Far from the first account but superbly researched and uncomfortably timely.



A fresh examination of the historical milestone.

On the heels of last year’s highly praised Gambling With Armageddon, Plokhy, Harvard professor of Ukrainian history, covers similar ground in this companion volume. From John F. Kennedy’s humiliation after the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s 1962 humiliation when he withdrew Soviet missiles from Cuba, “both Kennedy and Khrushchev marched from one mistake to another…caused by a variety of factors, from ideological hubris and overriding political agendas to misreading the other side’s geostrategic objectives and intentions, poor judgment often due to the lack of good intelligence, and cultural misunderstandings.” Although delighted after the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro had no doubt that America would try again and appealed for Soviet protection. Khrushchev accepted because he was losing the arms race with the U.S. He argued that “since the Americans have already surrounded the Soviet Union with a ring of their…missile installations, we should pay them back in their own coin.” Having detected the missiles in October 1962, Kennedy believed they should be removed, and the debate was between air strikes and an invasion. Shocked at America’s reaction, Khrushchev backpedaled. Most readers know that he ultimately withdrew the missiles in exchange for an American promise to remove missiles from Turkey. Despite a plethora of speeches, diplomatic notes, and editorials, Plokhy keeps the pages turning, and he includes far more Soviet material than earlier scholars. Surprisingly, Kremlin archives contain notes and transcripts of Khrushchev’s secret discussions that parallel Kennedy’s, and there is also no shortage of memoirs. Soviet soldiers hated Cuba and raged at laboring to build the sites just to tear them down. Plokhy concludes that both sides assumed that nuclear war meant the end of civilization, so they relented. Unfortunately, he adds, “there is little doubt that today there are world leaders prepared to take a more cavalier attitude.”

Far from the first account but superbly researched and uncomfortably timely.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-54081-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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