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on 22 September 2017
I knew very little about the Cuban crisis, I was very young when it happened, and I found this book excellent in its detail and credibility. I wonder if there are more secrets still to come?
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on 5 December 2017
Excellent, slightly repetative in parts. I and my crew were on QRA at Wittering that weekend.
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on 30 September 2017
interesting, how close we really came
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 December 2016
Most books on the Cuban Missile Crisis focus on the US and USSR. The main focus of this one is the role Britain played, and the likely result if war had broken out. As "Air Strip One", this densely-packed country would very likely have been devastated by Russian atomic bombs, with the British government having very little say in the possible use of US forces based here.

As far as UK preparations went, the prime minister, Harold McMIllan, seems to have decided (without consulting the Cabinet) that the best strategy was a tremendous gamble in not putting into action preparatory civil defence measures, lest these make the USSR see this as an escalation.

The book is very readable, feeling almost like a thriller - although a novelist might reject such a tale as too unlikely. Happily, the right lessons were learned from this terrifyingly close brush with nuclear war, and never again would the world come so close to catastrophe.

Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the Cold War.
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on 26 August 2017
The volume gives a reasonable coverage of the facts of this weekend from the UK perspective, but is a little thin on the lead up to the situation, and indeed why the USSR installed missiles in Cuba. Following the overthrow of the Batista dictatorship in Cuba in 1959, and its replacement by a government that did not follow a US approved political and economic model, first President Eisenhower and later President Kennedy vowed to remove the new Cuban Government from power. The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by 1500+ CIA trained Cuban exiles and mercenaries failed completely in April 1961, and Cuba realised that it needed powerful friends to deter another US backed, or actual US military invasion. Just four months later in August 1961 the sector border between the eastern and western zones in Berlin was sealed, to prevent the imminent economic collapse of the German Democratic Republic and its absorption into West Germany (which happened eventually in 1990). Chairman Khrushchev of the USSR stepped forward, and the Soviet military build up in Cuba is well covered in this book.

The denouement of the crisis, and the withdrawal of missiles from Cuba, and Turkey, is again very well covered in this volume. Blame is placed on Fidel Castro for his "paranoid fear of a US invasion"; There was nothing paranoid about this fear, as the Bay of Pigs had demonstrated; as the mercenaries were being defeated, a huge US fleet waiting offshore was awaiting Kennedy's order to use is air power to attack Cuban Army positions, and allow the invaders to establish a sound beachhead from which the "provisional government"" of a US backed puppet regime would appeal for US aid. and thousands of marines etc would invade and conquer the island.

The book highlights an aspect of the crisis that has received almost no coverage, but which represented a triumph for Cuba. President Kennedy promised that the USA would never launch another invasion of Cuba, nor permit one to be launched from any third country. He kept thi promise, until,his untimely assassination in November 1963, as have all his successors in the White House. . As Cuba has watched the USA invade and occupy countries throughout the world since October 1962, such as Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama and Grenada, costing millions of lives on all sides, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro, the current President of Cuba, must have thought many times over the decades that whilst 1962 was indeed a Cold War crisis, in 2017 Cuba remains peaceful, free and independent, a position that must be envied by many dozens of countries throughout the world.

The operation of the UK government during this period received first class coverage, depicting the government both as overly secretive and mendacious in its public posturing, and lack of preparedness. Whether matters are any better over five decades later is a matter for debate and discussion elsewhere
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on 1 June 2017
Fantastic read. It is absolutely amazing what goes on behind closed doors and you were never told about the lack of preparation at that time the Cuban Missile Crisis should the "Button" have been pressed. I just Love the story of keeping the then Prime Minister in touch via the AA. It is an extension of a Dad's Amy type story. Only in Britain!
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on 17 September 2016
The story has been told many times but not in as much depth from the UK's point of view. This book makes it crystal clear that the UK was in far greater danger of annihilation than the US in October '62. There is plenty of accurate detail of how the UK govt. would have attempted to deal with all out war and some shockingly realistic facts about how slim our chances of survival would have been. We also had very little influence in what occurred.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 2 August 2013
Ignore the exciting action shot of a Vulcan on the front cover - if you are looking for a techno-thriller, look elsewhere. This is a fairly serious study of the Cuban Missile Crisis from a British perspective, which is a first as far as I can tell - that period of history is invariably viewed from an American perspective. While there is plenty of background on the American side of things, the focus of the book is on how Macmillan and his government reacted, their role in the crisis, and how the UK's armed forces responded.

