Cuban Missile Crisis Reviews, Sept. 1, 2012

Coleman, David G. The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Secret White House Tapes. Norton. Oct. 2012. c.256p. photogs. ISBN 9780393084412. $25.95. HIST

The 13 days of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world close to nuclear crisis, were the most harrowing of the Cold War. Coleman (history & director, Presidential Recordings Program, Miller Ctr., Univ. of Virginia) reveals that the possibility of a U.S.-USSR war did not end on October 28, 1962, when Khrushchev promised to remove all offensive nuclear missiles from Cuba and Kennedy lifted the naval blockade. The author draws on Kennedy’s 260 hours of secret White House tapes and presidential and foreign relations records to offer a narrative covering from October 29, 1962, through February 1963, when tensions subsided and relations between the two superpowers began to improve. Among the most difficult negotiating points were supervising the removal of the missiles, determining which missiles were offensive or defensive, and whether all Soviet troops would be required to leave. Interestingly, Khrushchev removed all tactical nuclear weapons because he worried about Castro’s stability following the Cuban leader’s order to shoot down all American surveillance planes. ­VERDICT Although at times the text bogs down in detail, this informative account of the immediate domestic and international complications of the crisis will attract general readers with an interest in the era. [See Prepub Alert, 4/16/12.]—Karl ­Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA

Stern, Sheldon M. The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths Versus Reality. Stanford Univ. (Stanford Nuclear Age.) Sept. 2012. c.192p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780804783767. $75; pap. ISBN 9780804783774. $24.95. HIST

Timed for the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Stern (former historian, John F. Kennedy Library) offers here what amounts to a rehash of his previous books in this series: Averting ‘The Final Failure’: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings and The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis. Stern, the first nonmember of Kennedy’s Executive Committee of the National Security Council to have access to the October 16–29, 1962, tapes, analyzes them to expose myths about the crisis. Most significant, the President’s brother and attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy was not the cool, in-control adviser he portrayed himself to be in Thirteen Days, his account of the crisis written to bolster his chances for the 1968 presidency. Stern portrays RFK to be as hawkish as JFK’s joint chiefs of staff. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson are revealed to have played important roles in forging JFK’s response, while Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara is shown to have been a hawk, contradicting Robert F. Kennedy’s depictions. VERDICT Readers of Stern’s previous books will not find much new here. For all others, he provides an important interpretation grounded in careful research that contradicts previous self-serving memoirs. —Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, PA



  1. Karen says:

    Especially to introduce new generations to the Cuban Missile Crisis, you might consider this September 2012 book: “The Armageddon Letters: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro in the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Including graphical treatment as well as original letters and brief analysis, this academically rooted book gets readers to experience the Cuban missile crisis through the eyes of all three leaders as they move through the crisis.

  2. Sheldon M. Stern says:

    I generally feel that authors should not respond to reviews. Reviewers are entitled to their interpretations. However, I feel compelled to point out Mr. Herlicher’s claim that my new book, The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory, is a “rehash” of my previous books completely misses the point. As the introduction makes clear, the myths about the meetings persist despite the availability of the tapes since the late 1990s. I was repeatedly urged to spell out the role of each key individual in the meetings–precisely because of the continuing, pervasive, and misleading influence of 13 Days and the memoirs of other participants (see, for example, and

  3. Sheldon M. Stern says:

    P.S. I would be most interested in a collegial exchange with Mr. Herlicher after he has read the two links in my above reply.

    • Karl Helicher says:

      I do want to reinforce that this book is an important one for those who have not read the author’s, AVERTING THE FINAL FAILURE. Most significant, it show Robert Kennedy to be a hawk and not the peace promoting advisor he portrayed himself to be in his book, THIRTEEN DAYS, which was written to bolster his chance to receive the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. To me, this shows how fortunate the nation was to have JFK as president because he didn’t give in to his military advisors some civilian ones advisors who called for an invasion of Cuba.

  4. Karl Helicher says:

    Please excuse the typos: in the last sentence, add an “and” before “some” and delete the second “advisors.” In the second sentence, change “show” to “shows.”