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Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  4,995 Ratings  ·  196 Reviews
During the thirteen days in October 1962 when the United States confronted the Soviet Union over its installation of missiles in Cuba, few people shared the behind-the-scenes story as it is told here by the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In this unique account, he describes each of the participants during the sometimes hour-to-hour negotiations, with particular attention ...more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published November 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 1968)
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Dylan
Nov 29, 2007 Dylan rated it really liked it
Robert Kennedy, as both brother and Attorney General to President John Kennedy, does a masterful job of explaining the US Administration’s internal deliberations and decisions during the Cuban missile crisis. Many members of my generation do not, perhaps, understand the gravity of the situation, and how a 45 year old president was able to calmly deliberate on the facts, assemble an Executive Committee full of experience, ability and deliberative dissent, and make a decision that protected the wo ...more
Susan
I was in Kindergarten in October of 1962 and have vague memories of drills where we had to get under our desks, but my only real memories of President Kennedy are of his funeral the following year. This insider's view of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the President's approach to it is eye-opening. Robert Kennedy details how the situation came to light, what was done, communications with the Soviet Union and other countries, and how the decision-making process worked. It was of course a complex and ...more
Nick
Oct 14, 2013 Nick rated it it was amazing
This book was astonishing in its revelations about the inside discussions, arguments and second thoughts by a disparate group of advisors set up by President Kennedy when he suddenly learned that nuclear missiles were being set up in Cuba. The author, his brother and Attorney General had an inside seat at the table. His writing is clear, modest and forthright. This book is worth reading for any student of politics or history, or anyone who lived through those frightening days.
Unlike some recent
...more
Grace
Mar 12, 2017 Grace rated it really liked it
I love the idea of this book - a very short memoir about a specific very frightening time written by someone who was there. Its a snapshot into 13 very scary days of American history. It was very exciting and educational. I particularly enjoyed the forward & afterward, which were written by historians and gave good context to RFK's account. It was also great that they included transcripts of speeches and letters written by JFK and Krushchev. This book made me so immensely relieved that I do ...more
Lennongirl
This may be a small book, but it's by no means little. It's an insider view on the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the edition I have (from 1999) offers what you'd call "very good bonus material" if this was a DVD (there's a recent-ish forword by Arthur Schlesinger jr. putting the crisis into perspective years after the Cold War ended; there's a detailed afterword on JFK's crisis management, there's a "documents" section packed with JFK's adresses and writings on the matter as well as Khrushchev's let ...more
Ashley
Mar 30, 2014 Ashley rated it it was amazing
I love RFK's memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis--a raw, emotional retelling of what occurred in those thirteen days. Used originally as pure research, I reread this book a few times after my theses (used this twice for different papers, one a full thesis, the other a grad school final). RFK gives an excellent account of what was occurring behind the scenes and how various parties felt during the crisis. An excellent, quick, easy read.
LemonLinda
Jun 15, 2012 LemonLinda rated it really liked it
This is the account of the Cuban Missile Crisis from Robert Kennedy who was a crucial member of the team assembled to deal with the crisis and whose opinion was obviously highly regarded by his brother. His statement that within "a few minutes of their (the missiles) being fired eighly million Americans would be dead" was chilling to me as I was a child of 10 at the time and lived in the Southeast so it was quite likely that I would have been one of the victims. He goes on to say that if the tac ...more
Rina
Sep 26, 2011 Rina rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommendations
This is a book I've been wanting to read for a long time and only recently got around to it. Let me start my review by noting that I love JFK. I love RFK. I love all things Kennedy. It was only natural for me to love this book.

The book was a simple narrative. There was not much commentary by Bobby. He simply outlined what transpired behind closed doors during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He never judged anyone's opinions, but simply stated the importance of having all of those people involved in th
...more
Sarah T.
I'll admit, the movie "Thirteen Days" has been a favorite of mine for a long time, and a big reason why I picked up this book, was to see just how historically accurate the film really was. I was pleasantly surprised!

