Historian Higgins has an unusual vocation--military debacles such as the UK's abortive Dardanelles campaign (Soft Underbelly, 1968), and Hitler's ill-advised invasion of Russia (Hitler and Russia, 1966). Here he makes quick but effective work of the miscalculations, half measures, and downright dishonesty that led to disaster at the Bay of Pigs barely three months after John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency. On the night of April 16, 1961, a CIA-sponsored force of about 1,300 anti-Castro exiles established a tenuous beachhead on Cuba's southern coast. In the absence of substantive air and logistical support at the second-choice landing site, however, most of the raiders were either killed or captured within three days. Among other unfortunate results, the outcome handed Havana a propaganda as well as a military victory. As Higgins makes clear in his meticulously documented audit of the open-secret invasion's lengthy buildup and calamitous ending, there was plenty of blame to go around. To illustrate, Dwight D. Eisenhower (cautious to a fault during eight years in office) assured his successor that intervention was a must--a policy to which JFK's activist cold warriors proved unwisely receptive. At best ambivalent about the aptly named (Bumpy Road) operation he had inherited, Kennedy (who sought to hedge US bets) ended by pulling his punches. At the same time, can. do intelligence agents directly responsible for the scheme gambled that the chief executive would authorize air cover in the heat of battle, while the Joint Chiefs contributed largely ambiguous counsel on whether the supposedly covert venture had a fighting chance. A spare and unsparing postmortem that represents a worthy addition to the literature on an inglorious chapter in American history.