ONE MINUTE TO MIDNIGHT: KENNEDY, KHRUSHCHEV, AND CASTRO ON THE BRINK OF NUCLEAR WAR by Michael Dobbs (Knopf) 448 pages, $33.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNN
On October 27, 1962, the world nearly came to an end.
When the sun went down on Washington that night, members of John F. Kennedy's cabinet wondered if they would live to see it rise again. There were Soviet missiles in Cuba, and Kennedy was determined to get rid of them, even if it meant all-out thermonuclear war.
Michael Dobbs brings the 13 days that made up the Cuban Missile Crisis to life in the chilling and brilliant One Minute To Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, And Castro On The Brink Of Nuclear War.
Much has been written about the ultimate crisis of the Cold War, but this account vividlyC captures the white-knuckled anxiety that gripped the White House and the Kremlin during those dark days.
While Dobbs focuses on the rapidly escalating showdown between the two superpowers, he also explores the auxiliary stories inside the mobilizing military machines as they found themselves hurtling toward war.
The story of Air Force Captain Charles Maultsby is worth the price of the book alone. At the height of the crisis, Maultsby got lost in his U2 spy plane over the North Pole and accidentally wandered over the Soviet Union.
He knew he was in big trouble when he started hearing Russian music over his radio. And, eerily, he began getting transmissions luring him deeper into Soviet airspace, as Russian fighter jets streaked through the Arctic skies toward him.
Obviously, the world did not end on that day in 1962. You can't help wondering, though, what would have happened if the missile crisis had blown up in 2002, putting the fate of the world in George W. Bush's hands.