The Cuban Missile Crisis was a six-day confrontation in October 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union over the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. It is widely regarded as the closest the world has come to nuclear war, and it was certainly the most dramatic standoff in the Cold War. The crisis was a truly global episode, given the potential for a nuclear exchange, and its aftermath saw bickering over the terms of the settlement, strained Soviet-Cuban relations, and Soviet-American arms control measures. The confrontation is one of enduring fascination and drama, and it has generated a massive literature, examining diplomacy and crisis management, secret intelligence, civil defense, command and control, and even providing linguistic analysis of the talks within the White House. Decades after the event, many aspects of the crisis remain contested, and knowledge continues to grow with the continued release of official documents. Greater openness from the US government has meant that knowledge of the American dimension is fullest, but the end of the Cold War brought greater access to some Soviet documentation alongside oral history testimony from participants. Unfortunately, Cuban documentation is practically nonexistent, although historians acknowledge that Cuba was an actor as well as acted upon. The latest wave of scholarship explores the international dimensions of the episode—known as the Caribbean Crisis to the Soviets, and as the October Crisis in Cuba—beyond the actions of the three protagonists.
The Cuban Missile Crisis is well served by recent general overviews, most of which strive to incorporate Soviet and Cuban perspectives as well as American ones. The most substantial are Dobbs 2008 and Naftali and Fursenko 1997. Both books are engagingly written accounts that draw extensively on fresh sources. The analysis in Garthoff 1989 is enriched by the author’s experience as an official providing guidance to the White House. George 2013, Munton and Welch 2012, and White 1997 are well suited to undergraduates, as is the time-honored political science classic Allison and Zelikow 1999 (originally published in 1971). Holsti, et al. 1964 provides another important political science account.
Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2d ed. New York: Longman, 1999.
Updated version of a political science standard, presenting three theoretical models for understanding what went on.
Dobbs, Michael M. One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War. New York: Knopf, 2008.
Draws on extensive new research to provide a compelling day-by-day account of the crisis, including revelations such as Soviet preparations to destroy the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Garthoff, Raymond L. Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: Brookings, 1989.
Emphasizes the dangers posed by “uncontrolled occurrences,” seeks to do justice to the Cuban role, and reproduces a number of US documents.
George, Alice L. The Cuban Missile Crisis: The Threshold of Nuclear War. New York and London: Routledge, 2013.
Sets the crisis in its broader Cold War context.
Holsti, Ole, Richard Brody, and Robert North. “Measuring Affect and Action in International Reaction Models: Empirical Materials from the 1962 Cuban Crisis.” Journal of Peace Research 1 (1964): 170–189.
An early influence on crisis researchers.
Munton, Don, and David Welch. The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Concise History. 2d ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
A cogent narrative highlighting areas of historical debate, as well as omissions in the record.
Naftali, Timothy, and Aleksandr Fursenko. “One Hell of a Gamble”: Khrushchev, Castro, Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1958–1964. London: John Murray, 1997.
A comprehensive multi-archival survey. One of the arguments is that Khrushchev’s chief motive for stationing missiles in Cuba was to defend the regime there.
White, Mark J. Missiles in Cuba: Kennedy, Khrushchev, Castro and the 1962 Crisis. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1997.
A lucid and engaging introduction, which uses Soviet and Cuban alongside American material.
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