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, but it is not an enthralling read. It often feels airless, herding the reader into a labyrinth of meeting rooms with hardly a peep at the outside world. So we dodged a nuclear holocaust due to simple luck. We are not as clever as we think we are.
This account is probably as authoritative a version of the Soviet side as we are likely to get. I share the author’s view, that the danger of a general war started by an accident was appalling. So many subordinates, especially on the Russian side, had access to nuclear triggers. Neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev had as much control of events as they wished to suppose. Moreover, a glance at the roll call of subsequent US commanders-in-chief suggests that by no means all, facing such a crisis, would have displayed a restraint to match JFK’s. The world has survived the presidency of Donald Trump, for instance; but it seems rash to feel confident that it can do so twice.