The Brilliant Disaster by Jim Rasenberger
JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs

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The U.S.-backed military invasion of Cuba in 1961 remains one of the most ill-fated blunders in American history, with echoes of the event reverberating even today. Despite the Kennedy administration’s initial public insistence that the United States had nothing to do with the invasion, it soon became clear that the complex operation had been planned and approved by the best and brightest minds at the highest reaches of Washington, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President John F. Kennedy himself.

The Cuban-born invaders were trained by CIA officers, supplied with American matériel, and shadowed by the U.S. Navy. Landing by sea with fighter-plane support, they hoped to establish a military beachhead and spark a counterrevolution against Fidel Castro’s regime. The gambit was a stupendous failure, resulting in the death or imprisonment of more than a thousand men. In its wake, the United States appeared inept, reckless, and corrupt.

Now, journalist Jim Rasenberger takes a closer look at this darkly fascinating incident in American history. At the heart of the crisis stood President Kennedy, and Rasenberger traces what Kennedy knew, thought, and said as events unfolded. He examines whether Kennedy was manipulated by the CIA into approving a plan that would ultimately involve the American military. He also draws compelling portraits of the other figures who played key roles in the drama: Castro, who shortly after achieving power visited New York City and was cheered by thousands (just months before the United States began plotting his demise); Dwight Eisenhower, who originally ordered the secret program, then later disavowed it; Allen Dulles, the CIA director who may have told Kennedy about the plan before he was elected president (or so Richard Nixon suspected); and Richard Bissell, the famously brilliant “deus ex machina” who ran the operation for the CIA—and took the blame when it failed. Beyond the short-term fallout, Rasenberger demonstrates, the Bay of Pigs gave rise to further and greater woes, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and even, possibly, the assassination of John Kennedy.

Written with elegant clarity and narrative verve, The Brilliant Disaster is the most complete account of this event to date, providing not only a fast-paced chronicle of the disaster but an analysis of how it occurred—a question as relevant today as then—and how it profoundly altered the course of modern American history.

About Jim Rasenberger

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Jim Rasenberger is a frequent contributor to the "New York Times." He lives in New York City with his wife and twin sons. "High Steel" is his first book.
Published April 5, 2011 by Scribner. 480 pages
Genres: History, War. Non-fiction

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Kennedy, already on record as a foe of the Castro regime, took up the Cuban invasion plan upon election as president, but remained conflicted about it until the last minute, when he canceled planned air strikes for fear of revealing America’s clandestine role.

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Publishers Weekly

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As John F. Kennedy greeted guests at a White House reception for members of Congress, 1,400 Cuban ex-ile-fighters waited in vain for a round of American air strikes to help launch an invasion to toppl

Jul 04 2011 | Read Full Review of The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, ...

Publishers Weekly

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The CIA operatives and JFK come in for equal measures of blame: the CIA for failing to strongly oppose JFK's refusal to give the go-ahead for the air strikes that the agency believed were integral to giving the fighters any hope of success on the ground, and Kennedy for failing to stop the operat...

Jul 04 2011 | Read Full Review of The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, ...

Dallas News

The U.S.-sponsored invasion of Cuba that was launched April 17, 1961 was “harebrained and hapless,” according to Jim Rasenberger, who has written an enthralling and illuminating history of the bloody mess that unfolded on the beaches of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs.

Apr 15 2011 | Read Full Review of The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, ...

Bookmarks Magazine

By jonSun, 04/10/2011 - 20:33.

Apr 10 2011 | Read Full Review of The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, ...


At the same time, approving the use of military force to bail it out would have exposed him and the country to unacceptable diplomatic risks, and possibly worse.” This review appears in the June 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

Jun 13 2011 | Read Full Review of The Brilliant Disaster: JFK, ...

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