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

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  983 Ratings  ·  139 Reviews
In June 1961, Nikita Khrushchev called Berlin "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. It was in that hot summer that the Berlin Wall was constructed, which would divide the world for ano
ebook, 608 pages
Published May 1st 2011 by Berkley Books
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Mar 31, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: firstreads-wins
I love winning Goodreads Giveaways. Not because I get it for free but because I get it first!

Time it was and what a time it was. It was.

The power and weapons of one country controlled by one man: a bully, a binge drinker, a man who felt it insignificant to detonate millions of people, and a man who felt the political pressure of appearing weak. The power and weapons of another country controlled by one man: an indiscriminate sex addict, juiced on amphetamines, steroids, testosterone, phenobarbit
Sep 10, 2015 Doubledf99.99 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-general
A fascinating read and a very well researched book, on a high vis potential flashpoint. Brings back the WHY, as why we were getting under our school desks, and neighbors were digging up their backyards. Kennedy had a rough start in his young administration on the foreign affairs front, the first being the Bay of Pigs, the second Berlin. This book goes into fine detail of all the players, on both sides of the Atlantic and of course the epicenter Berlin, that came darn close to starting WWIII.

Jan 11, 2012 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own, history
Historians of the Cold War have regarded as its worst crisis, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, often citing it as its most significant event. However, in his "Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, And The Most Dangerous Place On Earth", former journalist Frederick Kempe has made a most compelling case instead for the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Berlin Wall's construction in the late summer and early fall of 1961, culminating in a standoff between American an ...more
Jul 12, 2016 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The Berlin Wall was a symbol, if not the symbol, of all that was wrong with communism. The monstrosity built not to protect its populace, but rather to stem the mass exodus of East Germans, (4 million from 1946-1961), for fairer pastures west. The Wall constructed literally to trap its citizens within and a constant and very physical reminder - until it came down in 1989 – of communist oppression. Growing up and ignorant of international politics and ideology during the ‘60’s and 70’s, the Berli ...more
Robert Morrow
May 17, 2011 Robert Morrow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars (out of 5).

The quality I have admired most in President Kennedy was his ability to grow, to learn from his mistakes. This is the story of many of his early mistakes. The source of those mistakes was brilliantly identified by the author as Kennedy not wanting to deal with the problem he had inherited in Berlin (much like President Obama not wanting to deal with the problem he had inherited in the economy), but almost trying to wish it away so he could deal with what he considered more
Jason Dikes
Feb 06, 2012 Jason Dikes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent history of not only Berlin's crisis of 1961, but the dance between JFK and Khruschev that had been going on since 1960. The only problem I have is with one of the books two conclusions.

The first conclusion is that JFK's weakness over Berlin led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Absolutely. I don't think Khruschev would have taken the risk without Kennedy's weakness over Berlin and Bay of Pigs.

The second conclusion is a hypothesis that if JFK had stood up to the Soviet Union over
Margaret Sankey
Jun 07, 2015 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Using more recently available Russian and declassified material, Kempe offers a contextualized account of the Berlin Wall crisis, emphasizing its place among the Bay of Pigs, space launches, Cuban Missile Crisis, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Chinese overtures to East Germany and Albania, Civil War in Laos and lingering bad feelings from Budapest and Suez. There are nice nods to the important details of diplomacy (Adenauer's birthday gifts, reading the tea leaves of seating assignments, quoting your po ...more
Brandon Forsyth
This book does an admirable job in providing an overview of the personalities and conflicts that shaped the creation of the Berlin Wall, but it is less successful at subjecting all involved to a similar level of critical rigour. Kempe paints Kennedy's fears of nuclear armageddon as crippling and emasculating, and there is a fawning appreciation of the more hawkish members of the administration and armed services that I found distasteful. Ultimately I found it unconvincing, but it is certainly we ...more
Zohar -
Apr 29, 2011 Zohar - rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
“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 Gathe
Jul 11, 2012 Scottnshana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am consistently surprised and switched on at all the “inside baseball” histories written recently about events we studied in high school history class. Usually it’s a British historian who accessed some archives that were off-limits during the Cold War and it usually reveals that things were a lot more complicated than we were led to believe in that high school textbook. Kempe, however, is an American, an award-winning journalist (e.g., Wall Street Journal), and now President of a foreign poli ...more
Corey Preston
Slow and overwrought.
And the fixation on dinging/damaging Kennedy is weird and forced. I understand the need to have a "thesis" for something like this, but once Kempe drops his--which is basically that Kennedy was a disaster and could have ended the Soviet Union in 1961 without firing a shot--it becomes hard to trust his reporting or sense of scope on other matters.
Mr. Kempe makes a big stink about a suggestion, made after the fact, that the U.S. could have bowled the wall over with tanks whe
May 25, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Kempe, Frederick. BERLIN 1961. (2011). ****.
It’s difficult to read a book of history when the period covered is well within your lifetime and memory span. Although most of the events covered in this book were known to me, what makes it more or less required reading is the release over the years of previously classified documents. “1961” was the year Kennedy took over as president. One of the early items on his agenda was a meeting with Kruschev in Vienna. It was there that he came face-to-face
Jun 21, 2011 Krista rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'll open this review with an admission of my ignorance. I had no idea Berlin was located so deep in East Germany. In my head, my whole life, Berlin sat on the border and the wall reflected that larger border.

