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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eavesdropping on a moment when the world was hanging by a thread
Michael Dobbs' account of the Cuban Missile Crisis (he's not to be confused with the British Michael Dobbs of Francis Urquhart/House of Cards fame) must surely qualify as a definitive account, at least for this generation. Despite the gallons of ink spilled over those fateful 13 days, this recent book (out in 2008) has much to offer and revise. In fact, it makes recent...
Published on 3 Jun 2010 by Mark Meynell

versus
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Uneven and padded account for the casual reader
I did approach this book with anticipation. I have been performing private research into the crisis and it was good for me to have a single volume account as a base-line.

Unfortunately this book sells itself on sensational revelations and a dramatic day-to-day account but falls short.

The Cuban Missile crisis was not something that started when the...
Published 9 months ago by Paul T Horgan


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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eavesdropping on a moment when the world was hanging by a thread, 3 Jun 2010
By 
Mark Meynell "quaesitor" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Michael Dobbs' account of the Cuban Missile Crisis (he's not to be confused with the British Michael Dobbs of Francis Urquhart/House of Cards fame) must surely qualify as a definitive account, at least for this generation. Despite the gallons of ink spilled over those fateful 13 days, this recent book (out in 2008) has much to offer and revise. In fact, it makes recent history a thrilling read, despite the pervasive detail, evident research and deep complexity of the events.

KENNEDY & KHRUSHCHEV ON THE SAME SIDE...
Dobbs had unprecedented access to archives and key participants from both the US and Russia - and has even managed to investigate some of the sites and accounts from the Cuban perspective. As a result, he's been able to 'triangulate' every detail, synchronising accounts from each of the perspectives of Moscow, Havana and Washington. He offers a day by day account of the days leading up to what became known as Black Saturday (Saturday 27th October 1962), and then an hour by hour account of the day itself. One of the book's big themes is the fragility of the peace, even <em>after</em> the two leaders had themselves become determined to find a peaceful solution.
"The question the world confronted during what came to be known as the Cuban missile crisis was who controlled history: the men in suits, the men with beards, the men in uniform, or nobody at all? In this drama, Kennedy ended up on the same side as his ideological nemesis, Nikita Khrushchev. Neither man wanted war. They both felt an obligation to future generations to rein in the dark, destructive demons they themselves had helped to unleash." (p340)

This point was poignantly reinforced by Jackie K's personal letter to the Soviet leader after JFK's assassination:
"From today's perspective, the key moment of the missile crisis is not the largely mythical "eyeball to eyeball" confrontation of October 24. It turns out that the two great adversaries - Kennedy and Khrushchev - were both looking for a way out. They each had the power to blow up the world, but they were both horrified by the thought of nuclear Armageddon. They were rational, intelligent, decent men separated by an ocean of misunderstanding, fear, and ideological suspicion. Despite everything that divided them, they had a sneaking sympathy for each other, an idea expressed most poignantly by Jackie Kennedy in a private, handwritten letter she sent to Khrushchev following her husband's assassination
'You and he were adversaries, but you were allied in a determination that the world should not be blown up. The danger which troubled my husband was that war might be started not so much by the big men as by the little ones. While big men know the need for self-control and restraint, little men are sometimes moved more by fear and pride.'"

The confusion, and at moments raw panic, of those closest to these events (and who thus understood the potential outcomes), is palpable. Many genuinely feared they were on the brink of the end of civilisation. Nuclear war seemed inevitable. Reading this book makes it clear how close it came - through no fault of the main protagonists.
- There was the desperate situation of those on Russia's B-59 sub, which was incommunicado within the US exclusion zone;
- There was the U-2 spy plane that had lost its bearings at 70,000 ft and unwittingly flown into USSR airspace above Siberia on Black Saturday (soon after another U-2 had been shot down on a recce over Cuba). This was not long after the capture of Gary Powers, after all.
- Or take this situation for one of the US pilots searching for the missing U-2 (and which had been armed with nuclear warheads after the US Strategic Air Command had been put on DEFCON 2):
"One of the interceptor pilots was Lieutenant Leon Schmutz, a twenty-six-year-old recently out of flight school. As he climbed into the skies above the Bering Strait to search for the missing U-2, he wondered what he would do if he ran into the Soviet MiGs. His only means of defense was a nuclear warhead capable of destroying everything within a half-mile radius of the explosion. To use such a weapon was virtually unthinkable, particular over American territory. The detonation of even a small warhead could result in all-out nuclear war. But to fail to respond to an attack by a Soviet fighter went against a pilot's basic survival instincts." (p264)

EAVESDROPPING ON HISTORY
What makes this book such an excellent read is being able to eavesdrop on the 3 groups of protagonists at each and every key moment. We can now know almost exactly what they were thinking (even when their adversaries didn't - a kind of historical dramatic irony, I suppose). Kennedy had started taping meetings in the Oval office and Cabinet Room (a fact which of course would be Nixon's undoing). Then there are the reams of documents now released, as well as personal accounts and interviews from those with long memories.

