-02-19 09:07

    I don't really know what to say about this. Fascinatingly detailed, compelling and terrifying in equal measure. If you've any interest at all in the politics of nuclear war (and how to avoid it), then this is the book for you.

  • Meihan Liu
    2019-02-27 06:40

    Unlike Prof H, not all reporters write better history books than academians. This book of Dobbs lacks explanation on a very basic issue while building up a fascinating story: why did the Soviets send missiles to Cuba in the very first place? (Some other popular journalism history works, such as The Best and the Brightest, are too opinionated to my taste. Not to mention those about uprisings in Eastern Europe since the beginning of the CW).

  • James Murphy
    2019-03-04 11:03

    I was in school during the Cuban missile crisis. I was living alone off campus and remember going to bed one night with uncertainty and fear of what events might unfold while I slept. I don't remember the date but think it must have been 27 Oct 62, the day Dobbs calls Black Saturday. He's written a gripping account of those days at the edge of nuclear war. He lays his narrative out in day-by-day and hour-by-hour detail told from the perspective of all 3 players, America, the Soviet Union, and Cuba. It's a terribly interesting history, both in terms of point of view and motives of the 3 leaders and in the revelation of developments we the public weren't aware of. The issue, as Dobbs tells it, was more dangerous than I'd suspected while at the same time less than an eyeball to eyeball confrontation because the moment Khrushchev was aware we'd discovered the missiles he knew he'd have to withdraw them. Because Kennedy and Khruschev immediately began to seek ways to resolve and compromise, the danger wasn't that one of them would overreact and start the war but that the military forces facing each other would create a shooting incident that would lead to a nuclear exchange. Amazingly, both the Soviet and American forces had nuclear weapons which could have been fired at the discretion of local small unit commanders. And Dobbs discusses at length the fact that, as the U. S. learned later, Soviet forces in Cuba were in possession of tactical nuclear weapons they'd have used against an invading force as well as in destroying Guantanamo. Reading the book I realized an element of good luck was involved in finding ways to solve the standoff without an underling firing a hasty shot which would propel the leaders into "spasm responses." I found it amazing, too, that Castro urged the Soviets to make a first strike against the U. S. As fascinating as the book itself is, the "Afterword" is even more so. In it the author discusses the consequences of the Cuban missile crisis. Dobbs emphasizes that we interpret history in the light of present day events, politics, and foreign policy. I've long felt that we can't understand our involvement and conduct of the Vietnam War without first understanding the events of October 1962. Dobbs confirms this but also goes further to explain how the crisis influenced the missteps in Iraq 41 years later. The crisis contributed, as well, to the collapse of Soviet communism by encouraging the Soviet Union to escalate the arms race in an attempt to keep up with American military might. Ironically, they developed a sophisticated and powerful military but couldn't in the end provide the Russian people with the basic material prosperity and spiritual fulfillment enjoyed in the west and so lost the war of ideas. I once heard someone describe the Soviet Union as being like a midget with the right arm of a normal man, strong militarily but ideologically bankrupt. The "Afterword" is filled with interesting material such as this. In the closing pages Dobbs is careful to assign credit for avoiding a 1962 nuclear exchange to the strong character of Kennedy and Khruschev. He's convinced that the character of leaders is instrumental in crisis management. And his comment that had a man of different character been in the White House on 9/11 the progress of foreign policy 2, 3 and 4 years later would've been different is a sobering one.

  • Ali MSK
    2019-03-19 12:39

    Good read (listen) on the details and decision making done during the "Cuban Missiles Crisis", especially the tension and how close was the world to a nuclear war, especially at two separate occasions during the crisis.

  • Brian
    2019-02-23 08:00

    History is never as simple as perceived. The story of the Cuban Missile Crisis is often boiled down to Kennedy vs Krushchev and that moment when American ships stared down Soviet ships, daring them to cross the quarantine line. But that telling, while also completely untrue, forgets what Kennedy knew at the time, that no president waves his arm and makes history happen. There are often people and events over which leaders have no control. This book was written to tell the other stories and intertwines them to create a complete picture of those 13 days. There is the story of American US pilot Charles W. Maultsby who was stationed in Alasaka. His job was to regularly fly to the North Pole and take air samples which, when analyzed, shed light on Soviet nuclear testing. At the very height of climax of the crisis, Maultsby flew to the North Pole, became confused by the northern lights, went hundreds of miles off course, and flew into Russia accidentally. The Russians thought America was launching the first strike. They thought an invasion was imminent.I also liked the story of a KBG officer in New York who pitched a peace plan to an ABC reporter knowing it would be relayed to Kennedy. The president interpreted this as a 'back channel' deal by Krushchev. In truth, the officer was stressed that he wasn't doing his job well and didn't have any new information for his superiors. So he pitched a totally made up solution to test the Americans. Kennedy used the same reporter to respond and signal he was very enthusiastic about making a deal. That information never made it to Krushchev at all.The book concludes unexpectedly. After hundreds of pages of making the argument that anyone involved, from Kennedy right down a trigger happy soldier in Cuba, had the power to spark an apocalypse, both Kennedy and Krushchev should be praised for their restraint. If those two men had not been leaders at that moment, the world as we know it would have ended.The epilogue looks at some lessons learned from the crises. The Americans felt emboldened by their perceived win over Russia. This new confidence was directly responsible for the long, drawn out Vietnam War. They thought if they would force the world's other superpower to back down in Cuba then this little jungle country would be no problem. It also highlights a speech from George HW Bush post 9/11. Bush quotes JFK, something about not backing down, and uses it to justify the Afghan and Iraq wars. This is the completely wrong conclusion. Kennedy didn't take the war to Russia or even Cuba because he recognized the devastation that would cause, not just to his opponents, but to everyone. Many of his advisors told him to strike preemptively, to wipe Cuba off the map but he wouldn't. He couldn't. And he saved millions of lives on both sides.Best non-fiction book I have read.

