Customer Reviews

41
4.1 out of 5 stars
Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khruschev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Format: PaperbackChange
Price:£10.39+Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 2 November 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have loved every minute of reading this book.

Frederick Kempe has put together a real little gem with this book. Its informative, very well written, well researched, and its also a gripping real life tale. The style of writing that Kempe takes with this book is sometimes like that of a documentary narrator, but while it seems slightly jarring at first, you quickly get used to the style and find yourself reading pages and pages (even chapters!) at a time.

Kempe sets out the book generally in a chornological order and alernates between focussing on Khrushchev / Kennedy / Adenauer / Ulbricht at specific points in the chronology - there is some overlap at times and event - but not very often, and when this is the case it allows the reader to "see" how that particular person saw the event, and puts the event in to the context of wider events surrounding that person (EG Khrushchev's "German demands" speech being based on party pressure, Chinese Pressure, Adeneuar's Presure, and not just "Bully the new US president" syndrome). It also allows Kempe to present his arguments and analysis of events in a very effective way, clearly presenting the event / actions of the person before explaing WHY that person did what they did / implications of the action taken.

Notes and references are presented in the back of the book which may not be to everyone's taste, but its safe to say that this book has been very well researched. The focus of the book is Berlin, in 1961, as a result the wider Cold War, and events after 1961 are not really discussed. There are a few basic errors in wider Cold War events mentioned here that took place during 1961, (very few - very basic) but this does not really detract from the content / focus of this book itself.

All in all this is a superb read and I would highly recommend it to anyone with even a vague interest in this period of history, or anyone who wants to know why the Berlin Wall was constructed.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When John F. Kennedy was inaugerated as US President in January, 1961, he inherited many problems - including that of Berlin. Told from the point of view of Kennedy, Khrushchev, the West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Walter Ulbricht, the General Secretary of the East German Socialist Union Party, this book reconstructs that time and conflict with great detail. Earlier talks between Khrushchev and former President, Eisenhower, had broken down and there were high hopes of Kennedy, whom Khrushchev was eager to meet. Berliners themselves were weary of occupation and resented the Soviet soldiers and Ulbricht, mindful of the economic boom being experienced in West Berlin, was facing an exodus. Khrushchev was also aware of Soviet economic failure, while Kennedy knew that the US had given a solemn commitment to Berliners and that national prestige was invested in the city's fate.

What follows is a tale of meetings, arguments and standoffs. At a press conference in June, Ulbricht made the first mention of closing off East Berlin, with the words, "nobody intends to put up a wall..." One August night, however, the world changed forever, as the borders closed suddenly and without warning. People found that, literally overnight, they were unable to get to work, get home, or reach their family. Phone connections were cut off and families resorted to standing on ladders to wave at each other. It wa a tense time, when war was threatened and confrontation could not be avoided. This is an intelligent, well written and thought provoking read, which gives a real flavour of that time and, as well as presenting the political events, gives the human side of the story.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 28 June 2013
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A very interesting, comprehensive book with notes & bibliography - Over 500 pages - so lots to read.

The book details what happened in 1961 - from January to October - in Berlin (and the rest of the world relating to Germany).

There are details from various points of view of the events that happened between Kennedy & Khrushchev - that resulted in the building of the WALL dividing Berlin. Other politicians including: - Macmillan, De Gaulle, Adenauer & Ulbricht are described and discussed as are their interactions with Kennedy & Khrushchev.

I knew that after WW2 Germany had been divided with Berlin also divided into East & West - what I had not realised (too young??!!) was that the division of Berlin had not been a physical one at first and that the WALL did not go up until August 1961.

There are many black & white photographs.

A very good history book - helped me understand the complexities of the Cold War.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Berlin 1961 by Frederick Kempe is perhaps the most interesting, educational and entertaining history book I have ever read. In the past I have tended to lean towards the work of Antony Beevor and Stephen E. Ambrose, both being mainly concerned with WWII. Kempe's book follows these two authors in their constructive techniques - using first-hand accounts from people who were `on the ground' at the time, recently declassified documents as well as previous texts written by other historians. Kempe was a journalist and this shows through in his delivery of the facts which at times left me sitting in stunned disbelief.

