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Back Channel

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  856 ratings  ·  156 reviews
October 1962. The Soviet Union has smuggled missiles into Cuba. Kennedy and Khrushchev are in the midst of a military face-off that could lead to nuclear conflagration. Warships and submarines are on the move. Planes are in the air. Troops are at the ready. Both leaders are surrounded by advisers clamoring for war. The only way for the two leaders to negotiate safely is to ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published July 29th 2014 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2014)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  856 ratings  ·  156 reviews

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switterbug (Betsey)
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is my fourth novel by Carter that I’ve read, my favorite being his last book, THE IMPEACHMENT OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN. I enjoyed his revisionist history of Abe Lincoln and the thorny disputes and complexities of abolition and economics, as well as the passionate way he evoked the Executive decision-making. The premise, whereby Lincoln survived Booth’s assassination attempt, was of course, fiction, but otherwise, it was entirely plausible and filled with historical truths and events. Here, Carter ...more
Aug 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Carter renews his powerful writing style in another novel thick with history and strong on intrigue. In the midst of the most frigid part of the Cold War, college student Margo Jensen is targeting by White House officials to aid her country in a covert mission, one that might have dire implications. She soon finds herself in Bulgaria, tasked with determining if she can garner information about the Soviets' plans to send nuclear missiles into Cuba facing directly facing towards Washington. Return ...more
May 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
Incredibly far-fetched. Now I usually don't mind that and I am happily willing to go along with it when it is substantiated by events and character actions. This story missed those opportunities. It was like living on that little island in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Your strolling along and suddenly a big ole meatball falls from the sky like it belongs

For my crazy analytical mind, it was too improbable. This kept me at arms length. I just couldn't embrace this. But on
Steven Z.
Aug 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Whether reading Stephen L. Carter’s THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK and the novels that follow that genre to his historical novel, THE IMPEACHMENT OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN I have always felt very satisfied and contented when completing one of his books. After reading his latest effort at altering American history by recreating a fictional account of the Cuban Missile Crisis in BACK CHANNEL, I did not complete my reading with the same feeling. To his credit Mr. Carter has complete command of the events that ...more
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It's Fall of 1962 and the Kennedy White House is embroiled in the Cuban Missile. It's only recently that we learned how close this brought us to a nuclear abyss. Stephen L. Carter takes this historical backdrop and crafts a riveting thriller you won't be able to put down. Margo Jensen is a 19 year old black student at Cornell who travels from Bulgaria to Washington, DC as the vulnerable "back channel" operating outside the official investigation. All the political players including Kennedy and e ...more
I was happy with this book. (It says based on true events) but it just seemed a Lil on the UNBELIVEABLE side...
I just was not sold on the whole premis of the story... But I was happy with the story as a whole..
It was full of twists and turns, and lots of action(a Lil more then I could imagine a young black woman could get away with... She has a white BF but it's the 60's!! They even mention the freedom riders, and marches... What for this girls fine... Just seemed a Lil unreal...)

But I would r
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and its unconventional young main character. 9 of 10 stars
Jul 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, giveaways
Solid book, fully-detailed, well-written. The characters are authentic, the dialogue realistic, the historical information spot on. (I was a child at this time but there are things I remember well, such as my grandmother informing me in October that we were going to have 'another war', and as such, our Christmas wouldn't be quite as elaborate as usual. (Our way of cutting back, I suppose.)

But basically it's the story of a 'colored' girl used as a back channel for secret negotiations between Pre
John Chabalko
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
This was recommended by a friend of a friend. These revisionist historical fiction novels are not my bag of oats; that said, the premise was sort of interesting so i forced myself to finish it.

