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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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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