Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth
By Frederick Kempe
(Berkley Trade, Paperback, 9780425245941, 608pp.)
Publication Date: January 3, 2012
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In June 1961, Nikita Khrushchev called Berlin "the most dangerous place on earth." He knew what he was talking about.
Much has been written about the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, but the Berlin Crisis of 1961 was more decisive in shaping the Cold War-and more perilous. It was in that hot summer that the Berlin Wall was constructed, which would divide the world for another twenty-eight years. Then two months later, and for the first time in history, American and Soviet fighting men and tanks stood arrayed against each other, only yards apart. One mistake, one nervous soldier, one overzealous commander-and the tripwire would be sprung for a war that could go nuclear in a heartbeat.
On one side was a young, untested U.S. president still reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster and a humiliating summit meeting that left him grasping for ways to respond. It would add up to be one of the worst first-year foreign policy performances of any modern president. On the other side, a Soviet premier hemmed in by the Chinese, East Germans, and hardliners in his own government. With an all-important Party Congress approaching, he knew Berlin meant the difference not only for the Kremlin's hold on its empire-but for his own hold on the Kremlin.
Neither man really understood the other, both tried cynically to manipulate events. And so, week by week, they crept closer to the brink.
Based on a wealth of new documents and interviews, filled with fresh-sometimes startling-insights, written with immediacy and drama, Berlin 1961 is an extraordinary look at key events of the twentieth century, with powerful applications to these early years of the twenty-first.
Frederick Kempe is the editor and associate publisher of The Wall Street Journal Europe and the founding editor of the Central European Economic Review. A well-known American commentator in Germany, he is also the author of Divorcing the Dictator, a book about America and Noriega featured on the cover of Newsweek, and Siberian Odyssey.
"Berlin 1961 is a gripping, well-researched, and thought- provoking book with many lessons for today."
--Dr. Henry Kissinger
"Good journalistic history in the tradition of William L. Shirer and Barbara Tuchman."
"Frederick Kempe's compelling narrative, astute analysis, and meticulous research bring fresh insight into a crucial and perilous episode of the Cold War."
--Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution
"History at its best. Kempe's book masterfully dissects the Cold War's strategically most significant East-West confrontation, and in the process significantly enlightens our understanding of the complexity of the Cold War itself."
--Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter
"Berlin 1961 takes us to Ground Zero of the Cold War. Reading these pages, you feel as if you are standing at Checkpoint Charlie, amid the brutal tension of a divided Berlin."
--David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post
"Informed...His chronology of memos and meetings dramatizes events behind closed doors...Kempe's history reflects balanced discernment about the creation of the Berlin Wall."
"Kempe...skillfully weaves oral histories and newly declassified documents into a sweeping, exhaustive narrative...Likely the best, most richly detailed account of the subject, this will engross serious readers of Cold War history who enjoyed W.R. Smyser's Kennedy and the Berlin Wall but appreciate further detail."