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  • Published: 1 June 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241454732
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 464
  • RRP: $49.99

Nuclear Folly

A New History of the Cuban Missile Crisis

The definitive history of the Cuban Missile Crisis from the bestselling author of Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy

For more than four weeks in the autumn of 1962 the world teetered. The consequences of a misplaced step during the Cuban Missile Crisis could not have been more grave. Ash and cinder, famine and fallout; nuclear war between the two most-powerful nations on Earth.

In Nuclear Folly, award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy tells the riveting story of those weeks, tracing the tortuous decision-making and calculated brinkmanship of John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, and of their advisors and commanders on the ground. More often than not, Plokhy argues, the Americans and Soviets simply misread each other, operating under mutual distrust, second-guesses and false information. Despite all of this, nuclear disaster was avoided thanks to one very human reason: fear.

Drawing on the impressive array of primary sources, including the recently declassified KGB files, Plokhy masterfully illustrates the drama of those tense days. Authoritative, fast-paced and unforgettable, this is the definitive new account of the Cold War's most perilous moment.

  • Published: 1 June 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241454732
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 464
  • RRP: $49.99

About the author

Serhii Plokhy

Serhii Plokhy is Professor of History at Harvard University and a leading authority on the Cold War and nuclear history. His books include the Baillie Gifford award-winner Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy, Nuclear Folly, The Gates of Europe and The Last Empire.

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Praise for Nuclear Folly

Nearly sixty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Serhi Plokhy, the author of multiple groundbreaking books on Soviet history, once again uses newly released KGB archives to offer a new perspective. In gripping, granular detail, he shows us just how close the U.S. and the Soviet Union came to Armageddon

Anne Applebaum, author of Twilight of Democracy

If you think the story of the Cuban missile crisis has been told so often that nothing remains to be learned, think again. Drawing on KGB documents preserved in Ukrainian archives and Soviet military memoirs, as well as American documents and Cuban materials, Serhii Plokhy's almost hour-by-hour account freshly illuminates mistakes by the Kremlin and the White House that triggered the crisis, and snafus at sea and in Cuba that almost sparked a nuclear war

William Taubman, author of Gorbachev

An excellent overview of the Cuban missile crisis from one of America's leading Cold War historians. Serhii Plokhy has mined previously untapped Soviet archives to shed new light on the thirteen days that brought the world closer than ever before to nuclear destruction, and the pivotal roles of John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. A thrilling read that justifies his sobering conclusion: we may not be so lucky next time

Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight

A fresh examination of the historical milestone. . . . Plokhy keeps the pages turning, and he includes far more Soviet material than earlier scholars. . . . superbly researched and uncomfortably timely


Paints a clearer picture of the behind-the-scenes machinations, the motivations, the politics, and the errors in judgment that almost brought about a nuclear holocaust. Plokhy pulls it all together with sober yet accessible prose that reads like a suspenseful thriller. For anyone interested in the Cold War, this is an indispensable read


This important, absorbing work shows that the full story of the Cuban Missile Crisis must be told from its global perspective

Library Journal

Plokhy dives deep. . . . History buffs will savor this balanced and richly detailed look at both sides of the crisis

Publishers Weekly

The story is extraordinary and Plokhy is an accomplished narrator . . . it's as authoritative a version of the Soviet side as we are likely to ever get

Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

An enthralling account of a pivotal moment in modern history. . . replete with startling revelations about the deception and mutual suspicion that brought the US and Soviet Union to the brink of Armageddon in October 1962

Martin Chilton, Independent

A dramatic story, compellingly told

BBC History Revealed

A definitive new account of the Cuban Missile Crisis . . . masterly

The Economist

With access to recently declassified KGB material, this is the most detailed and dependable account of the crisis. It will be gladly plundered by students and scholars and highlighted until its pages are damp with neon yellow

Julie McDowell, The Times

An immense scholarly achievement, engrossing and terrifying, surely one of the most important books ever written about the Cuban Missile Crisis and 20th-century international relations

Wall Street Journal

A beautifully written account of a crisis that made the world hold its breath, Plokhy thrillingly pieces together events that have stayed out of sight for too long. With access to a treasure trove of KGB documents, his book reads like an hour-by-hour drama, history in the moment, brought vividly to life

Daily Mail

A gripping narrative about the most dangerous Cold War crisis . . . Plokhy brings this turning point to spine-chilling life - it reads like a thriller


A magisterial work based on a bevy of U.S. and Soviet archival sources, including previously classified KGB documents. The perspective Plokhy provides exposes the perverse incentives that fueled dangerous nuclear power plays during the Cold War and, he suggests, beyond

Andre Pagliarini, New Republic

Arguably the most authoritative and cleverly written work on the subject yet produced

Financial Times

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