One reason why I changed my review from 4 stars to 5 stars is, when I was thinking of what to write in my review, I realized just how truly insightful the book was. If you've seen the film adaptation (or even, you know, LIVED through the Cuban Missile Crisis), then you know what hap
...more
Jared D.
Mar 30, 2014 Jared D. rated it liked it
Thirteen Days was an enjoyable inside look into crisis action at the highest levels. I enjoyed being able to see the interaction between the committee members and how they responded to the pressure. The book serves as a case study for crisis planning and how to consider the potential responses by your opponent. The big take-away that I got out of if is to never paint your opponent into a corner and do everything to avoid embarrassing your foe. If you compel th to act to preserve their honor then ...more
Cheryl Fackelman
Jan 18, 2017 Cheryl Fackelman rated it it was amazing
Robert Kennedy describes in detail the many sides of the political, strategic and moral discussions held that ultimately led to the decision that could only be made by President Kennedy himself. Kennedy's steadfastness to protect not only the citizens of the United States, but humanity itself from the catastrophic devastation that would result from the final confrontation with Cuba and the Soviet Socialist Republic and which was opposed by the Chiefs of Staff displays not only his genius but abs ...more
Aaron
Sep 18, 2015 Aaron rated it it was amazing
Lots of gems here: the candid letter Khrushchev sends Kennedy without consulting his advisors, how JFK swims before a meeting to decide whether to take military action or precede with a quarantine, how Bobby Kennedy takes his girls to a horse show while waiting for the Soviets to response to a critical letter, the chapter titles that echo the opening lines of each chapter - like poems! More politicians should write chronicles of world events like this.
Alan Chen
Dec 26, 2016 Alan Chen rated it it was amazing
"I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction...Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that kno ...more
Brian Mount
Feb 14, 2017 Brian Mount rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Incredible book, riveting. A surprisingly good leadership book as well. JFKs brilliant handling of the situation is inspiring.
Kevin
Mar 11, 2017 Kevin rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Robert F. Kennedy's book on the Cuban Missile Crisis describes the actions at the highest levels of the American government during October of 1962. The memoir/history is well-written, though I wouldn't call it a comprehensive document of the entire episode. More than anything, the book is terrifying: at almost any moment during the crisis, millions of human beings around the world could have been vaporized without notice.

Reading Thirteen Days, one asks oneself repeatedly how the current Preside
...more
Kaushik Iyer
Jan 05, 2017 Kaushik Iyer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
Recommended by an acquaintance who was interested in books on organizational theory -- who gets to be in the room, and how that shapes decision making.

This is a spare, surprisingly direct memoir that chronicles the Cuban Missile Crisis and the decisions that were taken in the White House as the situation unfolded. Much of what RFK talks about was new to me, but perhaps the most interesting part was how he described and portrayed his brother. The JFK that emerges is cautious, deliberate, and a st
...more
Eric Smith
Mar 17, 2017 Eric Smith rated it it was amazing
Superb. A tremendous work that is, simply put, essential reading in American foreign policy.
Themwap
Apr 20, 2014 Themwap rated it it was amazing
13 days is a great book about the Cuban Missile Crisis written by the brother, and right hand, of the President. Here are 13 things that Thirteen days can teach you about leadership (spoilers ahead):

1) Challenge assumptions (business orthodoxy) - despite having an extensive intelligence network the US had failed to believe some tips that the Russians were putting nuclear missiles into Cuba.

2) Do not rush to judgment - Robert Kennedy was surprised that despite the intelligence and experience of
...more
María José
Este libro es un valioso documento histórico: la descripción por parte de Robert F. Kennedy de sus experiencias políticas durante la crisis de los misiles de Cuba en octubre de 1962.

Es un relato económico en extensión, que se centra en el papel de RFK como consejero del Presidente, y su pertenencia al Ex-Comm (el Comité Ejecutivo que se formó para gestionar la crisis).

Lo más sorprendente para mí es la nobleza y humildad que impregna el relato. RFK intenta transmitir la difícil tarea que las pers
...more
John Rivera
Sep 26, 2011 John Rivera rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
RFK's memoir is a must read for political scientists who focus on decision-making theories, historians interested in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and for any other individual interested in the Cuban Missile crisis for that matter. The work is extremely brief but nonetheless very inclusive of all the relevant steps to that lead to the decision of how to respond, the details of the response, and the immediate aftermath. The work provides the reader with a near-complete analysis of who favored what co ...more
Rick Patterson
One of the points RFK makes in this assessment of the Cuban Missile Crisis (apart from the obvious fact that his ability to actually write it was a vindication of his brother's restraint and resolve) is the following conclusion to the chapter entitled "Some of the things we learned...":
"...we could have other missile crises in the future--different kinds, no doubt, and under different circumstances. But if we are to be successful then, if we are going to preserve our own national security, we wi
...more
C. McKenzie
Dec 20, 2015 C. McKenzie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a short, but very clear and terrifying account of what actually went on in Washington during the Cuban missile crisis.

