The story is extraordinary, and Plokhy is an accomplished narrator ... Plokhy, like most American historians of the crisis, does not discuss an issue that loomed large in the minds of America’s allies: whether Soviet missiles in Cuba, further from Washington than were US missiles in Turkey from Moscow, constituted a just cause for a showdown ... This account is probably as authoritative a version of the Soviet side as we are likely to get.
There have been scores of books, some of them very good, about the Cuban missile crisis and several documentary movies of varying quality. But Nuclear Folly is arguably the most authoritative and cleverly written work on the subject yet produced ... Nuclear Folly is excellent on the main actors in the drama ... For the past half century many hawkish cold war historians have argued that the Cuban crisis was not so serious as neither side wanted war and that in any case it seemed to justify the 'MAD' — mutually assured destruction — theory that kept humanity going. Plokhy, who is also the author of a brilliant history of Chernobyl, vehemently disagrees. In 1962, he writes, there were two powers who didn’t want war but very nearly had one before they looked for a way to avoid it. Now there are several powers who might see a way of winning a war — or prefer losing a war than losing face.
Besides enjoying a galloping great read steeped in historiographical rigor and distilling nearly 60 years’ worth of memoirs, official and unofficial analysis, and declassified documents, readers of a certain age opening Serhii Plokhy’s exacting and propulsive Nuclear Folly may experience a weird tangle of recollection interspersing flashes of national unity rooted in existential dread and nostalgia for literate presidents ... [Plokhy] renders an oft-told tale in freshly revelatory, nail-biting terms as he recounts the 1962 exercise in international brinksmanship over emplacement by the USSR of tactical nuclear weapons around Cuba that laid a great swathe of the United States vulnerable to attack by missile and aircraft ... a balanced, nuanced, and insightful consideration of one of recent history’s scariest passages.