The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis

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The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis

By Sheldon M. Stern
Stanford University Press, 2005
256 pp. $37.50

The discovery that President John F. Kennedy had installed a system for taping conversations in the Oval Office transformed the historiography of the Cuban missile crisis, and Stern was at the heart of the effort to transcribe them at the John F. Kennedy Library. An earlier and much longer version of this book (published in 2003 as Averting the Final Failure) expressed his disappointment with the inadequacy of the best-selling version of these transcripts, edited by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow. He believes strongly that at issue is intonation as well as language, evidence of the emotions at play, and the substance of the debate -- so that emphasis can turn bland comment into heavy sarcasm. Only careful listening brings home, for example, how irritated Kennedy got with McGeorge Bundy during the critical discussions on October 27, 1962. This shortened version centers on a blow-by-blow account of the crisis as revealed in the tapes, getting across the ebb and flow of the discussions, the changes in mood, and the groping for a solution to an apparently desperate situation. As such it is a useful addition to the vast literature on the missile crisis and on Kennedy as a crisis manager.

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