Review of “The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963.”

The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960–1963

The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960–1963 by Michael R. Beschloss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of our top presidential historians takes on the relationship that defined a critical part of the Cold War. His access to recently opened files on both sides and many personal interviews, he presents a detailed account (almost too detailed at points). My most significant criticism is that by making it reader-friendly, he omitted the footnotes that would help scholars use this as a reference (a point made in another review).

Many of the insights are related to how politics has changed in the last fifty years.
1. The Kennedy Administration was defined by how lacking in diversity it had. Even for the period, most of the members came from a small group of insiders that were related or went to the same schools. Beschloss talks about how the ‘gangster mode’ was a favored way of connecting and communicating. This would make sense since it was a ‘gang’ of sorts. Diversity was defined by having someone without an Ivy League education.
2. This insider and elite approach meant that there were several Republicans in high-level positions in his administration. Given the ideological separation of modern parties, I cannot imagine this level of bipartisanship.
3. Seeing the criticism of Trump’s personal diplomacy with Kim of NK and Putin of Russia, I cannot believe this personal relationship existing today. Media and opposing politicians would have a field day with the letters and meetings that were the basis of this relationship.
4. This degree of connection was present at all levels within his administration. Beschloss often talks about how key officials had regular social meetings with their counterparts. Behavior like that today would result in a criminal conviction or at least being fired.
5. The cooperation of the media with the White House is evidence of the pre-Watergate press. In addition to ignoring Kennedy’s relationships with numerous women, they willingly held back news about the makings of a crisis. Instead of the adversarial position they now hold, journalists were willing to act as intermediaries.

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