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Defining Moments

The Cuban Missile Crisis

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Defining Moments: The Cuban Missile Crisis provides a detailed account of events surrounding the harrowing 1962 confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. It chronicles the Cold War rivalry between the two nations that bloomed into a nuclear arms race, the emergence of Cuba as a player in both nations’ Cold War strategies, and the series of high-stakes diplomatic exchanges and military confrontations that took place over thirteen days in October 1962 and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. It concludes by examining the legacy of the crisis on international relations and the continued threat of nuclear conflict today. The volume is organized into three distinct sections—Narrative Overview, Biographies, and Primary Sources—which offer a one-stop resource for student research.

  • The Narrative Overview section provides a detailed, factual account of the events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the issues that arose during the confrontation, and its legacy in American society
  • The Biographies section presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • The Primary Sources section collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era, including official documents, first-hand accounts, memoirs, editorials, and other important works

Other notable features include a glossary of important people, places, and terms; a detailed chronology featuring page references to relevant sections of the narrative; an annotated listing of selected sources for further study; an extensive general bibliography; and a subject index.

Standard Features

  • Library binding, 7 1/4 x 9 1/4
  • 240 pages
  • 30-40 photographs and other illustrations
  • Narrative Overview section: Provides a detailed, factual account of the “defining moment”
  • Biographies section: Presents valuable biographical background on leading figures associated with the event
  • Primary Sources section: Collects a wide variety of pertinent primary source materials from the era
  • Research Topics: Proposes a list of topics suitable for conducting historical research and writing reports, a valuable starting point for student research
  • Source Attribution: Contains references for primary sources and other quoted material that guide users to other historical research resources
  • Glossary of Important People, Places, and Terms: Gives brief definitions for the many terms used in the book
  • Chronology: Highlights the related events in chronological order, along with “see” references that direct the reader to pages in the narrative with additional information
  • Sources for Further Study: Provides annotated citations for selected sources that are most useful to students
  • Bibliography: Lists books, periodicals, web sites, and videos consulted in preparing the volume
  • Subject Index: Includes people, places, organizations, events, and other topics

Research Topics

Each volume in the Defining Moments series covers a wide range of topics that students can use as starting points for further research.Potential research topics for Defining Moments: The Cuban Missile Crisis are below:

  • The United States and the Soviet Union fought together as Allies in World War II. Immediately afterward, however, the two nations plunged into the rivalry of the Cold War. How did the superpowers’ relationship change so quickly? Make a list of the main sources of tension between them.
  • Throughout the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a standoff over the divided city of Berlin, Germany. Compare the Berlin crisis to the Cuban Missile Crisis. How were they similar, and how were they different? How did the two situations on opposite sides of the world impact one another?
  • Imagine you are a high-ranking government official in the Soviet Union in early 1962. Nikita Khrushchev invites you into his office to help him decide whether to send nuclear missiles to Cuba, and if so, whether to transfer the weapons openly or secretly. Discuss the pros and cons of various scenarios and then present your advice to Khrushchev.
  • The Kennedy administration’s performance during the Cuban Missile Crisis is often mentioned as a model of decision-making under pressure. Describe the role of ExComm in helping President John F. Kennedy evaluate his options and choose a course of action. Do you think President Kennedy made the best possible decision? Would he have reached the same decision without ExComm?
  • Choose one of the thirteen days in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Research the events that occurred on that day and the actions that were taken by the leaders of the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba. Imagine if one of the main actors had chosen a dramatically different action instead. Explain how this change would have affected the outcome of the crisis.
  • Discuss the important role of communication in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Describe another situation—either from world politics or from your own experience—when communication made the difference between resolving a conflict and escalating it to dangerous levels.
  • Examine the legacy of the Cuban Missile Crisis on U.S. foreign policy. What lessons did the country learn, and how have later presidents applied these lessons to the crises they faced?
  • Some people believe that the best way to avoid nuclear war is to eliminate all nuclear weapons from the world. Other people believe that nuclear weapons act as a stabilizing force in world politics. Explain which position you support and why.
  • Looking at U.S.-Russian relations today, do you think the fall of communism and collapse of the Soviet Union marked the end of the Cold War, or merely paused the rivalry for a few years? .
  • Research President Barack Obama’s reasons for restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, as well as the reasons critics object to this dramatic change in U.S. policy. Discuss whether it makes more sense for world.


“Editors’ Top 75 Community College Resources”

—CHOICE, May ‘16

“Anyone unfamiliar with the Cuban Missile Crisis will benefit from this concise review of the facts and circumstances surrounding the event and the people involved. … The work is a valuable, relatively affordable resource for beginning researchers to study the crisis and its role in the Cold War. Summing Up: Recommended. Undergraduates and community college students; general readers.”

—CHOICE, May ‘16

“This well-written and engaging work takes an in-depth look at the two-week period during October 1962, when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war. … One of the outstanding features of this volume is the balanced, objective, and authoritative style of writing. …Produced with students in mind, this title would be especially appropriate for high school and academic libraries, although public libraries with strong American history collections may also wish to acquire this volume.”

—American Reference Books Annual, 2016

“Continue[s] the mission of delving into events in American history. The Cuban Missile Crisis is an especially timely addition, given the current changing diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the US. Each volume contains a list of research topic suggestions, a narrative overview, biographies of major figures, and primary documents. … One of the great strengths of the books is the attention they give to details. … A great resource for teachers and students alike.”

—VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates, June ‘16