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

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

4.3 23
by Frederick Kempe
     
 

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A fresh, controversial, brilliantly written account of one of the epic dramas of the Cold War-and its lessons for today.

History at its best." -Zbigniew Brzezinski

"Gripping, well researched, and thought-provoking, with many lessons for today." -Henry Kissinger

"Captures the drama [with] the 'You are there' storytelling skills of aSee more details below

Overview

A fresh, controversial, brilliantly written account of one of the epic dramas of the Cold War-and its lessons for today.

History at its best." -Zbigniew Brzezinski

"Gripping, well researched, and thought-provoking, with many lessons for today." -Henry Kissinger

"Captures the drama [with] the 'You are there' storytelling skills of a journalist and the analytical skills of the political scientist." - General Brent Scowcroft

In June 1961, Nikita Khrushchev called it "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. For the first time in history, American and Soviet fighting men and tanks stood arrayed against each other, only yards apart. One mistake, one overzealous commander-and the trip wire would be sprung for a war that would go nuclear in a heartbeat. On one side was a young, untested U.S. president still reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster. On the other, a Soviet premier hemmed in by the Chinese, the East Germans, and hard-liners in his own government. Neither really understood the other, both tried cynically to manipulate events. And so, week by week, the dangers grew.

Based on a wealth of new documents and interviews, filled with fresh- sometimes startling-insights, written with immediacy and drama, Berlin 1961 is a masterly look at key events of the twentieth century, with powerful applications to these early years of the twenty- first.

"

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Editorial Reviews

Jacob Heilbrunn
Kempe…has performed prodigies of research, consulting American, German and Soviet archives as well as interviewing numerous participants in the Berlin crisis. His reconstruction of the diplomacy and events leading up to August 1961 is spellbinding.
—The New York Times
Alex von Tunzelmann
Berlin 1961 has more virtues than flaws. It is engaging, it is a great story, and it is generally fair-minded. This is both an enriching history and a rollicking good read.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
On the 50th anniversary of its construction, Kempe, President and CEO of the Atlantic Council and a former Wall Street Journal staffer, delivers a definitive history of the Berlin Wall. For years, citizens of Communist East Germany streamed across the open border into prosperous West Berlin: 200,000 in 1960 alone. It was an exasperating brain drain, and the danger that other eastern Europeans would cross over threatened to destabilize the Communist region. Assembling personal accounts and newly declassified documents, Kempe writes a gripping, almost day-by-day chronicle of colorful, often clueless leaders and their byzantine maneuvers. Still reeling from his Bay of Pigs humiliation, President Kennedy yearned to prove himself the stalwart leader of the free world. The more experienced but mercurial Khrushchev wanted better East-West relations despite hostility from his hard-line rivals and East German leader, Walter Ulbricht, an unreconstructed Stalinist who despised him. No meeting of minds occurred, and the wall went up, but Kempe concludes that it solved the problem and avoided a war. Berlin faded from the headlines for 28 years, until in 1989 both the wall and the cold war came to an end. (May)
Library Journal
The Berlin Crisis of 1961, on the heels of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, not only froze European Cold War borders but also became another nonprofile in courage for JFK, inciting Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev to provoke the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later. So claims Kempe (associate publisher, Wall Street Journal, Europe edition; Father/Land: A Pivotal Search for the New Germany) as he skillfully weaves oral histories and newly declassified documents into a sweeping, exhaustive narrative. Although no love was lost between Khrushchev and East Germany's Walter Ulbricht, they both were committed to staunching the flow of well-educated, professional East Germans to the West; hence, the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Kempe is especially strong at recounting Khrushchev's bullying of Kennedy at the June 1961 Vienna Summit and on the Wall's political, social, and personal impacts. VERDICT 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 the further detail. Both authors view JFK circa 1961 as a work in progress with weaknesses that did not remain the pattern. [See Prepub Alert, 12/1/10.]—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Booklist
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.
From the Publisher
"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." — Kirkus Reviews

"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." — Booklist

"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." — Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

A tale of missed opportunities just might have ended in nuclear war.

Former longtime Wall Street Journal editor Kempe (Father/Land: A Personal Search for the New Germany, 1999, etc.) recounts a curious series of episodes in which the Russians appeared to be bearing olive branches, the Americans arrows. When John F. Kennedy came into office, Nikita Khrushchev made unexpectedly conciliatory gestures—for instance, he allowed Radio Free Europe to be broadcast behind the Iron Curtain, released American fliers who had been shot down while spying in Soviet airspace and even published Kennedy's inaugural address inPravda. Kennedy, however, mistrusted Khrushchev, who was "vacillating between his instinct for reform and better relations with the West and his habit of authoritarianism and confrontation." Given this suspicion, Kennedy failed to encourage the Soviet leader's good moments. Meanwhile, Khrushchev faced a difficult problem. He had defanged his most dangerous rival, Stalin-era secret policeman Lavrentiy Beria, but still faced considerable opposition from hardcore Stalinists—and competition from Mao's China, which was jockeying for position as the world's leading communist power. He was also embroiled in a bad situation in East Germany, which seemed in danger of collapsing in the wake of his post-Stalin reforms and which was serving as a gateway through which other Eastern Europeans could easily escape to the West. The climax of the difficult year 1961, as Kempe demonstrates, was the building of the Berlin Wall following one misreading of Soviet cues after another on the part of the Kennedy administration. In the end, Kennedy had to swallow his pride and accept the fact of the wall, which "had risen as he passively stood by." That failure notwithstanding, Kempe concludes that, ultimately, Kennedy was able to regain advantage with his successful handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year.

A bit too long, but good journalistic history in the tradition of William L. Shirer and Barbara Tuchman.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101515020
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/10/2011
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
608
Sales rank:
163,382
File size:
7 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

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Henry Kissinger
Berlin 1961 is a gripping, well-researched, and thought- provoking book with many lessons for today.

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