  • Jerome
    2019-02-21 06:48

    A riveting and nuanced day-by-day history of the Cuban Missile Crisis from all sides.Dobbs’ account of the Kennedy administration’s response to the crisis is balanced and he describes all of the uncertainty and indecision. Dobbs commends both Kennedy and Khrushchev for preventing an escalation of the crisis despite the hawkish advice they both received from their advisors. Dobbs ably describes the chaos and confusion of the period and how it was often caused by nothing more than pure ignorance and the poor state of the era’s communications systems. “The question was no longer whether the leaders of the two superpowers wanted war,” Dobbs writes, “but whether they had the power to prevent it.” Dobbs also describes how many of the Soviet forces on and around Cuba were given discretionary authority to deploy nuclear weapons, and how the Kennedy administration at first kept its role in removing the Jupiter missiles from Turkey under wraps due to the upcoming midterm elections. Dobbs also debunks the idea of a back channel between ABC’s John Scali and KGB rezident Aleksandr Feklisov, which Dobbs argues was just a ploy to enhance both of their reputations. He also debunks the whole “eyeball to eyeball” myth, showing how Soviet ships bound for Cuba turned back before the US quarantine was even established, and how SAC’s move to DEFCON 2 was undertaken at Kennedy’s orders (debunking the myth that Kennedy responded angrily at SAC’s “decision”) He also describes the various failures of the Soviet and American intelligence services during the crisis.A careful, compelling and dramatic volume. The pace is not always very fast, and the author often goes into quite a lot of detail regarding the weapons involved. And for some reason Dobbs writes of a ship’s speed in “knots per hour,” and of an aircraft with a “steering column.”

  • S Jordan
    2019-02-18 11:59

    The 1962 Cuban missile crisis is a seminal moment in the Cold War – by most accounts its most dangerous moment. But like the Alamo (another seminal moment in the American narrative), the crisis has become encrusted with myth. Dobbs’ imminently readable book examines the crisis with the advantages of hindsight and the archives of history, and without an ax to grind. He debunks the mythology that has grown around the events from self-serving interviews and books, as well as from films that could not resist taking dramatic license. President Kennedy had read Tuchman’s history of the origin of the first world war, The Guns of August. She related that a German general, when asked how the war started, had sighed, “If we only knew.” During the crisis, Kennedy remarked that he did not want future historians writing a treatise called The Missiles of October with a similar note. Although Kennedy adroitly avoided war, the lessons of the crisis were later misconstrued by Secretary of Defense McNamara (among others) when he tried to apply the lessons that he liked (and ignored the less appealing lessons) to Viet Nam. George W. Bush similarly misapplied the lessons in his decision to launch a war in Iraq – as the author explained in the Afterword. Readers – especially policy makers – would be well served to absorb the lessons of the crisis. The lessons are just as important today.

  • Phil
    2019-03-17 11:40

    This book somehow made one of the most fascinating and terrifying events in world history even more fascinating and terrifying. This book provided insight into the mindset of not just Kennedy, Krushchev, and Castro, but also pilots, troops, rebels, and many others who played a role in the Cuban missile crisis. It was also interesting to learn about the capabilities of each nation and how the other side frequently misjudged them. It is a chilling story.I liked the organization as a timeline, showing how events came together each day, and I appreciate the in-depth research into details of the missile crisis and how things might have gone differently. I also appreciate the stage being set up front that neither party (US or Soviet) was completely innocent. This was not a black and white "good guys vs. bad guys" situation.There are some minor quirks that prevent this from being a 5 star book for me. The author's hand is present in the story more than I would like; sometimes touting things being revealed for the first time, or offering the author's opinions on the ramifications of various decisions. On the plus side, at least it is out in the open for the most part rather than having to constantly be on guard for bias.