cover image The Abyss: Nuclear Crisis Cuba 1962

The Abyss: Nuclear Crisis Cuba 1962

Max Hastings. Harper, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-0-06-298013-7

Hastings (Operation Pedestal) highlights in this engrossing account just how close the U.S. and the Soviet Union came to nuclear war in October 1962. Contending that Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine gives the Cuban Missile Crisis “a deeply distressing immediacy,” he notes that all nuclear nations “take risks that could one day prove disastrous for humanity, because somebody miscalculates, overreaches, or concedes to subordinates opportunities to do so.” Throughout, Hastings draws sharp personality profiles of John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, Fidel Castro, and their top-level advisers, and expertly mines archival records to recreate the contemporaneous rationale for their decision-making, even when it looks foolish or reckless in hindsight. He also expands beyond the “pivotal thirteen days” when the crisis reached its height, providing essential context in cogent discussions of the Cuban Revolution, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Soviet space program, and more. Flashes of color (“What sort of camp is it?” asked Khrushchev when told he’d been invited to visit President Eisenhower at Camp David in 1959. “A place they put people they don’t trust?”) enliven sober warnings about the need for world leaders who can sift through multiple sources of information and back down from a fight when the cost is too great. This riveting history speaks clearly to the present moment. (Oct.)