Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Serhii Plokhy. Norton, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-393-54081-9
Harvard history professor Plokhy (Forgotten Bastards) offers a comprehensive study of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis focused on the “misjudgments and misunderstandings” that nearly led to nuclear war. Bolstered by “ideological hubris” and afraid of appearing weak, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev “marched from one mistake to another,” Plokhy asserts, yet both held back from pushing the button because they feared the consequences of nuclear entanglement. (Kennedy’s military advisers informed him there would be 600,000 American casualties if a single missile reached a major U.S. city.) Plokhy dives deep into the events leading up to the crisis, documenting Khrushchev’s boasts and lies as he used the threat of escalating tensions in Berlin to “distract [Kennedy’s] attention from Cuba.” Drawing on firsthand accounts, Plokhy also spotlights the Soviet military personnel who arrived in Cuba to unload and prepare the missiles for deployment, unaware of the high-level diplomatic maneuvers to defuse the conflict, and describes how Khrushchev attempted to assuage Fidel Castro’s wrath when the Cuban leader learned the Soviet missiles wouldn’t stay on the island. Though the storytelling bogs down in places, history buffs will savor this balanced and richly detailed look at both sides of the crisis. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 11/17/2020
Release date: 04/13/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
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