I knew very little about the Cold War and the portioning out of Germany after WWII, Kennedy's administration and even less about Khrushchev for that matter beyond a line in a Queen song. This book takes it up to the Cuban Missile Crisis and even goes some way to discuss that challenge in the light of what happened in Berlin 1961. So what happened? I suggest you read the book, but basically the Berlin Wall was constructed to separate West and East Germany amid a lot of muscle flexing by Khrushchev and the inexperienced JFK who had just suffered an embarrassing loss of face in the failed Bay of Pigs operation to overthrow Castro in Cuba. The events in Berlin culminated in a `Mexican standoff' between American and Russian tanks at the only remaining border crossing.

Kempe's book reveals much about JFK's character, health, and willingness to use unofficial communication channels to talk to the Russian leader. It paints JFK in an unforgiving light and made me reappraise the image I had of him of the `last gunfighter' and a hero of democracy. That's not to say that Kempe leans towards the communist cause; I would say his book is quite politically neutral and just lays out the facts in a fascinating and thought-provoking manner.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a highly readable fascinating description and analysis of the relationships between Khrushchev and the USSR and Kennedy and the USA with other players, most notably the divided Germanies.

Much of the book follows a day-by-day diary like format for 1961 but also highlights key events, or days, from 1960. This is augmented by an introduction to the four main players - leaders of the USSR, USA, GDR and FDR and a conclusion drawing various stands of the book together. The narrative is detailed but compelling, particularly the insights into the same events but from the perspective of the four leaders. I found the day-by-day approach pretty riveting to the point where rather than putting the book down I'd read another couple of day's narrative. The author's approach really does allow a great amount of information to be given without becoming lost in the minutia.

I should make clear that this is not a coffee-table book, which for some reason I initially thought it was, perhaps based on the rather iconic image of the Berlin Wall and Brandenburg Gate on the cover. While supported by two sets of photographs this is very definitely a serious history with tens of pages of notes and references at the end. It is not however a history of the Cold War. As the title suggests, with the exceptions to the scene setting and involvement of other governments, the focus is Berlin and 1961. I suspect readers would appreciate the book more if they already had a grounding in the Cold War.

Overall an enjoying, detailed, and informative book I'd recommend.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was fourteen years old at the time these extraordinary events occurred, and at the time, very few people knew of the real events that were happening behind the scenes. What might have actually happened is too horrible to contemplate, the world today would be a very different place. As Stanley Kubrick showed in his classic film "Doctor Strangelove" mistrust between east and west would almost have led to a nuclear holocaust from which there would be no winners, only losers.

This book examines in great detail the events leading up to the building of the Berlin Wall during August 1961, the reasons behind it, and the long term effects. It also explores the tense relationship between Chairman Khruschev on the one hand, and John F. Kennedy on the other hand; the Soviet leader desperate to stamp his authority on the Communist Party leadership, undaring to show any sign of weakness against what he believed to be the West determination to impose a democratic style of politics not only in Germany itself, but also throughout Soviet occupied Eastern Europe. Then we have President John F. Kennedy, the youngest president elect ever, with no experience in foreign affairs, determined to make his mark in history by standing up to the Soviets domination in Eastern Europe. After the failure of the Summit talks in Vienna during the summer of 1961, when Kennedy realised that he had failed to stand up to Khruschev's bullying over Berlin, indeed as it is revealed in this book, Khruschev threatened Kennedy with war, a war which in reality, neither side really wanted. The book then goes on to explore the diplomatic relationship between both sides as a compromise was worked out which caused the threat of a nuclear exchange to recede at the expense of a wall going up, dividing communities, families and individuals alike, a wall which was to remain until that momentous period during November 1989 when the wall finally came down. Those events are of course for another book.

There is a lot of reading in this book, a lot of detail which some readers may find exhausting. General readers may find it a bit too much to take in. Nevertheless, students of history and politics will find the detail absorbing, and revealing. A good read though for those who wish to learn the real truth of what happened during those summer and autumn months of 1961.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 1 November 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I found this a compelling account both of the actual events that led to the building of the Wall and the chilling military confrontation that ensued, and of the thinking and thought-processes of the principal players involved in it all. Kempe appears to have drawn on a lot of declassified material from the state archives of the countries concerned as well as on more open contemporary accounts. He is thus able to demonstrate the different internal pressures (personal and political) that each was under and the misjudgements that each side made about the other's intentions.

My early impression as I read the book was that it needed to be severely edited; you will certainly need stamina to read it. But it is actually the detailed accounts of internal meetings, external communications between the various sides and military and political actions that allow readers to see for themselves how and why the drama unrolled as it did. In fact the detail is needed. The book may not feel fast-paced, but the action at times comes thick and fast.

