The Abyss: Nuclear Crisis Cuba 1962

Max Hastings

If you are familiar with the books of Max Hastings, you know that every book he writes is of outstanding quality. This book is no exception to that rule and again, if you are familiar with Max Hastings, this book hardly needs further explanation.

The Secret Deployment of Nuclear Missiles in Cuba

Between July and September 1962, Khrushchev secretly deployed a range of nuclear missiles in Cuba. Together with those missiles, came the deployment of tens of thousands of troops and bombers, SAM missiles and bombers. Khrushchev mistakenly and naively thought that the US would be facing a fait accompli once they were there and thought that Kennedy, in his eyes a green and inexperienced president, would back down. After all, didn’t he mismanage the Bay of Pigs invasion just a year before?

The Dangerous Nature of the Crisis

Hastings shows the dangerousness of the Cuba crisis. After all, no side wanted nuclear war, so what was there to worry about? Hastings shows nonetheless how close the world came to a nuclear disaster. It shows how the hawks in the US government wanted to bomb Cuba right away, it showed how a trigger-happy Russian submarine commander could have started nuclear war, after he was attacked with practice depth charges by a US destroyer.

Kennedy’s Role in Preventing Nuclear War

Kennedy comes out as the one man who was able to talk sense in the matter, holding back his US armed forces’ chiefs of staff who were all too happy to teach the Soviets a lesson. Khrushchev on the other hand, as an impulsive leader who didn’t think things through. He realization of the many perils he created, that should have been apparent in the Kremlin from the first moment they started the operation. Castro managed to even surprise the Soviets with his obsession to maintain his own power and glory and his absence of fear of nuclear war unworthy of any human being, let alone the leader of 7 million Cubans

Personal Reflection

For me, born well after the events, I couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the events that hung over the world. I remember my father telling me, after I told him I listened to this audiobook, that he remembered being in school, being taught on his lesson for the day, and was told by his schoolmaster at the end of that day that what they had learned perhaps was all for nothing, because the world could end within 12 days. Experiencing the events, without the knowledge of what happened after, must have been a gruelling experience, even for my father, who was 16 at that time.

Chilling Lessons for Today’s World

Yet, this book has some chilling lessons 60 years later, with the crisis in Ukraine. Relations between China, Russia and the US are as fractious as ever: the scope for an irreversible error or even a deliberate act remains.

Fast forward to today, even I perhaps will tell my son one day that the events in Ukraine brought the world nearly to nuclear armageddon. Let’s hope my son will never have to tell his son the same about some other future crisis.

  • Max Hastings

    The Abyss: Nuclear Crisis Cuba 1962

    ISBN: 9780062980137 | Pages: 576 pages | Publication date: October 18, 2022

    Buy on Amazon

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