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One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev,…
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One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of…

by Michael Dobbs

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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
An excellent and absorbing piece of work. And although we all know the outcome there is palpable tension and menace in the air as the events unfold. Although I knew the basic facts of the Cuban Missile Crisis, there were a number of elements that I wasn't aware of and that really surprised me. Firstly, the hungriness for preemptive nuclear strikes from so many of the Excomm - a point of view that seems madness to us with the benefit of hindsight. Whether this was replicated in Moscow we don't know - Dobbs spends more time on the US and even Cuban response, presumably because it is better documented. The second is the potential for random human error to trigger a chain reaction - the world might expect its leaders such as Kennedy and Khrushchev to act responsibility but you can't legislate for Soviet air crews to decide to shoot down an American U2 over Cuba or for another U2 to wander off course over Soviet territory in the Arctic. And the third is how much of the crisis was caused, and resolved by poor communications. The US and Soviet leaders constantly misinterpret each others actions and communiques take hours to be delivered - and yet this leads to a happy conclusion. Its interesting to consider how the crisis might have played out in a modern world of much better communications and less room for creative interpretation

I also thought that Dobbs conclusions about how the "success" of the Cuban Missile Crisis informed less successful actions in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf were very well thought through . Highly recommended all round ( )
  Opinionated | Jun 21, 2013 |
This is a systematic account of the Cuban missile crisis from the American, Soviet and Cuban points of view. It is hard for those of us born after this time (the 50th anniversary of which is almost upon us) to understand how close the world came to nuclear destruction, especially on so called Black Saturday, 27 October 1962. Leading figures seriously wondered whether they would live to see another dawn. What emerges clearly, despite their faults and weaknesses, is the essential humanity and statesmanship of both Jack Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchov. Both had seen warfare at first hand and were ultimately determined that they would not destroy future generations by allowing nuclear weapons to be used first by their respective countries and thereby condemn the rest of the world as well as their opponents. Kennedy was held back by the belligerence of many of the top military echelon, especially Curtis LeMay and Thomas Power, who openly advocated as a matter of general policy a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union; while Khrushchov was held back by the adventurism and rashness of Castro, who saw no reason why nuclear holocaust should not be risked if it meant destruction of American imperialism and who advocated a nuclear first strike by the Soviets to achieve this. Both Kennedy and Khrushchov were held back more generally by the mad logic of nuclear deterrence and international diplomacy which permitted no admission of weakness or public backing down. On Black Saturday, a US plane accidentally entered Soviet airspace without Kennedy's knowledge, while a US reconnaissance plane was shot down over Cuba without Khrushchov's knowledge, either of which incidents could have triggered off nuclear armageddon.

Some of the statistics of the weapons of mass destruction here are astonishingly sobering and horrible - just one Soviet ship (the Aleksandrovsk) heading for Cuba had on it nuclear weapons with the destructive capacity of some 1700 Hiroshima bombs - over three times the total amount of explosive ever detonated in all the wars in human history put together. This book combines horrific details like this together with the personal stories of low level participants on all three sides, in a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute account that truly brings across the horror of those days when we came closer than ever before or since to the End of the World. 5/5 ( )
1 vote john257hopper | Oct 15, 2012 |
An exceptional work of research. Dobbs draws upon recently declassified material and interviews to provide an excellent hour-by-hour account of the crisis. In the process, he clarifies the sequence of events and shows that many of the myths (such as the Soviets blinking on Wednesday, Oct 24 at the "eyeball to eyeball" moment) were not, in fact, accurate.

A must-read for policy professionals, historians, international affairs experts and anyone interested in foreign policy. ( )
  JLHeim | Feb 7, 2012 |
I picked this book up because I had very little knowledge of the events that comprised the Cuban Missile Crisis. I really was only expecting a well-written history lesson. What I got was an emotionally engaging and dramatic re-enactment of those thirteen days. Michael Dobbs does an excellent job of creating and maintaining suspense while conveying fact after fact after fact. Sometimes the facts alone sufficed to establish drama, especially where, for example, Dobbs described the amount of firepower available to the United States on the second Sunday of the standoff. "By midday Sunday, [the U.S. Strategic Air Command] would have a 'cocked'--meaning 'ready to fire'--nuclear strike force of 162 missiles and 1,200 airplanes carrying 2,858 nuclear warheads." Add to this the fact that a single warhead carried by a B-52 bomber had a destructive power that was seventy times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and the drama is set.

The most valuable aspect of the book, and clearly the author's purpose in writing it, was the frequent portrayal of both Krushchev and Kennedy as seeking a peaceful resolution, but clearly and knowingly dealing with problems beyond their immediate control. The description of the hugely inflated times that it took messages to travel through diplomatic channels (many, many hours) demonstrated the point. How were Krushchev and Kennedy going to avoid nuclear war when diplomatic messages took so long to be received, yet missiles were on 15 minute alert? The smallest screw-up by anyone, even down to a soldier or pilot, could ignite the flame that began World War III.

The "Afterword" alone is worth reading. In it, Dobbs persuasively argues that many American military decisions since the Cuban Missile Crisis have been premised on a mis-reading of its lessons. According to conventional wisdom, Kennedy's cool, clear decision-making strategy and strong showing of military might forced Krushchev to back down. As the book demonstrates, however, nothing was further from the truth. Yet, we can see remnants of that popular belief in the Vietnam War and even in Iraq.

While One Minute to Midnight is not perfect (at times the level of detail is overwhelming and a bit gratuitous), it is an entertaining and eye-opening read about a series of events that brought us one small accident away from nuclear devastation. ( )
  Beej415 | Apr 16, 2011 |
I've been listening to this for a few months and I learned a lot. But the thing that struck me is how very, very close we were to the end of the world. At one point, I called up my sister to explain to her exactly just how amazed I was that we were still alive. The reader, Bob Walter, was not great, but he was very good. He conveyed, at least to me, the emotions that Dobbs wrote into the text. I'm glad I read this book, but holy crap. There was a lot I didn't know about the Cuban Missile Crisis. And, finally, this isn't a book just about that event, it's about the built up and aftermath, as well as views from the Russians and the Cubans. Dobbs leaves no stone unturned and for that I applaud him. ( )
  callmecayce | Feb 5, 2011 |
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In October 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were sliding inexorably toward a nuclear conflict over the placement of missiles in Cuba. Veteran journalist Michael Dobbs has used previously untapped American, Soviet, and Cuban sources to produce the most authoritative book yet on the Cuban missile crisis. In his hour-by-hour chronicle, he takes us onto the decks of American ships patrolling Cuba; inside sweltering Soviet submarines and missile units as they ready their warheads; and inside the White House and the Kremlin as Kennedy and Khrushchev--rational, intelligent men separated by an ocean of ideological suspicion--agonize over the possibility of war. He shows how these two leaders recognized the terrifying realities of the nuclear age while Castro--never swayed by conventional political considerations--demonstrated the messianic ambition of a man selected by history for a unique mission.--From publisher description.… (more)

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