Berlin 1961

Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Frederick Kempe - Author

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ISBN 9781101515020 | 608 pages | 10 May 2011 | Berkley | 18 - AND UP
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A fresh, controversial, brilliantly written account of one of the epic dramas of the Cold War-and its lessons for today.

"History at its best." -Zbigniew Brzezinski

"Gripping, well researched, and thought-provoking, with many lessons for today." -Henry Kissinger

"Captures the drama [with] the 'You are there' storytelling skills of a journalist and the analytical skills of the political scientist." - General Brent Scowcroft

In June 1961, Nikita Khrushchev called it "the most dangerous place on earth." He knew what he was talking about.

Much has been written about the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, but the Berlin Crisis of 1961 was more decisive in shaping the Cold War-and more perilous. For the first time in history, American and Soviet fighting men and tanks stood arrayed against each other, only yards apart. One mistake, one overzealous commander-and the trip wire would be sprung for a war that would go nuclear in a heartbeat. On one side was a young, untested U.S. president still reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster. On the other, a Soviet premier hemmed in by the Chinese, the East Germans, and hard-liners in his own government. Neither really understood the other, both tried cynically to manipulate events. And so, week by week, the dangers grew.

Based on a wealth of new documents and interviews, filled with fresh- sometimes startling-insights, written with immediacy and drama, Berlin 1961 is a masterly look at key events of the twentieth century, with powerful applications to these early years of the twenty- first.

Foreword by GeneralBrent Scowcroft

Introduction: The World's Most Dangerous Place

Berlin 1961 Map


1. Khrushchev: Communist in a Hurry

Marta Hiller's Story of Rape

2. Khrushchev: The Berlin Crisis Unfolds

3. Kennedy: A President's Education

The "Sniper" Comes In from the Cold

4. Kennedy: A First Mistake

5. Ulbricht and Adenauer: Unruly Alliances

The Failed Flight of Friedrich Brandt

6. Ulbricht and Adenauer: The Tail Wags the Bear


7. Springtime for Khrushchev

8. Amateur Hour

Jörn Donner Discovers the City

9. Perilous Diplomacy

10. Vienna: Little Boy Blue Meets Al Capone

11. Vienna: The Threat of War

12. Angry Summer

Marlene Schmidt, the Universe's Most Beautiful Refugee


13. "The Great Testing Place"

Ulbricht and Kurt Wismach Lock Horns

14. The Wall: Setting the Trap

15. The Wall Desperate Days

Eberhard Bolle Lands in Prison

16. A Hero's Homecoming

17. Nuclear Poker

18. Showdown at Checkpoint Charlie

Epilogue: Aftershocks





"Berlin 1961 is a gripping, well-researched, and thought- provoking book with many lessons for today." — Dr. Henry Kissinger

"Good journalistic history in the tradition of William L. Shirer and Barbara Tuchman." — Kirkus Reviews

"Frederick Kempe's compelling narrative, astute analysis, and meticulous research bring fresh insight into a crucial and perilous episode of the Cold War." — Strobe Talbott, President, Brookings Institution

"History at its best. Kempe's book masterfully dissects the Cold War's strategically most significant East-West confrontation, and in the process significantly enlightens our understanding of the complexity of the Cold War itself." — Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter

"Berlin 1961 takes us to Ground Zero of the Cold War. Reading these pages, you feel as if you are standing at Checkpoint Charlie, amid the brutal tension of a divided Berlin." — David Ignatius, Columnist, The Washington Post

"Informed...His chronology of memos and meetings dramatizes events behind closed doors...Kempe's history reflects balanced discernment about the creation of the Berlin Wall." — Booklist

"Kempe...skillfully weaves oral histories and newly declassified documents into a sweeping, exhaustive narrative...Likely the best, most richly detailed account of the subject, this will engross serious readers of Cold War history who enjoyed W.R. Smyser's Kennedy and the Berlin Wall but appreciate further detail." — Library Journal

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