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In October 1962, my Troop Carrier Air Force Reserve Squadron at the Air Force Reserve section (now gone) of O'Hare Field was activated because of the "Cuban Crisis." During the day my day job was to "play soldier" (the Army equivalent of a Clerk/Typist) and at night I would drive to my home on Chicago's south side. No one worried about nuclear incineration, and in due course we were deactivated and returned to our civilian careers. It is truly said that ignorance is bliss. If I had know then what I know now, after reading One Minute to Midnight, I don't think I would have slept as soundly as I did. That's why I listened to this book, and why I recommend it. Somewhat more detailed than necessary, it discusses some facts never before disclosed, and points out that the Soviets kept secret for over 40 years that they had deployed tactical nukes in Cuba, in addition to Intercontinental Missiles that targeted, among many other U.S. cities, Washington and New York! I simply never realized how close we came to Armaggedon. Worth reading if you lived through it, and for historical purposes if you didn't, but it brings home the fact that Kennedy and Khrushchev were both level-headed leaders that understood the horrors of war and were therefore able to avoid it, that Castro was willing to plunge the world into nuclear holocaust for the sake of his revolution, and that the "terrorist world" in which we now live does not seem to have the same rational inhibitions to prevent it should a similar confrontation again arise. Well worth your time, especially if your a student of 20th century American history.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
Mr Dobbs has given us a thorough and detailed view of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I thought I knew what had happened, when it had happened and the results of the crisis but Mr Dobbs' book has shown me how much of what I thought I knew was wrong.
Much of the book is a moment to moment replay of the events taking place with background material gathered from the minutes of the meetings that were taking place, from the memories of the participants, US, Soviet and Cuban, and from a careful reconstruction of what happened behind the scenes taken from other now public records. Thus we have the details of the accidental US U2 overflight of the Soviet Union at the height of the crisis, the background information on Major Rudolf Anderson whose U2 was shot down over Cuba, information on what was happening in the Soviet submarines being stalked by the US fleet near the US quarantine zone, details on the cooperation (and lack thereof) between the Soviet troops and the Cuban troops on Cuba during the crisis and much, much more. Instead of detailed log of the events we have a very human view of what was happening, of the accidents that almost caused nuclear war and of the thoughts of the people, both in and out of government, who took part.
Many of the facts turn out at variance with what has grown up to be the semi-official history of the crisis. Thus we find that the part played by John Scali, always portrayed as pivotal, was in fact, not only peripheral but of no real consequence in the resolution of the events. We find out who the real "hawks" and "doves" in the Kennedy Administration were and we find out how the Kennedy Administration misled the public about how the crisis had been settled and of the deals that were made to get to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Overall the book is wonderful, as is the narration.
There are some glaring discrepancies between what has been said publicly, on the record, and the events as stated by Mr Dobbs. The biggest of these concerns whether or not the Soviet generals had been given permission to use tactical nuclear weapons against any US troops landing as part of an invasion and against any US ships supporting those troops. The Soviet general in charge in Cuba, as part of an interview with CNN 30 years after the crisis, was clear and said that they had been given such permission. Mr Dobbs says that they had not and were repeatedly told by the Soviet government that they could not use those weapons without express permission from the government. While it is impossible for the casual reader to know the truth, Mr Dobbs makes a good case and presumably has seen the then-secret communications. If the generals thought otherwise it is scary to think what might have happened.
All in all the book is not particularly kind to the Kennedy administration for its constant changes of course from hawk to dove during the 13 days of the crisis and its inability to come to a decision concerning what to do about the approaching Soviet ships. The public was told that the ships were stopped and searched while, in reality, many were passed through without stopping and searching them, presumably because the administration was worried about causing an incident that might lead to World War III.
It is easy to believe when reading this book that Mr Dobbs has written a true history of the crisis and, while he faults the Kennedy administration for many of its actions, he is full of praise for both John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev as men who, whatever their individual faults, remembered their responsibilities and tried to regain control over events and prevent nuclear war.
I recommend this book without qualification for anyone interested in this period of history.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of One Minute to Midnight to be better than the print version?
I haven't seen the print version. Audio editions are better for me to absorb, but worse to refer back to. It annoys me when names are wrongly pronounced: that's not a problem for a print edition.
What other book might you compare One Minute to Midnight to, and why?
I think of W S Churchill writing on the Second World War. Both authors are accomplished historians and draw on a vast store of facts, yet offer some fascinating anecdotes amusingly told. Both sum-up brilliantly and produce original, compelling analyses of the causes and results of their historical topic.
What about Bob Walter’s performance did you like?
The narrator pronounces Spanish names and quotations well, but Russian less confidently. His voice is pleasing and avoids sounding monotonous, which would be easy with so much detail to recount.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
In Dobbs's conclusions he quotes Jackie Kennedy writing personally to Nikita Kruschev after JFK's assassination: "You and he were adversaries, but you were allied in the determination that the world should not be blown up. The danger that troubled my husband was that the war might be started not so much by the big men as by the little ones." Apart from being a touching admission to a national enemy by a grieving widow, this gets to the heart of the matter. Together with the JFK quote "There's always some son-of-a-bitch that doesn't get the word!" it sums up the book's subject matter and findings.
Any additional comments?
In 1962 the two superpowers juggled with the future of humanity like Laurel and Hardy trying to negotiate a flight of steps with a grand piano. Secretary of State Dean Acheson later claimed nuclear war was averted "by pure dumb luck". But for all their miscalculations and personal failings, let's be grateful it was JFK and NK who led their respective countries and not any of their gung-ho advisors.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
This audiobook makes absorbing history effortless. Like listening to a quality thriller, it draws you in and makes you feel like an insider to the events while maintaining the integrity of an authoritative piece of research. Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
This book is exceptional in both its novel-like structure, and historical content.
The book manages to stay packed to the brim with information, while at the same time never dragging on.
Constantly engaging and sometimes hilarious, this is the one of the best history books ever written.