This makes fascinating reading for any student of the Cold War in the UK - it stands alongside works such as Hennessey's "The Secret State" in that respect - and is well worth reading. My reservation is that there isn't a huge amount of material in the book - it's a mere 180 pages or so, and a lot of that is given over to the US perspective. There's also quite a bit of speculation about how people must have been thinking rather than verified facts.

Oh, and to be a grammar pedant I, really must point, out the fact that the author (or editor), has no idea where to put, commas, which becomes intensely irritating after a while!
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on 23 October 2016
Not bad, but as someone who experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis, the authors repeated revisionist statements that the British public were unaware are completely untrue.
I was 12 years old at the time and clearly remember everyone being very concerned and frightened that we were on the brink of nuclear war. Not just family but my whole school, pupils and teachers. One teacher even gave us a talk on what were facing. All my class mates were talking about nothing else the whole time. It was one of life events that you carry with you always. This was an ordinary West Yorkshire town.
My wife was 9 years old and also remembers that everyone was aware of what was happening and may happen. They even had Civil Defence exercises at her school! This was in Essex. That two people in completely different parts of the country remember very similar experiences of the crisis disproves the authors sensationalist assertions.
The British public were very much aware of the horror they faced. The author makes the foolish point that we were so uninformed life went on as normal. What else were we supposed to do? When you are facing global nuclear Armageddon tell me what alternatives are available?
If the author had applied as much effort to better quality writing, rather than making up sensational revisionist assertions, he would have produced a better book.
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on 26 November 2012
The author quite correctly states in the introduction that the vast majority of material on the Cuban Missile Crisis focuses on the US, the USSR and Cuba, largely sidelining Britain, despite the fact that Britain was the third nuclear power during a nuclear crisis. This is why I bought this book, which I was interested in from an academic perspective as well as general interest. If you want a general book on the crisis, buy Raymond Garthoff's "Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis" or RFK's "Thirteen Days" (the latter to be taken with a pinch of salt, but intensely readable). Then definitely buy this book to find out how Britain fitted in.

Jim Wilson is a journalist, and this book lies somewhere in between the realm of general/popular history and something more academic. He makes use of the standard secondary sources and memoirs on the Cuban crisis (Beschloss, Fursenko and Naftali, memoirs by RFK/Khrushchev/Garthoff etc - all of which are well worth a read), using them in sections to write a general history of the crisis more accessible than some of those works can be. However, the aspects which most impressed me were his use of primary sources (listed in endnotes not the bibliography), many of which were previously unknown and provide for an interesting discussion on Britain's role, focusing on political developments, diplomatic ties with the US, espionage and military preparedness. Consequently, I would suggest there is something of interest there from a more academic perspective, despite initial presumptions. Overall, I think it is a good read and well worth spending the RRP on (even better with a few pounds off). There aren't many books solely on Britain during the Cuban Missile Crisis. L. V. Scott's is the only other one which springs to mind, and whilst it is more extensively referenced and written more deliberately for a scholarly audience, this book by Jim Wilson is far stronger than Scott on military issues and on the background to internal British issues, such as civil defence planning etc (Scott's work focuses more on Anglo-American relations). Therefore it fills a much-needed gap in the market.

Overall, having rambled enough, I found this book enjoyable, readable and enlightening. Use of official government papers was of particular interest to me, now I want to hunt them out for myself! Having read a number of the standard scholarly works, it was refreshing and was revealing about aspects in which I previously was less well informed. I'm yet to read the author's other book on the Thor missiles and the Cuban crisis, but will do so next. A lot of the reviews for that book state that it is well-written but could do with more extensive referencing. If this is correct, then this new book Britain on the Brink seems to do much to achieve that. I now hope that Jim Wilson feels inclined to continue writing on similar topics, he has the potential to become something of a popular authority. Bravo
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