So to find out (and probably not for the first time, but this was the first time it stuck) that Berlin was a strange island. So then I kept thinking of the Vienna of The Third Man and wondering how many other places were so strangely divided.

Oh, the Cold War. Such an odd moment in history.
Bradley Skaught
A missed opportunity on many levels. The Berlin wall and all of the events that surround its creation are fascinating, but, strangely, not particularly momentus. The Vienna summit is an event and the wall going up is another explosive moment, but the rest is diplomacy and Kempe is not well enough equipped to give that much dramatic shape or momentum. Kempe's attempt to weave in the personal stories of German citizens whose lives were affected by the Wall is admirable, but it's done in a somewhat ...more
Shiela Hanlon
May 30, 2011 Shiela Hanlon is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
“Berlin 1961” is a new book by Frederick Kempe that dramatically recounts fascinating cold war events that occurred in my youth and which I am recalling now, in this reading, via a series of “I-remember-that!” moments (a particular delight to this sexagenarian who can only remember where she parks her car by parking it always in the same spot). Kempe was more than 25 years with The Wall Street Journal as Berlin bureau chief and editor of the WSJ Europe edition, his previous books including “Fath ...more
May 27, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
History as a thrilling narrative. The Berlin crisis is one that is strangely overlooked in most modern retellings of the Cold War. This book tells the story well - on a day by day basis, covering all the major players, in a well-researched and flowing narrative.

It is a chilling case of history, not only from its own tensions - even worse than the Cuban missile Crisis in some aspects - but that it is forgotten from history by some. Events like this are too dangerous to forget.
Erma Odrach
May 12, 2011 Erma Odrach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Frederick Kempe has a keen journalistic eye. He relates the political turmoil in Berlin in 1961, where Khrushchev called Berlin "the most dangerous place on earth." This book is very well researched with lots of info and insights into the decisions taken in shaping the Cold War. Berlin was a tale of two cities and the author includes some great photos.
Becky Stewart
Jun 14, 2015 Becky Stewart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Actually a page-turner in places, this book successfully conveys the tension of the Cold War in the early 60s in a way I had not experienced before. It also develops the players as human characters with human relationships, interactions, and foibles, not just geopolitical actors on the world chessboard.
Bonnie Vance
I was only in 7th grade when the Berlin Wall was built. This book helped me understand what transpired. Having just read Leon Uris' Armageddon, this was the perfect follow-up. It was also interesting to learn all the crises that a young President Kennedy had to try to resolve.
F.C. Schaefer
Nov 07, 2015 F.C. Schaefer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As the Cold War recedes further into the past, it becomes easy to forget some its most contentious battlefields; that is where good history books like BERLIN 1961 by Frederick Kempe comes in, for they remind us how close the conflict came to turning hot. Kempe’s book gives us an invaluable timeline for one of the worst crisis’s of the early 60’s and allows for a chance to become reacquainted with some almost forgotten figures who once played a very important part on the world’s stage. We also ge ...more
Nov 21, 2016 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was gripping. I never realized how close the world may have come to thermonuclear war over Berlin. Kempe keeps the tension high as he describes the negotiations between Kennedy and Kruschov. My favorite parts were his descriptions of communist underlings like Ulbricht, and how Kruschov was being pressured by Mao and the Stalinists of the Politburo.
Ryan Jones
Jan 10, 2017 Ryan Jones rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Charles H Berlemann Jr
I had heard of the Berlin crisis and didn't really get that it was part of the whole building of the wall. I thought that the crisis had come after the wall was built. Rather this book put it together that the 1961 crisis was from the creation of the Berlin Wall and all the political intrigue that came from it.

