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Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  384 Ratings  ·  73 Reviews
In 1968, a small, dilapidated American spy ship set out on a dangerous mission: to pinpoint military radar stations along the coast of North Korea. Packed with advanced electronic-surveillance equipment and classified intelligence documents, the USS Pueblo was poorly armed and lacked backup by air or sea. Its crew, led by a charismatic, hard-drinking ex-submarine officer n ...more
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published December 3rd 2013 by NAL (first published September 11th 2013)
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Steven Z.
Feb 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recent events between the United States and North Korea cast a long shadow over relations between these countries. The “supposed” computer hacking of Sony pictures by North Korea, the disagreement over North Korean attempts to develop nuclear weapons, and a host of other issues like North Korean attacks against South Korean ships makes the appearance of Jack Cheevers’ ACT OF WAR rather timely. Cheevers, a former political reporter for the Los Angeles Times presents a comprehensive study of the N ...more
Erin Miller
Dec 25, 2013 rated it liked it
This book provides me with solid proof that college professors teach to their own agenda, which I knew but, boy, does this support that. I wish I had read this earlier in my semester, so when my professor said, "The captives were treated really well until they brought it on themselves towards the end" I could have pointed out just how ridiculously biased he was. The book itself was interesting; the strongest sections were definitely those with the crew. The alternating sections describing the po ...more
On January 23, 1968 the USS Pueblo, a lightly armed diminutive spy ship was boarded by heavily armed North Korean military near Wonsan and the American crewmen taken prisoner. Jack Cheevers, a former Los Angeles Times political reporter, painstakingly and dramatically describes the seizure of the ship and crew and how close the United States came to becoming involved in a second Korean War. On January 21, 1968 North Korean commandos had attempted the assassination of the South Korean President. ...more
Liz Waters
Oct 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“ Act of War; Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and The Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo” by Jack Cheevers is a well-written account of the courage of 83 men whose capture was an embarrassment for the United States and particularly the U.S. Navy. The eighty-three brave members of the crew were ill-prepared for attack in international waters by a rogue nation, yet they had been sent to spy on that very nation. Their ship was not properly equipped for such a mission and requests to improve the equipment ...more
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Cheevers brings to life a fascinating chapter in American history, one that was perhaps partially obscured by the panoply of events that happened in the same years. This book reads like a great spy novel, except it is better because it actually happened!
Nov 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Jack Cheevers focuses on a forgotten moment in the United States history focused on the USS Pueblo that was seized by North Korea while on a routine spy mission. In the lead up to the Vietnam War the Navy began outfitting fishing trawlers as spy ships and sending them to listen to the radio transmissions off the coast of foreign powers like China and the Soviet Union. IN addition to these communist adversaries the former enemy of North Korea was also trialed. The ships were told to stay well int ...more
Feb 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was just in third grade when this happened and vaguely recall the whole drama, but have been aware that there was some sub-current of controversy over the incident. Was Bucher derelict? Or was he a scapegoat? Did he do the best he could under the circumstances, or was he too quick to give up the ship?

A lot of the old Navy hands it seems, come down hard on Bucher for surrendering the ship. Plain old everyday people (me among them) have no issue with NOT trying to use small arms and a couple of
Tony Taylor
Jan 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great book... clears up a lot of "bad" history about what happened to the captain and crew of the USS Pueblo that had been captured by the North Koreans in January 1968. The author has really done his homework and researched the facts as best as he could putting a whole new perspective on what really happened at the time of capture, while being held as prisoners by the North Koreans, and the Court of Inquiry once the crew was released.
Feisty Harriet
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: korea, war
I'm a sucker for anything to do with North Korea, and this story of the USS Pueblo, a spy ship that the Koreans attacked and confiscated from international waters in February 1968. The ship was woefully unprepared for the fallout of a possible capture; also, the Navy was completely unprepared for an international waters attack and capture and it took almost a year to get the crew--82 soldiers and 1 corpse--home. This is the story of Captain Pete Bucher, his time with the Navy, and the details of ...more
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: military-history
Other than having seen the Hal Holbrook teleplay and knowing the basic facts of the Pueblo's capture and imprisonment, I knew nothing about the details of the Pueblo incident.

Jack Cheevers, without running Pete Bucher up the flagpole, does an admirable job of showing how utterly stupid it was for the ship, not much more than a garbage scow (it was actually, originally, a WWII Army supply ship) to be doing the mission it was doing.

That's doubly true when you look at the risk-reward issue, based o
Nadine Dziekanski
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a very interesting read and it surprised me. The book is written by a political reporter based on accounts of the crew during the capture of the Pueblo spy ship and about America at the time. This took place during the Cold War/ Korean wars when North Korea turned communist. This was a historical genre which is why I was surprised I liked it so much. It was a pretty fast read not because it was an easy read but because I couldn’t put the book down. There were a couple slow moving parts ...more
Matt Butchart
May 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Informal poll -- I decided to test out the author's comment that many people don't even remember the "Pueblo Incident". I asked maybe a dozen family & friends. Only three people had any inkling at all what it was about. My Dad was the best informed -- of course he was actually fighting with South Korean troops in Vietnam at the time. I got him a copy of this book and I'm really looking forward to discussing it with him.