I wish there'd been better character development early on. It didn't really happen at all except for some odd observations that seem to be catered more towards an evening TV show treatment than a novel - even at the end of the book i couldn't find myself caring about any of the characters and i just wanted
Mar 13, 2019 marked it as maybe
Amb. Burns: Trump’s kindness towards Putin seen as weakness by Russians As a former U.S Ambassador to Russia, William Burns witnessed first-hand the personality and working style of Russian President Vladimir Putin. From his standpoint, President Trump’s tendency to placate Putin is perceived as weakness to the Russian leader, not strength. Amb. Burns, the author of a new book, talks with Brian Williams about this new era of diplomacy. ...more
Nov 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great story of an amazing young woman asked to serve her country in the face of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Margo Jensen is an unsuspecting player, but what a strong lead character Mr Carter has developed this story around. Amazing facts come out in the end, making for the strong close I enjoy! 7 out of 10 for me this time around!
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
A nice setting for a historical novel, but too cluttered with too many sides to make it a smooth reading story. Also it did not achieve the plausibility it needed to generated the tension it intended. Nice try but in the end a disappointment.
Ruth Chatlien
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I would call this a cross between Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The West Wing. It was an enjoyable read.
Leo Walsh
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for the political thriller "Back Channel." The premise is an intriguing: alternate-historical retelling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Instead of the historically verifiable back-channel -- ABC News correspondent John Scali -- author Stephen L. Carter inserts Cornell sophomore Margo Jensen as the back channel. That Margo is African-American in pre-Civil Rights Act America promised to add real spice. And when you realize that the cover Margo employs to get her messages to JFK is po ...more
Jill Meyer
Dec 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Many of the previous reviewers of Stephen Carter's new novel, "Back Channel", remarked on Carter's strange choice to make his protagonist a 19 year old Cornell student. A brilliant, beautiful, and persevering young woman, but, none-the-less, a 19 year old woman. If you, as the reader, can get past this detail, then I am sure you'll enjoy "Back Channel", a novel which takes place during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. I was not able to get past this detail, but I still enjoyed the book. Wo ...more
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Once again, an excellent effort by Carter, who has become one of my favorite authors. Having lived through the Cuban missile crisis, I know lots about this era. Granted, I was only 11, but I lived in the suburbs of Washington DC, and was majorly impacted by these events. Having read much about it in subsequent years, I knew some of what Carter was using in his novel was true. In fact, in an end piece he explains what was true, what was stretched and what was invented for the book. I love how he ...more
Ray Dan Parker
I am now a major fan of Stephen L. Carter, Yale law professor and renowned historian. Back Channel follows the harrowing exploits of Margo Jensen, a nineteen-year-old African American coed at Cornell, who becomes embroiled in sensitive negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She nearly loses her life and finds her reputation tarnished as a rumored mistress of Kennedy. This is a fast moving piece with enough historical background and insight into such politic ...more
David Ketelsen
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an amazing book. Back Channel crackles with energy as Stephen L. Carter develops an alternative history plot that startles the reader and yet seems all too plausible. The protagonist, 19-year old Cornell sophomore Margo Jensen, is an unlikely person to form the back channel between Khrushchev and JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis but her naivete and spunk is what really fuels the book. The dialog rings true, the characters all feel real, and the historic backdrop is dramatic and accura ...more
Rus Funk
Aug 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Carter writes another realty grasping and intriguing novel. A rich page turner!
I particularly like that the center of the story, the key hero, the main action is a young African-American woman. It's her strength, smarts, resilience and power that drives the story.
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another Chapters bargain pick-up that turned out really well! $7 well spent :)

I actually quite liked Back Channel by Stephen L. Carter. The idea of an international Cold War spy thriller centring on an almost-teenage student who also happens to be a woman of colour was a great idea.

Carter's writing was clear, easy to follow, but yet suspenseful and engaging. There were times when I had no clue who the real enemy was, or what was going to happen next. The portrayal of Kennedy was a bit weak, but
An interesting fictional speculation based on true facts during the cold war.

The author is trying to present us with some possible motives and possible answers to the questions of why or how so key players at that time did what ever they did - the public eye saw only whatever was intended for the general public, but in fact why and how it happened is not always so clear - well, this book is trying to answer some of those type of questions and I think this is an interesting approach.

However, the
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a fabulous piece of historical fiction! A spy thriller with a string female lead that actually happened except the important clues to this woman’s identity have been changed to protect her privacy. Why we bother to elect a president is beyond me as it seems that the president actually has very little control, although in this novel JFK was able to keep a lid on the powers that be until an acceptable solution to avoid war could be found for both the Soviets and Americans.
Extremely well writ
Dean Cummings
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As I began reading Back Channel, the one thing I was looking forward to was the dialogue between the protagonist, 19 year old Margo Jensen and President John F. Kennedy. I was so pleased with Carter's handling of these scenes. I was captured by by the combination of grand scale and accessibility that Carter was able to achieve. I learned so much about this critical chapter in twentieth century history, while being very entertained! A tremendous book, I imagine I'll read it again sometime in the ...more
Apr 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
A very entertaining novel about The Cuban Missile Crisis.
October, 1962. The Soviet Union is putting missiles in Cuba.
President Kennedy is being pressured to respond with force.
Behind the scenes a 'Back Channel' of communication is set up between Kennedy and Khrushchev.
A 19 year old college student at Cornell is chosen to be part of that Back Channel..
As other reviewers have noted, the story seems a tad unbelievable at times.
But it is super entertaining and enjoyable.
It moves fast and keeps yo
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Spy/action novels generally aren't my thing; I read this for a book group. AND LOVED IT. This novel won't change your life, but is 100% pure entertainment. I actively looked forward to my commute because I was so eager to learn what was going to happen next.

I particularly liked:
that the protagonist was a young woman of color.
that Kennedy wasn't blindly lionized.
that Carter wrote women so well--it's hard to find men who write women characters convincingly.

Definitely recommend!

Mar 20, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: mystery, not-finished
I approached this with some hesitation, because the premise is that a female 20-year-old college student becomes the back channel for negotiation during the Cuban missile crisis. Not likely. I stopped when she sleeps with JFK in the first chapter.
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don’t read a lot of political thrillers because I often feel like I’m turning the pages so fast because of the tension that I don’t really appreciate (or remember later) the story. Sometimes that’s because the story isn’t good (or is very similar to the many other political thrillers out there). My dad on the other hand nearly exclusively reads political thrillers. This summer alone he has read 34 books from one series by John Sanford. Back Channel is a book I think we will bother like! This i ...more
Mar 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for the Read Harder 2021 challenge #13, and never would have chosen it otherwise. The audiobook was fantastic, and I kept neglecting my other duties to see how the story would unfold.
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. Story that wove Carter's previous historical novels into itself. Brilliant. Bravo Mr. Carter. ...more
Jennifer Davis
Oct 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Kept me on the edge of my seat!
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Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale where he has taught since 1982. He has published seven critically acclaimed nonfiction books on topics ranging from affirmative action to religion and politics. His first novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park (2002), was an immediate national best seller. His latest novel is New England White (Knopf, 2007). A recipient of the NAA ...more

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