There are a lot of interesting insights into the behind-the-scenes activities that I doubt got into the public domain at the time, such as the regular clandestine meetings between Bobby Kennedy (JFK's brother) and a KGB agent acting as a personal spokesman for Khruschev. And the half dozen "personal stories" of ordinary Berliners add colour to the events that were taking place around them, as well as in some cases providing evidence of the awful fate that befell East Berliners and East Germans.

What the book lacked (for me) was a considered summary and conclusion by Kempe from all the evidence put before us. For example, was JFK really weak in his handling of events before the building of the Wall, or was it conscious Realpolitik on his part to recognise the effective division of Germany while ensuring the continued existence of West Berlin? And to what extent were Ulbricht's actions really controlled by Khruschev? There is a small amount of that in the very short Epilogue, but it felt that Kempe as master of the evidence should have provided it himself.

However, while that causes me to award 4 rather than 5 stars, I can thoroughly recommend this book. For one who lived through the period, it certainly adds a lot of interesting detail on a crisis that felt really threatening at the time - and clearly was.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 10 October 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is one of those histories which, if you're interested in the era at hand, you must read. It gives an insightful deluge of opinion and what appear to be well researched first hand accounts of private meetings and governmental communications.

However, its just that, lots of regurgitation of other materials from other sources. So much so that in the initial quarter of the book I almost stopped bothering to read some of the material as it was obviously lifted (and quoted as such) from elsewhere, and this frustrated me.

Unlike other authors tackling such styles of work, this work takes the tack of trying to me a journalistic narrative, unfortunately this is a 1950's-1970's style narrative, very much a burden for the post naughties reader, when one is used to faster, more succinct news and live feeds to see this work seemingly stymied with this day by day, meeting by meeting style it was a shame.

This however should not detract from the contents which are interesting and insightful, indeed I have only removed one start for this narrative style problem, which perhaps could be better viewed if one has not enjoyed the style of Anthony Beevor perhaps (which I have, and do, enjoy).

The quality of the book is excellent, photographs and appropriate maps help throughout, and the type setting is elegant echoing the attempted journalistic narrative throughout.

References are given, however I've not checked any of them out, as such the material inside should be treated very much as hand-me down and not quoted verbatim without thorough checking before hand.

Other than that, its a good book, a good history to keep on the shelf. Though perhaps not an entertaining read, more for this researching the era, or those wishing to hear a more balanced researched opinion of the near deified JFK's handling of Europe.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 16 November 2012
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is absolutely first class. It's

- exciting
- well researched; yes, there are parts where you might think "where did that come from"; as this review is based on an early, review copy, none of the references show in the text so it's much more difficult to see the source materail.
- it reads like a novel.

One might think, based on the comments above, that this is a "shallow" history book. It's not like that at all. There are reference at the back of the book and there are thousands. It does appear that where possible the author has quoted from original sources.

If only history had been written like this when I was at school! The political brinkmanship is brought to life with amazing detail; reflecting on the politics of today, probably little has changed behind the scenes. Spin isn't new. By the time a statement gets to the population it is aimed at, it is likely to be some way from the truth.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone studying or with an interest in post World War II twentieth century history; from an academic point of view, double check that a final copy is properly referenced as it will be harder to quote the source accuratly if it is not.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Oh dear. It is all there but there is something in the construct of the sentences that makes it such heavy going.

The benchmark to me of perfectly balanced historical accounting is 'All Hell Let Loose' by Max Hastings about the Second World War. I carried that book around with me until it was finished (should be compulsory reading).

It is difficult to put my finger on the difference between the styles but Kempe's words simply don't spellbind me. It is a bit like one of those stories where the teller keeps pausing to include a detail and I felt like saying 'Yes, but come on - get to the point'. There is nothing wrong with any one sentence; it is just that there are so many of them before we are moved on to the next point.

The Economist clearly has a different attention span from me 'a lively, meticulous account'. Meticulous yes, perhaps over so. I don't fault the research or the content - it is just that in my view it would be a better book for half the words.

That Hastings book though - well worth looking out if you are interested in that earlier time period.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this item also viewed

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder (Paperback - 1 Sept. 2011)
£7.49

The Cold War
The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis (Paperback - 25 Jan. 2007)
£7.49
 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.