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Publisher's Summary

In October 1962, at the height of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union appeared to be sliding inexorably toward a nuclear conflict over the placement of missiles in Cuba. Veteran Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs has pored over previously untapped American, Soviet, and Cuban sources to produce the most authoritative book yet on the Cuban missile crisis. In his hour-by-hour chronicle of those near-fatal days, Dobbs reveals some startling new incidents that illustrate how close we came to Armageddon.

Here, for the first time, are gripping accounts of Khrushchev's plan to destroy the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo; the accidental overflight of the Soviet Union by an American spy plane; the movement of Soviet nuclear warheads around Cuba during the tensest days of the crisis; the activities of CIA agents inside Cuba; and the crash landing of an American F-106 jet with a live nuclear weapon on board.

Dobbs takes us inside the White House and the Kremlin as Kennedy and Khrushchev agonize over the possibility of war. He shows how these two leaders recognized the terrifying realities of the nuclear age while Castro - never swayed by conventional political considerations - demonstrated the messianic ambition of a man selected by history for a unique mission. Dobbs brings us onto the decks of American ships patrolling Cuba; inside sweltering Soviet submarines and missile units as they ready their warheads; and onto the streets of Miami, where anti-Castro exiles plot the dictator's overthrow.

©2008 Michael Dobbs; (P)2008 Books on Tape

Critic Reviews

"One Minute to Midnight is nothing less than a tour de force, a dramatic, nail-biting page-turner that is also an important work of scholarship. Michael Dobbs combines the skills of an experienced investigative journalist, a talented writer, and an intelligent historical analyst. His research is stunning. No other history of the Cuban missile crisis matches this achievement." (Martin Sherwin, co-author of American Prometheus)

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  • Overall

On the verge of annihilation.

In October 1962, my Troop Carrier Air Force Reserve Squadron at the Air Force Reserve section (now gone) of O'Hare Field was activated because of the "Cuban Crisis." During the day my day job was to "play soldier" (the Army equivalent of a Clerk/Typist) and at night I would drive to my home on Chicago's south side. No one worried about nuclear incineration, and in due course we were deactivated and returned to our civilian careers. It is truly said that ignorance is bliss. If I had know then what I know now, after reading One Minute to Midnight, I don't think I would have slept as soundly as I did. That's why I listened to this book, and why I recommend it. Somewhat more detailed than necessary, it discusses some facts never before disclosed, and points out that the Soviets kept secret for over 40 years that they had deployed tactical nukes in Cuba, in addition to Intercontinental Missiles that targeted, among many other U.S. cities, Washington and New York! I simply never realized how close we came to Armaggedon. Worth reading if you lived through it, and for historical purposes if you didn't, but it brings home the fact that Kennedy and Khrushchev were both level-headed leaders that understood the horrors of war and were therefore able to avoid it, that Castro was willing to plunge the world into nuclear holocaust for the sake of his revolution, and that the "terrorist world" in which we now live does not seem to have the same rational inhibitions to prevent it should a similar confrontation again arise. Well worth your time, especially if your a student of 20th century American history.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Mary
  • Rancho Mirage, CA, United States
  • 03-16-10

Superb Audiobook and Narrator

The book and the narration are top notch. You stay riveted as you listen, or at least I did. I listen to a lot of audio books and this is in the top tier...highly recommended. It has important implications to learn from, many newly presented for the first time, according to the author.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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What we though we knew

Mr Dobbs has given us a thorough and detailed view of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I thought I knew what had happened, when it had happened and the results of the crisis but Mr Dobbs' book has shown me how much of what I thought I knew was wrong.

Much of the book is a moment to moment replay of the events taking place with background material gathered from the minutes of the meetings that were taking place, from the memories of the participants, US, Soviet and Cuban, and from a careful reconstruction of what happened behind the scenes taken from other now public records. Thus we have the details of the accidental US U2 overflight of the Soviet Union at the height of the crisis, the background information on Major Rudolf Anderson whose U2 was shot down over Cuba, information on what was happening in the Soviet submarines being stalked by the US fleet near the US quarantine zone, details on the cooperation (and lack thereof) between the Soviet troops and the Cuban troops on Cuba during the crisis and much, much more. Instead of detailed log of the events we have a very human view of what was happening, of the accidents that almost caused nuclear war and of the thoughts of the people, both in and out of government, who took part.

Many of the facts turn out at variance with what has grown up to be the semi-official history of the crisis. Thus we find that the part played by John Scali, always portrayed as pivotal, was in fact, not only peripheral but of no real consequence in the resolution of the events. We find out who the real "hawks" and "doves" in the Kennedy Administration were and we find out how the Kennedy Administration misled the public about how the crisis had been settled and of the deals that were made to get to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Overall the book is wonderful, as is the narration.

There are some glaring discrepancies between what has been said publicly, on the record, and the events as stated by Mr Dobbs. The biggest of these concerns whether or not the Soviet generals had been given permission to use tactical nuclear weapons against any US troops landing as part of an invasion and against any US ships supporting those troops. The Soviet general in charge in Cuba, as part of an interview with CNN 30 years after the crisis, was clear and said that they had been given such permission. Mr Dobbs says that they had not and were repeatedly told by the Soviet government that they could not use those weapons without express permission from the government. While it is impossible for the casual reader to know the truth, Mr Dobbs makes a good case and presumably has seen the then-secret communications. If the generals thought otherwise it is scary to think what might have happened.

All in all the book is not particularly kind to the Kennedy administration for its constant changes of course from hawk to dove during the 13 days of the crisis and its inability to come to a decision concerning what to do about the approaching Soviet ships. The public was told that the ships were stopped and searched while, in reality, many were passed through without stopping and searching them, presumably because the administration was worried about causing an incident that might lead to World War III.