I knew just enough about this story to know that it might make a great b
Curtis Edmonds
Feb 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
ACT OF WAR is a thorough analysis of the USS PUEBLO crisis of 1968. Often overlooked because of its proximity to the other events of that year, the seizure of the USS PUEBLO on the high seas by the North Koreans, and the subsequent immiseration and torture of her crew, was a low point in the history of American arms and a stain of honor that has yet to be blotted out. The capture of an American warship - even one so rickety and poorly prepared for battle as USS PUEBLO - is quite simply intolerab ...more
Dec 28, 2013 added it
A well written account about a almost forgotten incident during the tumultous year of 1968. A US Spy Ship was captured by the then as now rogue government of North Korea. The book tells of the bravery displayed by the 85 sailors who endured capture, and torture at the hands of North Korean govenment, and response or lack of by the US Government preoccupied with of course the Vietnam war and the fear that this event would cause an escalation of that war. Upon on their return the crew was welcomed ...more
Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommended if you're interested in American history or our policies toward NK. You don't have to get too far into this book to understand why no one talks about this in America. It's surprising and yet not when you consider there are other examples of poor military planning. The first part of the book reads like a spy novel. Overall it's good insight to understanding how the Navy does things (like plan missions and conduct inquiries). The section describing their time in NK will confirm ...more
John D'Anna
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Meticulously researched and superbly written. The author puts you on the deck of the Pueblo when the tiny ship, completely undefended, is accosted by the North Korean navy. He captures the chaos as the crew desperately tries to destroy secret documents and the fear and dread as the Koreans prepare to board. He captures the horror of their prison and the brutality of the sadistic guards who tortured them. But most of all, he captures the spirit of Pueblo skipper Lloyd "Pete" Bucher, an officer wh ...more
David Bales
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
Excellent book about the seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo in 1968 by North Korea and the torture and travails of its brave crew that endured 11 months of imprisonment. Special attention is given to the captain, Lloyd Bucher, who was later blamed for "giving up the ship without a fight" despite being sent on a spying mission with little chance of resisting in any meaningful way. Good coverage of the Johnson Administration's diplomatic efforts to free the crew and the sisyphean task of negotiating wit ...more
Joe Chapman
Dec 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: presidents
4.5 stars! Jack Cheevers does an exceptional job relating the story of the USS Pueblo's capture as well as the political events leading up to the capture and after the release. The case for surrendering the Pueblo without firing a shot has always been a controversy. Mr Cheevers' relatively unbiased historical account lets the reader come to his or her own conclusion.
John Kues
Jan 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
An amazing piece of writing, a tremendous amount of time and work to compile. It took the author seven years just to get some documents declassified. The author captures the men involved and details the eleven months of imprisonment they went through as well as the terrible treatment they received. I read this 431 page book in two days. It was that compelling. Highly recommend it.
Adam Christian Smith
This book gives insight not just to a colossal mismanagement of a particular mission for a United States Navy.

Highly readable and also has some timeless touchstones to our modern problems and how our leaders can avoid starting wars and above that, gives us a chance to hear the language of BS when it's being fed to is.
Lee Shufro
Dec 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Great book. Highly recommend it.
Jeffrey Miller
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was nine years old in January 1968 when the Pueblo was seized off the coast of North Korea and I remember quite vividly later that year when the crew was released right before Christmas.

Although I knew a lot about the capture (I teach a history class on modern Korea) of the Pueblo, what I didn't know were some of the details about the crew's imprisonment and the aftermath of the Naval board of inquiry. Wheeler's book is a must-read, not only for understanding what happened on that fateful day
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A better book then I thought it would be! I read it in order to get some background on Korean (North & South) and also the somewhat current history. Russia too is involved. I was intrigued by it was an American ship surveilling the North Koreans in 1968. I was 6, my uncle was in Vietnam at that time. Drafted into the Army. There's a lot of relevant information as to the North & South Korean conflict NOW. The book was interesting and a good read. Well worth your time.
Peter L
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Act of War is Captivating From Beginning to End

From the very start I found this retelling of the capture of the spy ship USS Pueblo not only masterful but greatly researched as well. Nothing is left out & there are many details about the capture and treatment of the crew during the 11 months not available until additional classified material was made available to the general public. A great read !
Jerome V. Murphy
Amazing war story, without a war!

This is great read, related to the Korean War. The USN you sent the Ill prepared Pueblo into dangerous waters without adequate preparation, and it was just to listen in to communications from North Korea. It's a great description of the North Koreans, and their simplistic attitudes. It was difficult to close!
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable and frustrating at the same time

Loved the book, but it was very hard to not get frustrated with how they were treated during captivity. The fact that the UNC Commander was more concerned about maintaining the Armistice (same as today) than launching a rescue effort was absolutely disgusting.
Mike Glaser
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very well balanced account of the capture of the USS Pueblo and the confinement of its crew. It also does a great job of showing how crazy the North Korean government was in the late 1960’s which means that the current state of that nation has to be much worse.
John McCauley
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book for anyone interested in the subject.

Great book to read on the subject. It was easy to follow and understand. Sad to find out that the aircraft carrier Enterprise was only 500 miles away when the ship was captured.
Jim Green
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent historical narrative

Terrific book for those interested in history. North Korea is a brutal place and the treatment of our American sailors was beyond brutal.
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Jack Cheevers is a former Los Angeles Times reporter. He grew up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in political science. For 27 years he was a newspaper reporter and editor in California. He began researching "Act of War" in 2000 by interviewing the Pueblo's charismatic ex-captain, Lloyd M. (Pete) Bucher. He subsequently in ...more

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“It requires more courage to suffer than to die. —Napoleon Bonaparte” 2 likes
“12 ball problem,” which involves a dozen balls of the same size and color. One is heavier or lighter than the others. The challenge is to put the balls on a scale and figure out, in only three weighings, which of them is different, and whether it’s heavier or lighter. It took Bucher 12 hours to crack the problem; a brainy CT named Charles Ayling solved it in 60 minutes.” 1 likes
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