Consequently, various myths get debunked (such as the 'eyeball to eyeball' moment alluded to above when Russian ships near the exclusion zone (as depicted in the film Thirteen Days [DVD] [2001]) - the timings don't quite fit; or the claim that it was Bobby's idea alone to ignore Khrushchev's second message on the Saturday). All the individuals appear more human, not less, once the fog of hagiography has been dispersed. But actually, as so often, they all seem more heroic as a result, not less.

Much modern historical writing these days focuses on the little people against the backdrop of big events and big men - the sociological school, if you like. I find that frustrating at one level, especially if it is to the exclusion or detriment of the big picture. However, history is not just about big names. It is about everyone. And this crisis in particular twisted and turned on the actions of the hidden and largely anonymous. Which is why it is so important to hear from some of them, even if their names mean little to the vast majority. Dobbs does this brilliantly. He weaves into the bigger narrative, of Oval Office & Kremlin second-guessing, various quotes (sometimes perhaps too briefly) from some of these:
- The Russian submariner writing to his wife - describing in graphic detail the appalling conditions on board (often in noxious diesel fumed air at over 110F).
- Captain Maltsby's personal account of his fateful, and potentially cataclysmic, overfly of Siberia in his U2 plane</li>
- 2 Cuban exiles on a CIA mission to sabotage a Cuban mine, who got stranded when their exfiltration boat never returned, and then suffered 13 years in a Cuban prison.

This is a brilliant book - gripping history writing at its best. Dobbs draws few lessons explicitly, though notes how George W. Bush's rhetoric pre-Iraq War 2 drew (erroneously and illegitimately in his view) on Kennedy's stance during October 1962. However, there's little need to be too explicit - the book makes its point simply be recounting in some detail what happened hour-by-hour. As such, it is a salutary reminder of how close we came to destruction - and a warning of how even closer we may still be, now that nuclear proliferation has led to such power lying in the hands of less than cool heads...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Uneven and padded account for the casual reader, 25 Sep 2013
By 
Paul T Horgan (UK) - See all my reviews
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I did approach this book with anticipation. I have been performing private research into the crisis and it was good for me to have a single volume account as a base-line.

Unfortunately this book sells itself on sensational revelations and a dramatic day-to-day account but falls short.

The Cuban Missile crisis was not something that started when the USA discovered the SS-4 sites on 14 October after a U-2 overflight. Still less did it start with JFK's televised announcement on 22 October. This is like stating that the Second World War started merely on 1 September 1939, when the origins are as important as the war itself. This is even more important in the First World War in 1914. And it is this part that is neglected in this book. The seeds of the crisis were sown months, if not years previously. This is not covered properly. Nor is the fact that people in the US were well aware for weeks beforehand that the Soviets were sending soldiers to Cuba and that plans had started to be drawn up.

The fact that the US government had been running a sustained campaign of sabotage under the CIA's Operation Mongoose is touched on only in detail with the actions that take place during the crisis itself. However the operation, which had been running for over a year, probably informed Castro's alignment with the USSR. The stationing of missiles had a lot to do with the serious inferiority of the USSR's intercontinental striking power, but this became apparent almost exactly one year previously when the US Government revealed the sheer size and reach of its nuclear arsenal for the first time. This is not really covered in detail.

Thus the context of the crisis, with Operation Mongoose, the 'missile gap' and its exposure as bogus, the rivalry in Germany, Khrushchev's economic and political difficulties are virtually ignored. Virtually no mention is made of the ongoing nuclear tests that took place throughout the crisis. The Kapustin Yar launch program, which saw more than 1 rocket a day being launched is not covered.

Dobbs would have done better to have discussed the crisis as a thesis that this was the only actual shooting war that took place between the USSR and the USA and also that the war was severely limited due to the inability of strategists on both sides to be able to control the level of military and nuclear escalation as neither side had seriously considered it. He also fails to explore in detail the communication problems experienced by both sides, especially the Kremlin. There is no indication of how long it took for orders to be despatched between Moscow and Cuba, and this at what time both sides knew what the other side was doing.

Another problem is that despite the book being written some 46 years after the events he is describing, Dobbs is unable to tell us exactly how the USSR people first got to hear of the crisis. We know about Kennedy's televised address on October 22. Why not tell us what happened in Russia? We only get snippets, like one page of Isvestia denying the existence of missiles, while the other admits and justifies it. The meetings at the Kremlin are described in highly limited detail. Even this omission could have been explained better in the narrative.

