In This Review

Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2nd ed
Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2nd ed
By Graham T. Allison and Philip Zelikow
352 pp, Addison-Wesley, 1999

In this superb update of a classic, the authors take us once again inside the U.S. government's "black box" during the Cuban missile crisis. Published in 1972, the original book played an important role in expanding the theoretical debate among students of international relations in the 1970s, inspiring generations of scholarship on bureaucratic politics and American foreign policy. The new addition actually improves on the original. It updates its theoretical models, revisits the old evidence to draw new conclusions, and expands on the recently released material from Soviet and American archives to illuminate President Kennedy's quarantine decision and Khrushchev's motives behind sending missiles to Cuba. The Soviet picture is bleak. Khrushchev maneuvered through the crisis with neither a competent team of advisers nor high-quality information. Incorrect intelligence of an American invasion, not the blockade, prompted the Soviets to give in. The authors ably advance their basic case: Different analytic lenses uncover different facets of a historical event, and the assumptions behind the inquiry shape the questions and answers that emerge. The book leaves unanswered, however, the question of whether a focus on government decision-making really captures the forces that shape foreign policy, particularly after the Cold War.