This is a long book, and one of my detraction on it is that the author spends a number of chapters setting up not only the players (both major and minor) as well as walking history all th
I received Berlin 1961 in the GoodReads “First Read” program. Normally, my taste leans toward literary fiction. However, I’ve read quite a few novels set during WWII Germany and was interested to learn more about the 20th century history of that country. As a child, my cold war memories consisted of bomb drills held at school and playing hide & seek in the fallout shelters found in the basements of neighborhood homes.

Written by a journalist, this book is more engrossing than the stereotypica
Scott Pierce
Feb 16, 2017 Scott Pierce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-european
Kempe does a nice job in explaining the complexity around Berlin, and the various demands on the decision-makers that clouded the issues. We tend to think of Berlin in terms of the 1948 airlift and the Cold War, but there was a lot more to it.

Khrushchev engineered Beria's removal (and execution) when Beria indicated that he did not care if East Germany was Socialist of not as long as Germany was neutral - Beria criticized for being too soft on socialism - East German liberalization let to a 1953
Jul 28, 2011 Anthony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an interesting book about the tension between the US and the former Soviet Union over the status of Berlin in 1961. I always thought the closest we came to nuclear war was over the Cuban Missie Crisis in October 1962. But this book makes it very clear that the events in August and September of 1961 were clearly the closest we ever came to nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

The author chronicles in detail the way in which Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev played the young, inexperienced new
May 09, 2011 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My knowledge of the years of a divided Berlin basically consisted of two quotations: President Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner," and President Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
So I had a lot to learn, and I learned so much from this book. It's 50 years since the events described in "Berlin 1961" took place, and perhaps that's the amount of time that needs to pass before history can be well-told. Frederick Kempe had so much documentation available that wouldn't have been available to
Mar 01, 2011 Gregg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I won Berlin 1961 in a Goodreads Firstreads Giveaway. Thank you!

Using recently released documents and a
"re-examination" of material contemporary to the events or previously released, Fredrick Kempe has written a compelling story. Whether or not you agree with some of his conclusions regarding the fortitude of President Kennedy, his response to the Berlin Crisis and the possibility that the Cold War was extended by three decades because of Kennedy's apparent inability to respond to rapidly chang
Rupin Chaudhry
Dec 16, 2013 Rupin Chaudhry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-military
This book is a brilliant account of the most important part of the cold war era that would witness a young and inexperienced Kenedy administration in a conflict with the ruthless and shrewd Nikita Khruschev. This is a story that would lay the foundation of a wall which didn't just divide the city of Berlin into two parts but would also divide the world into conflicting parties.
This is story of cold war between two conflicting superpowers, shaped by their commitments to the interests of their al
Adam Higgitt
Mar 21, 2012 Adam Higgitt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For students of the Cold War, this day-by-day account of the US-USSR stand-off that culminated in the erection of the Berlin Wall (and some very sweaty trigger fingers on Soviet and American tanks facing each other across that line) is essential reading.

This book follows in the exemplary footsteps of David Hoffman's superb The Dead Hand, drawing on vast amounts of often newly released archive material from both sides to chronicle one particular episode of the Cold War. Hoffman's focuses on the d
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Journalist and author. Editor and associate publisher of The Wall Street Journal Europe, founding editor of Central European Economic Review.
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“After asking Humphrey to name his native city, Khrushchev bounced to his feet and drew a bold blue circle around Minneapolis on a map of the United States hanging on his wall—“so that I don’t forget to order them to spare the city when the rockets fly.” 1 likes
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