Then there is the padding. A classic example of this is part of the central new revelation, that there was a type of nuclear-tipped cruise missile deployed on the island. But that is not all. Dobbs tells us that the ancestor of the cruise missile is the V-1 that was used against London in the Second World War. This kind of unnecessary back story is apparent throughout the book. We even get a section on the Nedelin disaster, which is so tangential to the story of the crisis that it has to be included to fill out the pages. The U-2 incident of 1960 gets far too much of an airing. There is also a degree of repetition, especially about the cruise missiles. Whether Kennedy had sex with one of his numerous mistresses is also discussed.

As this book is about a military confrontation it would make sense to have more detail on the military hardware involved. There are photographs, but there is no picture of the missiles that actually sparked the crisis. There is much mention of the Il-28 'Beagle' bombers, but again, we do not see what one looks like. Perhaps including a technical section would have made the book larger, but then some of the padding could have been removed. Dobbs also has a problem over what he should be calling the FROG missiles. Dobbs misses some important but interesting details, like the fact that the MiG-21 could not use all the fuel in its tanks as after some had been used up, the balance of the 'plane was affected and it became hazardous to fly. This has been in the public domain for at least 30 years and would have been 'good padding'.

The problem with dramatising the crisis is that it was very quickly resolved after Black Saturday and by the end of the weekend the situation had vastly improved. Even on Black Saturday it was merely the delay in message delivery that caused uncertainty. The loss of the U-2 was disturbing but ExComm managed to determine an appropriate response. Dobbs tries to indicate that somehow the US Generals would have been able to force through an aggressive policy even if Kennedy and his supporters opposed it. But this may have been because some of them were willing to bet the country in a nuclear contest. However he does not make it clear if the soldiers were ever taken seriously in this respect.

No mention is made of the effect of the crisis on the Congressional mid-term elections that took place a week later.

The notes to the book are not properly numbered. The only way you can locate a note is to refer to the text mentioned and the page it is on. Numbered notes in the text are a standard part of a properly researched book. Their deliberate omission here is curious.

So the book is really only about what went on during the thirteen days, but the narrative is interrupted by too much padding. There is insufficient technical detail and this book seems to have been designed for the casual holiday reader who has no real interest in matters military, or perhaps politics, and probably will never read another book on this topic. But this was a military confrontation which was under political control. But the narrative does not really grip the reader to that effect. Instead it is written almost in the style of a thriller.

Buy this book only if you never want to read anything else on the topic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars nice book, 12 Jan 2014
By 
Mrs. K. L. Cornish (uk) - See all my reviews
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Good Quality item and a great read, some information there i hadnt come across before, found this both suprising and informative.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An easy read about a terible time in history;, 16 Oct 2013
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This review is from: One Minute To Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (Kindle Edition)
The book is a chronological coverage of the crisis, you get a sense of the pressures n the main actors and just how close a thing it was.

It is an enjoyable read, suitable for a long flight.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frighteningly revealing, 7 Oct 2013
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This review is from: One Minute To Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (Kindle Edition)
History is overturned by this book, incompetence, ignorance, flawed decision making, equipment failure, crisis management or crisis causing. So much has been revealed as to how close we were to all out nuclear destruction. The style is journalistic and the flow of events is interrupted by filling in historical details, but the message is frightening.
A must read for anyone interested in modern political history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gives great insight into the Cuban missile crisis, 27 April 2013
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Great for anyone who wants to know the tiny details of the Cuban missile crisis. It goes into great depth and is really interesting!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not written 'House of Cards' Michael Dobbs - but reads as if it could be, 30 Jan 2010
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First, this is NOT written by the Michael Dobbs who wrote 'House of Cards' etc.

It IS written by the Belfast-born Washington Post reporter, noted for his non-fiction work on the Soviet Union as well as his war reporting from the Former Yugoslavia.

The `headline' story of the events of October are known to many and has at least in the West been `mythicised' into a story of President Kennedy's blockade standing firm and the Soviet ships backing away.

Dobbs has taken full advantage of the latest disclosures and has created a book that adds facts, depth and dimension to this shorthand version. He compares and contrasts events at specific times in Cuba, Washington and Moscow as well as Soviet SAM sites and the cockpits of American aircraft. In doing this is, he has produced a factual book with (at times) the pace of a thriller, sketching many characters - famous and otherwise - and their own stories in the enfolding drama.