It is easy to believe when reading this book that Mr Dobbs has written a true history of the crisis and, while he faults the Kennedy administration for many of its actions, he is full of praise for both John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev as men who, whatever their individual faults, remembered their responsibilities and tried to regain control over events and prevent nuclear war.

I recommend this book without qualification for anyone interested in this period of history.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Daniel
  • ARLINGTON, VA, United States
  • 06-15-12

Outstanding

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Any additional comments?

This was an excellent read, and very well delivered by Bob Walter. Highly recommended!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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riveting and scary

Even if you watched "13 Days" (I did, and liked it), listen to this book. It has accurate, well researched account of events, some less known facts and very little idle speculation.
The historical facts are presented well, with just enough details to keep the listener interested, and the narration is superb.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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The Rest of the Story

"I remember those dreadful days in October 1962. And I thought I knew what went on during that standoff. But Michael Dobbs' book opened my eyes to the complexities and challenges of the Nuclear Showdown.

I especially enjoyed reading the perspective from Castro's and Krushchev's positions. When I finished the book I realised that my memory and understanding of those events where mainly shaped by the American version, which was far from complete."

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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great book and good performance

as a fan of history I greatly enjoyed the book. the book takes a very nutral stance explaining the events and gives a good narrative.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Hindsight

This book taught me that if I were JFK we would all be dead. I don't admit that I'm wrong about things often.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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we got lucky on that one

This book is like being the war room. Its a play by play account of the heart pounding moments of the Missle Crisis. If this subject is of interest to uou its a must get

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Very interesting

It was a very good book about the cold war. They did a good job of disclosing what America, as well as Cuba and Russia were thinking as events happened. It was a tad confusing as the author jumped around on occasion, stepping out of chronological order. All in all, DEFINITELY worth the read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • I. A. Clark
  • 01-09-14

Armageddon averted by pure dumb luck?

Would you consider the audio edition of One Minute to Midnight to be better than the print version?

I haven't seen the print version. Audio editions are better for me to absorb, but worse to refer back to. It annoys me when names are wrongly pronounced: that's not a problem for a print edition.

What other book might you compare One Minute to Midnight to, and why?

I think of W S Churchill writing on the Second World War. Both authors are accomplished historians and draw on a vast store of facts, yet offer some fascinating anecdotes amusingly told. Both sum-up brilliantly and produce original, compelling analyses of the causes and results of their historical topic.

What about Bob Walter’s performance did you like?

The narrator pronounces Spanish names and quotations well, but Russian less confidently. His voice is pleasing and avoids sounding monotonous, which would be easy with so much detail to recount.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

In Dobbs's conclusions he quotes Jackie Kennedy writing personally to Nikita Kruschev after JFK's assassination: "You and he were adversaries, but you were allied in the determination that the world should not be blown up. The danger that troubled my husband was that the war might be started not so much by the big men as by the little ones." Apart from being a touching admission to a national enemy by a grieving widow, this gets to the heart of the matter. Together with the JFK quote "There's always some son-of-a-bitch that doesn't get the word!" it sums up the book's subject matter and findings.

Any additional comments?

In 1962 the two superpowers juggled with the future of humanity like Laurel and Hardy trying to negotiate a flight of steps with a grand piano. Secretary of State Dean Acheson later claimed nuclear war was averted "by pure dumb luck". But for all their miscalculations and personal failings, let's be grateful it was JFK and NK who led their respective countries and not any of their gung-ho advisors.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Simon
  • 12-23-12

Everything an audiobook should be

This audiobook makes absorbing history effortless. Like listening to a quality thriller, it draws you in and makes you feel like an insider to the events while maintaining the integrity of an authoritative piece of research. Highly recommended.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr
  • 07-11-14

Dramatic

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

At times, the juxtaposition of accounts from the American and Soviet sides makes this a very dramatic listen.

Any additional comments?

For a story which is already well-known, this is a brilliantly dramatic, enthralling telling of the wider history surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis, combining the American, Cuban and Soviet sides of the tale. Well worth downloading.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anthony Lee
  • 04-07-13

Tense and Gripping

A work of history that engages you like a classic cold war thriller - yet it's true. This book shows how a full-scale nuclear exchange could have been triggered by the actions of relatively low level military officers once control passed from the hands of the leaders into those faced with making split second choices under fire. Terrifying given the current situation with north Korea!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Kieran McCann
  • 11-01-17

Thanks Dan

Thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish with plenty of insight, flowing nicely & not getting bogged down . My first audio book, it was recommended on Dan Carlin podcast.

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  • Kieran O'Donnell
  • 06-07-17

An excellent look at a interesting event

A well-performed take on a very good book which is both engaging and informative. Definitely would recommend to those interested in the specifics of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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  • Andrew P.
  • 05-23-17

Great fascinating book

Really enjoyed this book and it was very well researched with great factual context. At times it is totally gripping

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-31-17

great insight into a seminal event

couldnt stop listening, narration was superb, content was gripping, insight was enlightening. can only highly recommend this title

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  • Boobie
  • 12-06-16

Excellent

I thought by this stage that there was little to learn about this historical event, but this book opened up new thoughts and information for me.

The analysis is excellent. The performance is very good and does not get in the way.

One of the best Audible books I have listened to this year.

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  • Mr. R. D. Cox
  • 04-19-16

scary as hell, and lessons not learned

scary as hell, and lessons not learned

the crisis was far worse than I realised. why have lessons not been learned? Vietnam and The 2nd gulf war would not have happened

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  • Mark W
  • 12-09-17

The best history book, I've ever read/heard.

This book is exceptional in both its novel-like structure, and historical content.

The book manages to stay packed to the brim with information, while at the same time never dragging on.

Constantly engaging and sometimes hilarious, this is the one of the best history books ever written.