When Angels Wept: A What-If History of the Cuban Missile Crisis Hardcover – Aug 1 2010
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About the Author
. He lives near Ogden, Utah.
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The first third of the book covers events as occurred in our history, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the backgrounds of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and the development of atomic weapons and delivery vehicles before the imagined war. The middle third deals with the war, and this section moves quickly; you get caught up in the flow of events and are kept guessing about what comes next, even if you know a big war is on the horizon. The last third deals with the aftermath of the war and includes fairly extensive notes.
If you're not wholly familiar with the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the book does a good job of filling you in on any information you might need to understand the story. The problem is that such a reader isn't likely to pick up this book, in my opinion. It should have been written to appeal to a reader already familiar with the situation and interested in the /alternate/ portion of this alternate history, rather than the /history/ portion of it.
In my case, I came into this book extremely familiar with the history of the Crisis and having even done some alternate history writing on the topic. This book wasn't intended for me. Though the first third contained some nuggets of information new to me, it distracted from the middle third, which was the interesting part. This middle third moves /too/ quickly; instead of talking about the conduct of the war and including more personal narratives (some of the best portions of the story), Swedin explains things at a general level. It doesn't even work from the standpoint of the alternate universe Swedin imagines; If anything, a person living in that universe would be even more familiar with the events that led to the most destructive war in history, and there would be even less call for the extensive background given before the story diverges into the alternate portion of this history. This lack of depth isn't because he lacked the information -- the sources are good ones -- but seems to be a matter of space available between the covers. Again, focusing more on events after the point of departure from our history would have relieved this problem.
The story also leans too much on its sources. Though Swedin picked some very good ones and does a good job citing them (I would have preferred more in-line citations rather than collating them at the end of sections), he seems to draw too heavily on things that occurred in our history for his ahistorical sections. The handful of survivors' stories mentioned are almost identical to those given by survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is little unique flavor, as was given in Brendan DuBois' excellent telling of a Cuban Missile War, Resurrection Day.
This seeming hesitancy to veer too far from the known and into his creative side prevents the story from flourishing. The postwar sections, which could have been much more colorful, instead draw on clinical depictions of radiation sickness and the aftermath of atomic quarantines like that surrounding Chernobyl.
That isn't to say Swedin doesn't have great ideas of his own -- the fact that he casts an alternate version of himself as the author of this history is a good idea, but woefully underutilized. I would have loved to have read more first-person accounts from this alternate author and his exploration of the former Soviet Union, which is sadly glossed over.
I recommend this book if you're a fan of alternate history or if you're familiar with the Cuban Missile Crisis at less than an academic level. Readers more familiar with the history of the crisis are advised to skip the first third and begin directly with the alternate history portions of the story. That's the whole reason I purchased an /alternate/ history, not one written in earnest, and if you can overlook that flaw, you'll enjoy it as I have.
When the author came to the fictional part of the book describing a possible scenario leading to a general nuclear exchange, it was obvious that he knew his stuff. His command of the facts was obvious and his tale riviting.
I only wish that he would have spent more time describing the exchange from the point of view of the participants.
I feel comfortable suggesting this book to any student of history.
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