The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred when I was a very small child and in unfolded mainly in places thousands of miles away. This book not only has kept my interest but has sparked me to read more about this world event.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping enough to be fiction, and how much more frightening that it was all true..., 27 July 2009
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C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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The title of this book refers to the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic clock which charts how close mankind is to global catastrophe, which is obviously 'midnight'. The clock was never adjusted during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the events of which took place over too short a period for the clock to be 'officially' adjusted, but had it been one minute is probably a pretty accurate adjustment. This book takes an hour-by-hour overview of the thirteen days of the Missile Crisis, from the American, Soviet and Cuban viewpoints. It includes a lot of information that has only recently come to light, such as the Soviet tactical nuclear weapons that were aimed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base or the American U-2 spy-plane that got lost during a routine mission over the North Pole and strayed in Soviet airspace right at the height of the confrontation. It's a very good book, and the hour-by-hour format really makes you appreciate the tension of the major players and how close things came. Dobbs also makes you realise, by charting not just the actions of Kennedy and Khrushchev, but the soldiers and civilians on the ground, how much of an illusion control is and how easily things could have spiralled beyond retreat or redemption.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, 17 Aug 2009
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Unlike other reviewers I find its style easy to read and never turgid as other books on the subject can be. There is a good mix of major and minor 'characters' and it does portray the fact that much of what was happening was out of the control of Kennedy et al, and that minor characters could have had such a huge bearing on the outcome. It also is astonishing how slow communications where in the early 1960's.

If you have time its a good idea to Google the crisis because many of the conversations between Kennedy and his advisors are online and illuminate many of the passages in the book. He only really mentions 2 or 3 times that something is 'new' and the new things are not sensationalist items but new slants on accepted events. This is not a "revisionist" book or one hunting for a 'sexy' angle but pretty good history made accessible.

Well worth the read and again really lets you realize how out of control the politicians were of the situation and how incompetence and army bravado could have led to a dangerous situation becoming cataclysmic.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars War games, 4 Mar 2010
By 
J. Wilson (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
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If this book were a piece of fiction it would top the charts for weeks on end. It gives plenty of ammunition to the saying that fact is stranger than fiction; this was a doomsday potboiler played out for real. This tome is an utterly enthralling story about the Cuban Missile crisis that was the Cold War at its hottest.

The narrative hurtles along at breakneck pace as the world stands on the verge of annihilation. The days leading up to "Black Saturday" are recounted in an even handed manner by the author, Michael Dobbs, as he gives us the motivations and machinations behind the three leaders of the Nations involved as events spiral out of their control. A large part of the book deals with the Saturday and the countdown to catastrophe.

The Cuban Missile crisis was triggered by the Soviet war machine installing nuclear weapons in Cuba that are pointing straight at the United States. America had to respond and ignoring the Generals who want to invade, President Kennedy imposed a blockade on the island. A dangerous game of brinkmanship follows and who will blink first?

Khrushchev calls back his ships and thus there was no face-off in the Pacific between the Superpowers. However, the warheads are still in Cuba being made combat ready with the battle hardened Fidel Castro in the mood for a fight. Flashpoints could occur in many places of the world as America ratchets up the military readiness to Defcon 2: one step from Defcon 1 and all out Nuclear War

The American pilot Charles Maultsby on a flight to the North Pole to collect air samples loses direction and enters Soviet airspace with his U-2 spyplane. He is soon caught on radar and the Soviets send a group of MiGs to deal with the intruder. Somehow Maultsby made it back to Alaska. Not so lucky was George Anderson who never made it back from Cuba on a reconnaissance mission as he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. This incident almost provoked American retaliation but Kennedy fought off the hawks in his cabinet. Even he had to admit that keeping control everywhere was impossible as "There's always some sonofabitch who doesn't get the word."

Many close encounter episodes are recounted in this book and it shows how lucky we are that nobody fired any of the nuclear weapons. Everything could have changed in an instant and fate was kind to Mankind that Kennedy and Khrushchev were at the helm as Armageddon was one slip away.

_ _ _ _ _

Pentagon hardliner Dean Acheson wanted an immediate air strike against the missile bases in Cuba. He believed in a limited nuclear war. The following extract makes for sobering reading.

EXTRACT

Someone asked how the Soviets would react to such a strike.
"I know the Soviet Union very well," the former secretary of state replied with his trademark confidence. "They will knock out our missiles in Turkey."
"Well, then what do we do?" someone else asked.
"I believe under our NATO treaty, we would be required to respond by knocking out a missile base inside the Soviet Union."
"Then what would they do?"
By now Acheson was becoming a little less sure of himself.
"Well," he said with some irritation. "That's when we hope that cooler heads will prevail and they'll stop and talk."
A real chill descended on the room. Unwittingly, Acheson had laid bare a sombre Cold War truth: it was impossible to know where a "limited" nuclear war would end.
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