on 17 October 2002
My mum remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis as a time when she truly thought this was It, Russia and America would go to war, and we were all going to die. Do you want to know how close we really got? What stupid mistakes, bizarre policy decisions and brinkmanship nearly make it happen? And how we were brought back from that brink? Then read this truly spectacular book.
Or maybe you don't give a monkeys about what happened then, but you need to get through your international relations course at uni, and if you read one more sentence of Morgenthau's 'Politic Among Nations, your brain will explode? Then read this truly spectacular book.
This book works both as a fascinating history of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and as an exploration of the way foreign policy decisions are made, by using different models of international theory to examine events in the crisis. Lots of interesting (and, frankly, some rather terrifying) detail make this a gripping read. I finished my course, got my degree, then bought my own copy.
on 19 February 2004
A great account of the crisis. It explains the choices of the USA and the USSR as well as the consequences of them. I used this book when writing a dissertation for my A-Level History coursework, and the depth that the book goes into was extremely helpful for this. Also, the book gives an insight into the Arms Race, the Bay of Pigs and other events in the leading up to the crisis itself. An excellent book; it is a joy to read even if you are not studying a History related subject, absolutely brilliant!!!
This is a political-sciency version of the closest we came to a nuclear war, in effect using the crisis to introduce the reader to a methodology on how people make decisions. The authors see three ways that things get decided, and when observers confuse them, dire consequences may follow. First, there is the rational-actor who does things for explicit reasons, as if there were one decisionmaker who controls everything from conception to implementation. Second, there is the political decision, often made for purposes of manipulation rather than for stated goals and hance are harder to read. Third, there is bureaucratic decison-making, according to which actors on the ground carry out orders in the way that they are trained (i.e. by standard operating procedures, or SOPs).
Basically, in my reading, they argue that these modes were mixed in the Cuban Missile Crisis - the US thinking that there was a (rational actor) policy to militarise Cuba with nuclear weapons when in fact much of the provocatively appearing construction was due to SOPs of the military who installed the missiles. Thus, the US had less to fear, but its political reality made an over-reaction inevitable.
Now, these are very useful distinctions and the analysis is interesting. However, they do not make for very interesting reading or very good history. That makes this book a slog, which limits its appeal to academics rather than the general reader. I read this for a class - otherwise, I would never have gotten through it.
Recommended on balance, but go elsewhere if you are looking for a good story rather than a rather staid acadeimic analysis.