In This Review

Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis
By Serhii Plokhy
Norton, 2021, 464 pp

Plokhy discovered a few previously unknown documents relating to the Cuban missile crisis, and although his research does not essentially change the story, his outstanding talent for weaving a narrative from myriad sources makes his new book hard to put down. Readers witness tense debates in the White House as President John F. Kennedy’s aides reject his idea of a compromise with the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev; listen in as Robert Kennedy reports to his brother on the result of his super-secret mission to the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin; and peek into the room next door, where the president’s young lover is sleeping. Plohky also shares Soviet soldiers’ recollections of unbearable heat, poisonous plants, and worm-infested food during their time in Cuba and relates the anxiety of the Soviet envoy Anastas Mikoyan as he failed to placate the Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who was furious at what he saw as Khruschev’s betrayal. Plokhy focuses on the many mistakes made by both major and minor participants during the crisis. In his answer to the perennial question of who blinked first, he emphasizes that both sides were operating in “a dark room of deception and mutual suspicion,” so “when one side blinked, it took the other side more than a day to realize what had happened.”