President Kennedy was determined to have the Soviet missiles removed peaceably and set out to do so by creating a group of advisors called Ex Comm. This team was guided by Kennedy's admonition to give Khrushchev every opportunity to back down as possible. And during these days on the brink of nuclear war these were some key factors: some on the Ex Comm team advocated in
...more
Carolyn
Oct 22, 2014 Carolyn rated it really liked it
This short (a little over one-hundred pages) book is Robert Kennedy's telling of the Cuban Missle Crisis. If you want to investigate this crisis in depth, start here to get background only and then move to other sources. Robert, of course, was not going to criticize his brother. Additionally, since it was written pretty soon after the crisis, he had no access to revelations which may have been discovered later. What Robert is doing is giving a sequential presentation of when his brother--that's ...more
Antje
Sep 17, 2014 Antje rated it really liked it
Auch wenn ich bereits vielfach über die Kuba-Krise 1962 gelesen habe, empfand ich die Erinnerungen Robert F. Kennedys, jenerzeit Justizminister und enger Berater wie Vertrauter des Präsidenten, als besonders interessant. Er verfasste die Ereignisse in sachlicher Weise und dennoch mit persönlicher Note. Die Vorstellung der dreizehn-tägigen gespannten Atmosphäre mit endlos langen Stunden des Debattierens und Abwegens der Handlungsalternativen im Oval Office sowie der Angst über mögliche Konsequenz ...more
Maria
Thirteen Days offers us a new insight about the Cuban Missile Crisis, about the courage of President John F. Kennedy during this particular time, and the great amount of thought put into the process of avoiding a nuclear armageddon.

I find, that 52 years after this crisis, people in America, in Russia, and around the world undermine the crucial days in October 1962 that may have led to their nonexistence today. We forget the significance of the leadership done by JFK during these days to protect
...more
Eric Hopkins
Jan 07, 2013 Eric Hopkins rated it it was amazing
Thirteen Days really surprised me, I didn't go into the book with any expectations. After having read it I would call it anything less than an excellent first hand source. Robert Kennedy has a great writing style for narrative that he's working with. The book was a very fast read, I actually got through it in a single day across two sittings. Part of what helped is how fluidly Kennedy writes, it really lends itself to effortless reading. That fast reading pace manages to perfectly capture the ch ...more
Trenchologist
Mar 13, 2016 Trenchologist rated it really liked it
Cogent, spare, personal. Obviously offers insights only someone as close to the President and the situation could make, but these insights are layered and revealing beyond the scope of the CMC. More than once I thought 'what kind of President would RFK have made?' reading his direct and sensitive recounting of the actions taken those thirteen days. The clarity of his prose and recollection is startling and enlightening. I knew about the CMC but as an "idea." Now I understand so much more of the ...more
Kristina Gonzales
Mar 16, 2015 Kristina Gonzales rated it really liked it
Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis is a short but intense read. Robert F. Kennedy’s firsthand account of the Cuban Missile Crisis explores the correspondence and negotiations with Nikita Khrushchev, the internal dealings of President Kennedy and the members of the Ex Comm (including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk), the interactions and dealings with international bodies such as NATO and the United Nations, and just how close we were to the ...more
Adam Steinberg
My problem with this book and nearly all political memoirs written in the first person is their lack of critical analysis. Robert Kennedy writes well, tells an interesting story and provides a critical analysis of his performance, but the book itself is rather self-serving. His brother, JFK, receives no critical review of his performance and every decision the Administration made was correct. Alternatively, every utterance by the Senate leadership, read the other political party< was short-si ...more
Bob
Sep 21, 2011 Bob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: us-history
I had read this book many years ago in a class in negotiations in graduate school. This book is the story of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the world has ever come to a full out, no holds barred, nuclear war. The story is well known: the USSR put offensive ballistic missiles in Cuba, 50. Miles off the U.S. coastline.

The book is an unfinished narrative by the late Robert F Kennedy, the brother of President John. F Kennedy. As Attorney General, as well as brother and confidant to the P
...more
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Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy, also called RFK, was the United States Attorney General from 1961 to 1964 and a US Senator from New York from 1965 until his assassination in 1968. He was one of US President John F. Kennedy's younger brothers, and also one of his most trusted advisors and worked closely with the president during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also made a significant contribution to t ...more
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“It was not only for Americans that he was concerned, or primarily the older generation of any land. The thought that disturbed him the most, and that made the prospect of war much more fearful than it would otherwise have been, was the specter of the death of the children of this country and all the world—the young people who had no role, who had no say, who knew nothing even of the confrontation, but whose lives would be snuffed out like everyone else’s. They would never have a chance to make a decision, to vote in an election, to run for office, to lead a revolution, to determine their own destinies. Our generation had. But the great tragedy was that, if we erred, we erred not only for ourselves, our futures, our hopes, and our country, but for the lives, futures, hopes, and countries of those who had never been given an opportunity to play a role, to vote aye or nay, to make themselves felt.” 4 likes
“Someone once said that World War Three would be fought with atomic weapons and the next war with sticks and stones.” 3 likes
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