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Review: "Talk at the Brink: Deliberation and Decision During the Cuban Missile Crisis"

Updated on August 23, 2017
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson is a graduate student who specializes in the field of Russian and Ukrainian history.

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Synopsis

Throughout David Gibson’s work, Talk at the Brink: Deliberation and Decision During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the author provides a detailed analysis of the deliberations and decisions that underscored the Cuban Missile Crisis. Gibson argues that the decision-making process (from the American side) was often plagued with indecisiveness, irrationality, and uncertainty. Consequently, Gibson’s work offers a direct challenge to traditional historiographical interpretations that stress the unwavering resolve of Kennedy and the American military during the crisis, and demonstrates that American leaders often ignored (or disregarded) the best diplomatic options available to them since their decisions and choices were often shaped by external factors.

Gibson's Main Points

Through an unprecedented sociological analysis of Kennedy’s secret meetings, Gibson argues that the President was too often distracted and influenced by his advisers who used fear-tactics and exaggerated claims in an attempt to sway Kennedy’s actions against the Soviet Union. Although Kennedy ultimately won-out in the debates with his senior staff, Gibson argues that the Cuban Missile Crisis could have been ended far sooner if American leaders had entered more direct negotiations with Khrushchev; working with the Soviets rather than deliberating on potential military solutions to problems that required a political and diplomatic answer.

Conclusion

Gibson’s work incorporates numerous primary source materials that include: audio recordings from the ExComm meetings (sources that were previously unavailable to scholars), political memoirs from Robert McNamara, diplomatic reports and transcripts, as well as the minutiae of Presidential meetings between Kennedy and his advisors. The end result is a work that is both well-researched and scholarly with its overall content. One clear strength of this work lies in the sociological extrapolations that the author makes in regard to the ExComm meetings, and the manner in which Gibson is able to demonstrate the clear level of influence that political figures had over Presidential decisions (particularly during this era of American history). However, Gibson’s focus often remains far too narrow throughout this work, as he provides an uneven analysis of the deliberations and decision-making process of Kennedy and his staff (focusing only on particular decisions that were made, while ignoring other issues that confronted the President and his advisors). This, in turn, limits the persuasiveness of his overall argument to a certain degree.

Overall, I give this work 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a sociological perspective of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This account is important for both amateur and professional historians to consider as it illustrates the high-level of tension and fear that permeated the Cold War in the early 1960s, as well as the political ambitions of both civilian and military leaders that nearly resulted in World War Three. Definitely check it out if you get a chance! You won’t be disappointed.

Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion:

1.) What was Gibson's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the author makes in this work? Is his argument persuasive? Why or why not?

2.) What type of primary source material does Gibson rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder his overall argument?

3.) Does Gibson organize his work in a logical and convincing manner?

4.) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the author have improved the contents of this work?

5.) Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?

6.) What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?

7.) What sort of scholarship is the author building on (or challenging) with this work?

8.) Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the author?

Do you believe that President Kennedy was heavily influenced by his advisers during the Cuban Missile Crisis?

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Works Cited:

Gibson, David. Talk at the Brink: Deliberation and Decision During the Cuban Missile Crisis. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.

© 2017 Larry Slawson

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