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Berlin 1961

As time passes and the political geography of world power mutates, it is easy to forget the most fraught and dangerous crisis of the Cold War, which brought U.S. and Soviet tanks facing each other at close range. Berlin 1961 is a gripping, well researched and thought-provoking book with many lessons for today.”



Berlin 1961

Kennedy, Khrushchev,

and the most dangerous place on Earth



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 one another, only yards apart. One mistake, one nervous soldier, one overzealous commander – and the tripwire would be sprung for a war that could go nuclear in a heartbeat.
On one side was a young, untested U.S. president still reeling from the Bay of Pigs disaster and a humiliating summit meeting which left him grasping for ways to respond. On the other, a Soviet premier hemmed in by the Chinese, East Germans, and hardliners in his own government. With an all-important Party Congress approaching, he knew Berlin meant the difference not only for the Kremlin’s hold on its empire – but for his own hold on the Kremlin.
Neither man really understood the other, both tried cynically to manipulate events. And so, week by week, they crept closer to the brink.
Based on a wealth of new documents and interviews, filled with fresh – sometimes startling – insights, written with immediacy and drama, BERLIN 1961 is an extraordinary look at key events of the twentieth century – with powerful applications to these early years of the twenty-first.


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.”



National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter


Fred Kempe has masterfully captured the dramatic dimensions of a great story that shaped the world order for twenty-eight years. BERLIN 1961 is an important achievement, with an application for today’s dangerous global uncertainties and dilemmas.”



Distinguished Professor, Georgetown University

U.S. Senator, 1997-2009


What an amazing drama this is! The showdown over Berlin in 1961 was the pivotal episode of the Cold War, far more important and illuminating than the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was a clash between two fascinating leaders, Kennedy and Khrushchev, whose misreading of each other holds lessons for today. Kempe’s compelling narrative is a triumph of great writing and research.”



President and CEO, The Aspen Institute


An engaging, richly researched, thought-provoking book that captures the drama, and challenges the conventional wisdom, regarding one of the Cold War’s most decisive years. Frederick Kempe combines the ‘you are there’ storytelling skills of a journalist, the analytical skills of the political scientist, and the historian’s use of declassified U.S., Soviet, and German documents to provide unique insight into the forces and individuals behind…these events.”



National Security Advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush


Frederick Kempe’s compelling narrative, astute analysis, and meticulous research bring fresh insight into a crucial and perilous episode of the Cold War, bringing Kennedy and Khrushchev to life as they square off at the brink of nuclear war. Kempe’s masterly telling of a scary and cautionary tale from half a century ago has the immediacy of today’s headlines.”



President, Brookings Institution






A breathtaking Deluxe eBook featuring forty-one videos from the NBC archive—including rare footage not seen in thirty years—a video introduction by Tom Brokaw and a detailed timeline of events in this brilliant account of one of the epic dramas of the Cold War.


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