“An important and engrossing work.”
–A LIBRARY JOURNAL Starred Review
Among The MIAMI HERALD’s
Favorite Books of the Year
“A vivid and fleet-footed
account of the fiasco.”
“A balanced, engrossing account of the
U.S.-backed invasion of Fidel Castro’s
Cuba ... Graceful, dramatic writing
makes this well-worn story new again.”
KIRKUS Starred Review, named
one of the Best Nonfiction
Books of 2011
“In his new book, Jim Rasenberger suggests that the debacle marked the
start of the Vietnam era, when
Americans began to question
whether the country was run by competent men engaged in
One of NPR's "Outstanding
THE BRILLIANT DISASTER
JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs
Scribner, April 10, 2012
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.
“From Castro’s journey to New York, where he was greeted by thousands of cheering Americans, to an examination of the CIA’s role in the invasion, the book is filled with copiously researched historical information. Yet, thanks to Rasenberger’s skillful writing, The Brilliant Disaster reads more like a thriller than a history book, making it accessible to any reader with even the faintest interest in the topic.” –The Daily Beast
“Jim Rasenberger’s new book lets the facts speak for themselves….Its context is richly detailed, its tempo novelistic. Forthright and accessible, it delineates a convoluted chain of events leading to humiliation and tragedy.” –The Miami Herald
“An enthralling and illuminating history of the bloody mess that unfolded on the beaches of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs…..In addition to providing a thoroughly detailed account of events, Rasenberger raises larger issues, such as the hubris that has characterized an increasingly militarized U.S. foreign policy during the span of years from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the war in Iraq. He makes a very plausible connection between the Bay of Pigs and the accelerated U.S. involvement in Vietnam, as Kennedy was determined to ‘draw a line in the sand’ that he would not allow communists to cross.” –The Dallas Morning News
“Rasenberger has crafted a masterpiece, well written, fast moving, and easy to read.” –InCity Times
“This is great history, the anecdotal type chock full of details about larger-than-life historical figures brought down to human size.” –The Buffalo News
“Rasenberger provides an outstanding chronological day-by-day, nearly minute-by-minute, account of the operation…. Written with clarity and ease, The Brilliant Disaster is certainly not the first book about one of the most complicated events in Cold War history, but Rasenberger breaks it down so well that his book provides one of the most complete looks at the failed operation and its effect on the course of modern American history.” –Idaho Statesman
“What I love about Jim Rasenberger’s richly detailed, startlingly revisionist account of the Bay of Pigs invasion is his sheer storytelling ability, the wonderful, steady march of plot and counterplot, of heroes and foils. His tale is chock full of larger-than-life character—from JFK to Castro, mafia bossses, and the steely-eyed, hypersmart men of the New Frontier. The Brilliant Disaster is what history ought to be: sharply drawn and with a constant eye on the big picture.” –S. C. Gwynne, author of EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON
“If you like Mad Men, spy novels, and brilliant writing, you’ll love The Brilliant Disaster. If you’re new to any of these, consider Jim Rasenberger your guide to one of the most fascinating and dramatic episodes of America, post-Korea, pre Vietnam and the Cold War. He has written an amazing account that speeds along, one dramatic cloak and dagger scene after another, all judiciously reported. The people in his book come to life, vividly-you hear them, see them, and understand them, although you may not agree with them. This is highly entertaining and engrossing history.” –Doug Stanton, author of HORSE SOLDIERS