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Review: "The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis"

Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

Book review and analysis

Book review and analysis

Synopsis of Sheldon Stern's Book

Throughout historian Sheldon Stern’s work, The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis, the author provides a detailed analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the decision-making process that underscored the nearly two-week-long event. In this account, Stern argues that the Cuban Missile Crisis was a direct result of American foreign policy in the late 1950s that took an overly-aggressive stance towards communist leaders in Cuba (i.e., the adoption of assassination attempts against Castro and his regime, espionage, sabotage, etc.). Because of these prior political maneuvers, Stern argues that the Soviets sought to limit American aggression against their Cuban ally through the installation of nuclear missile sites. As the crisis continued to escalate, however, Stern argues that American success hinged on the efforts of policymakers (particularly Kennedy) to come to terms with their past failures in foreign policy, and in their ability to devise an effective stratagem that rejected the calls by hardliners to continue covert military action in the region. Consequently, Stern argues that Kennedy’s decision to seek out political and diplomatic alternatives to the crisis (rather than adhering strictly to the military options proposed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff) is what, ultimately, ended the crisis before it could escalate to outright war and nuclear annihilation between the two powers.

Analysis and Review

Stern’s work relies on a plethora of primary source materials that include: newspaper accounts (from the New York Times and Pravda), transcripts of presidential meetings, memoirs (such as Khrushchev’s diary), official correspondence records between the White House and Moscow, as well as oral history interviews and presidential recordings. Although this work is relatively short, Stern’s account is well-written, highly researched, and compelling in its analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of its greatest strengths lies in Stern’s ability to incorporate both Russian and American documents into his account; thus, giving a balanced interpretation of the events that unfolded. The only downside to this work, however, is that Stern provides only a brief analysis of the legacy and effects of the crisis. A far more rigorous and detailed account of the post-crisis years would have been a welcome addition to this book. Regardless of this shortcoming, this work is important to consider for historical analyses in that it provides excellent insight into the high point of American-Soviet tensions during the Cold War. This work will maintain a solid position within modern historiographical interpretations for years to come.

All in all, I give this work 5/5 stars and highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in a balanced and objective-based account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Definitely check it out if you get the opportunity! You will not be disappointed.

Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion

1.) What was Stern's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the author makes in this work? Is his argument persuasive? Why or why not?

2.) What type of primary source material does Stern rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder his overall argument?

3.) Does Stern organize his work in a logical and convincing manner? Why or why not?

4.) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the author have improved the contents of this work?

5.) Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?

6.) What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?

7.) What sort of scholarship is the author building on (or challenging) with this work? Does this book add substantially to existing research and trends within the historical community? Why or why not?

8.) Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the author?

Works Cited:

Articles / Books:

Stern, Sheldon. The Week the World Stood Still: Inside the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.

© 2017 Larry Slawson