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Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth

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  • Posted May 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Fas­ci­nat­ing Book

    "Berlin 1961" by Fred­er­ick Kempe is a non-fiction book which fol­lows the polit­i­cal tur­moil in 1961, a defin­ing year in US-Soviet rela­tion­ship. Nikita Khrushchev called Berlin "the most dan­ger­ous place on earth", read­ing this book I found out why.

    The book is divided into 3 parts:
    Part I: "The Play­ers" - the author intro­duced Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, Wal­ter Ulbricht and Kon­rad Ade­nauer. Mr. Kempe brings out their moti­va­tions and fear for the drama that is being staged.

    Part II: "The Gath­er­ing Storm" - After the failed Bay of Pigs inva­sion, Kennedy's polit­i­cal clout and respect among world lead­ers is at a low point, to say the least. Khrushchev sees this as his oppor­tu­nity to stop the mas­sive exo­dus from East Ger­many and closes the bor­der. Kennedy's admit­tedly poor per­for­mance is on dis­play while he tries to ensure that Khrushchev doesn't start a nuclear war.

    Part III: "The Show­down" - This, for me, was the high­light of the book. The deci­sions in Moscow which resulted in a stun­ning bor­der clo­sure and its aftermath.

    "Berlin 1961" by Fred­er­ick Kempe fol­lows the events that shaped the course of the Cold War. The author jux­ta­posed between four of the major play­ers - Nikita Khrushchev, John F. Kennedy, East Berlin mayor Wal­ter Ulbricht and West Berlin mayor Kon­rad Ade­nauer.

    Kennedy and Khrushchev were, to me, the most inter­est­ing view points of the book. Khrushchev's bul­ly­ing the young Pres­i­dent while fak­ing diplo­macy should prob­a­bly be stud­ied in all polit­i­cal sci­ence courses. Read­ing how Nikita Khrushchev danced in diplo­matic cir­cles around the inex­pe­ri­enced Kennedy, who was just learn­ing his job at the time was faci­nat­ing. Kennedy break­ing his diplo­matic chops on a very seri­ous mat­ter is an aspect which helped him tremen­dously when it came to other diplo­matic break­ing points such as the Cuban Mis­sile Crisis.

    Mr. Kempe pro­vides in depth analy­sis on the intrigue which occurred dur­ing 1961 as well as more inti­mate moments of tri­umph and anguish on all sides of the polit­i­cal spec­trum. For Kennedy, 1961 was a stren­u­ous year. Kennedy described that year as "a string of dis­as­ters" start­ing with the fail­ure of the Bay of Pigs inva­sion, the failed Vienna Sum­mit, the Berlin Wall put under his nose as well as a dan­ger­ous tank show­down in Check­point Char­lie.
    I found it fas­ci­nat­ing that Kennedy, for all intents and pur­poses, allowed Khrushchev to con­struct the wall as long as he did not dis­rupt West Berlin or access to Free­dom.
    Of course, the wall did both.

    Mr. Kempe argues that one of the most sig­nif­i­cant out­comes of 1961 was the per­ceived weak­ness Khrushchev found in Kennedy. That weak­ness prompted him to place mis­siles in Cuba think­ing the young Pres­i­dent would cave as he did in Berlin.

    This is a fas

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2011


    The author sets out to demonstrate that Berlin 1961 had far greater potential to bring about a devastating nuclear catastrophe than did the Cuban Missile Crisis just a year later -- and he succeeds in bringing to life the major political players and leaders of the day and the pieces they maneuvered on the world chess board. I don't think I have enjoyed a book more in the past few years. It is important to understand Berlin and what brought it about if one is to understand the Cold War. The reader from the United States who was raised during the cold war to think of the Soviets as the evil empire is finally allowed to understand what motivates the Soviet leadership. The treatment of the Kennedys is balanced and straightforward, yet pulls no punches in criticizing the president often praised for avoiding a nuclear war.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 29, 2011

    Good book

    It is a great book. However, cannot see video, only get the audio.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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