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Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  7,362 ratings  ·  329 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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Average rating 4.09  · 
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Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, memoirs
Between the end of the high school and the time I became active on Goodreads, I did not read a lot of classics. That encompasses many years when the majority of my reading was basic kids books that I read to my kids, mysteries that did not require much thinking on my part, and the same few favorite books over and over again. One reason is because I resented the required reading foisted upon me by English and history teachers who, while they had the best of intentions, did not necessarily choose ...more
Susan O
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
Stefania Dzhanamova
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Starting with the Bay of Pigs and continuing through a succession of covert (but not too secret) actions against Castro's government, President Kennedy convinced the Cuban dictator that the USA intended to destroy him, which they did. Fear of American attack urged both the Soviets and the Cubans to station missiles on the island. "It was clear to me," Nikita Khrushchev would write later, "that we might very well lose Cuba if we didn't tale decisive steps in her defense."

On October 14, 1962, CIA
Nov 29, 2007 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
Oct 14, 2013 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
Jon Nakapalau
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
RFK takes you behind closed doors...and you will be shocked how very close this situation almost turned into WW III.
Sep 18, 2015 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.
Jun 15, 2012 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
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
Oct 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: want-to-own, kennedys
I'm still debating if I should keep it at 3 stars or give it 4 for historical purposes as a first-person account.
I very much enjoyed this memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis told from the point of view of, then, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. While it is really short, partly b/c Bobby didn't have time to add more content to it before he was assassinated (it was released post mortem), I still liked getting the information from someone who was actively engaged in discussions about how to defuse th
Mar 30, 2014 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. ...more
Alan Chen
Dec 26, 2016 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
Chad Loveland
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ok first off this book is not a light read or something that you'll just breeze through. It is heavy and there's a lot of technical and political jargon and time specific language that can make it trickier to understand in 2020 (or later of you're reading this after that).

I realize that doesn't sound like the makings of a 5* review but bear with me. This is an incredibly important book. It helps us realize how valuable and fragile peace is.

Also this book proves how important dissenting/differi
Sep 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mar 12, 2017 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 not ...more
Linda Lipko
Mar 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a child born in the 1950's, I now realize how scary times were. My mother was very interested in politics, and I listened to her times with friends round the kitchen table. I distinctly remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. When reading this book, I realized that my mother and friends had a reason to be so concerned.

This was also during the times of "duck and cover." We had small wooden desks at school. There were regular drills when the teacher told us to go under our chairs and stay there.

… Nuclear War would have begun on the beaches of Cuba and might have ended in a global holocaust

My friend gave me a stack of books because he was cleaning up his library, this book was included in the stack. At first glance I thought there would be nothing in here that would interest me, however, after reading this harrowing account of what when on during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I couldn't have been more wrong.

What blew my mind was how I heard about the Cuban Missile crisis in passing but
May 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Interesting story. Not as dramatic as I had expected, based on the movie, but it adds a little texture. I appreciate that Kennedy tried to draw lessons from the experience. Perhaps some are debatable, or self-serving, but it is all very relevant (and scary).
Steve Shepperson-Smith
Apr 20, 2014 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
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A magnificent retelling of the events that transpired over the course of those thirteen days in October of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Cuban Missile Crisis had the world on the brink of nuclear devastation, with tensions reaching an all time high upon the United States learning of the Soviet Unions placement of ballistic missiles in Cuba. Being a witness and key participant of EXCOMM (Executive Committee of the National Security Council), Robert F. Kennedy shares with us the discus
Notes of a Curious Mind
U-2 was a remarkable plane. It was designed to operate at 70,000 feet (about 21,000 metres), higher and for longer periods than any other aircraft since then. It was equipped with large-format cameras, finer that any made before, designed by Edwin Land, a flamboyant genius and Harvard dropout who had already invented the Polaroid.

In October 1962, a U-2 flying above Cuba photographed nuclear missile sites being built in secret by the Soviet Union. John F. Kennedy was stunned by the provocation. F
Mar 11, 2017 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
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
Oct 22, 2014 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
C. McKenzie
Dec 20, 2015 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
Eric Hopkins
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-cold-war
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
Tom Schulte
I enjoyed this insider's recollection of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as largely told from RFK with a length afterword by political scientists Richard E. Neustadt and Graham T. Allison. RFK was assassinated before his manuscript was complete and, to be sure, he could not have been completely forthcoming in 1968. Still, it is riveting tale of how close we came to nuclear war. Also here in the appendices is relevant documents including JFK pronouncements and correspondence between the President a ...more
Sep 21, 2011 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
Kristina Gonzales
Mar 16, 2015 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
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ACPL Online Book ...: America's view of Fidel Castro 2 2 Oct 21, 2018 02:43PM  
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ACPL Online Book ...: Why? 2 1 Oct 21, 2018 02:02PM  

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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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