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academic, not a narrative
on 6 June 2011
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.