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Book Review: An (almost) blast from the past with ‘Nuclear Folly’

Brad Zehner, president of the Friends of the Herman Brown Free Library

Brad Zehner, president of the Friends of the Herman Brown Free Library, recommends reading ‘Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis,’ which includes new information from recently uncovered KGB documents. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Picayune Book Nook is published monthly either online at or in The Picayune Magazine. Book lovers of all ages are invited to send their reviews of no more than 250 words to Please include contact information. Reviewers must be Highland Lakes residents. 

“Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis” 

Written by Serhii Plokhy, professor of history at Harvard University; published by W.W. Norton & Company, 2021

BOOK SUMMARY: This historical nonfiction book, which provides insight into the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, includes previously classified information and detailed retellings of events that almost led to a nuclear war. The book includes eight pages of photographs and two maps that illustrate the severities and realities of this 13-day event.  

Reviewed by Brad Zehner, president of the Friends of the Herman Brown Free Library

Written by author Serhii Plokhy, “Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missile Crisis” explores the Cuban Missile Crisis from the perspectives of the three major protagonists in the real-life drama: U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the Soviet Union’s Premier Nikita Khrushchev, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the “mischief-maker” who pitted the Soviet Union against the U.S. in this conflict.

In 1962, the U.S. learned that the Soviet Union planned to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, to support the new Caribbean Communist nation. 

The reaction to that information brought the three nations closer to nuclear conflict than during the entire Cold War, which began between the U.S. and the USSR following World War II.

The wily Khrushchev thought the youthful Kennedy would back down when confronted. Kennedy, however, was adamant that Russian ships transporting the missiles to Cuba would not be allowed to cross his American naval blockade. Meanwhile, Castro encouraged the Soviet government to breach the blockade by threatening an alliance with China. 

The situation changed hourly as Kennedy, Khrushchev, and their aides made decisions that had the potential to trigger a nuclear holocaust at any slight miscalculation by either side. Both Kennedy and Khrushchev finally “stood down” due to fear of nuclear war and the resulting impact on their nations.   

Plokhy breathes new life into the story with recently uncovered information from Ukrainian KGB documents on the drama. According to those documents, the Soviets had over 40,000 troops at the ready in Cuba. U.S. intelligence sources estimated only 10,000 Soviet troops at the time.

Plokhy also documents several acts by individuals who could have triggered nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

This nonfiction account appeals to history buffs and especially individuals who lived through the crisis. Extremely well-written, the book reads like a Tom Clancy thriller that explores what really happened as the world watched in suspense.