Thirteen Days Book Summary - Thirteen Days Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

Thirteen Days summary

Robert F. Kennedy

A Memoir Of The Cuban Missile Crisis

3.4 (96 ratings)
8 mins

Brief summary

Thirteen Days by Robert F. Kennedy is a gripping account of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Kennedy provides an insider's perspective and offers valuable lessons on leadership and diplomacy in times of crisis.

Table of Contents

    Thirteen Days
    Summary of 2 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 2

    The first whispers of war: Discovering missiles on America's doorstep

    On October 16, 1962, a seemingly ordinary Tuesday, the world unwittingly found itself on the brink of what could have become its most devastating conflict. An American U-2 spy plane, soaring high above the Caribbean, made a chilling discovery: Soviet missiles placed in Cuba. As the clock neared noon, the CIA, recognizing the magnitude of this discovery, urgently gathered the nation's top officials. They were presented with photographs depicting the unmistakable silhouettes of missile sites near San Cristobal. To the untrained eye, the images may have been obscured, but to those in that room, the grim reality was undeniable.

    What made this revelation so jarring was its stark contrast to earlier communications from the Soviets. Only a month prior, the Soviet ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, had given his word to RFK, assuring him of the USSR's intentions to keep Cuba free of offensive missiles. This was bolstered by a public declaration on September 11 in which the Soviets categorically denied plans to arm Cuba with nuclear weapons. Even Chairman Khrushchev, in a bid to dispel concerns, personally communicated with JFK, reiterating this commitment. However, faith in these assurances was eroding. US intelligence had previously, and confidently, asserted on four distinct occasions in 1962 that the USSR had no designs on Cuba as a nuclear outpost. Yet the unsettling imagery from the U-2 flight defied these assessments. It seems the Soviets had been keeping some secrets.

    To navigate this treacherous geopolitical terrain, the ExComm group was convened. This elite assembly, featuring political luminaries like RFK, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, became JFK's advisory council, his think tank in this crisis. The mood was tense; the stakes, immeasurable. While some voices clamored for a robust military response, possibly an airstrike, the spectrum of opinions was vast, and the deliberations intense.

    Amid this whirlwind of events, RFK couldn't help but draw parallels to a previous act of subterfuge: Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The similarities in the clandestine nature of preparations were uncanny. However, as the gravity of the situation began to sink in, the pressing reality became clear. With Soviet missiles looming ominously close, President Kennedy faced a choice that would indelibly mark his legacy. The world, with its collective heart in its throat, watched and waited.

    Want to see all full key ideas from Thirteen Days?

    Key ideas in Thirteen Days

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is Thirteen Days about?

    Thirteen Days (1969) offers an inside look into the Cuban Missile Crisis, revealing the intense deliberations and decision-making processes of the U.S. government at the time. It chronicles the 13-day standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Through its pages, readers gain insight into the high-stakes diplomacy and behind-the-scenes actions that took place during this critical period.

    Thirteen Days Review

    Thirteen Days (1969) by Robert F. Kennedy recounts the nerve-wracking two weeks during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Here are three reasons why this book is worth reading:

    • With behind-the-scenes access to the decision-making process, it offers a unique perspective on one of the most critical moments in history.
    • By delving into the intense negotiations, secret meetings, and high-stakes diplomacy, the book brings the crisis to life, keeping readers on the edge of their seats.
    • Its detailed accounts of the actions and strategies employed by Kennedy's team make the book a riveting exploration of leadership and crisis management.

    Who should read Thirteen Days?

    • History buffs eager to delve deeper into the Cuban Missile Crisis
    • Political enthusiasts curious about U.S. decision-making during crises
    • Those intrigued by pivotal moments in twentieth-century history

    About the Author

    Robert F. Kennedy was a prominent American politician and a key figure in the Kennedy political dynasty. Serving as the U.S. attorney general under his brother, President John F. Kennedy, he played a significant role in the civil rights movement and later became a U.S. senator from New York. While Thirteen Days is his best-known book, he also authored To Seek a Newer World, in which he reflects on his personal and political beliefs.

    Categories with Thirteen Days

    Book summaries like Thirteen Days

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked these summaries

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    31 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    Thirteen Days FAQs 

    What is the main message of Thirteen Days?

    The main message of Thirteen Days is the importance of cool-headed decision making during a crisis.

    How long does it take to read Thirteen Days?

    The reading time for Thirteen Days varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Thirteen Days a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Thirteen Days is worth reading as it provides a captivating account of the Cuban Missile Crisis and offers valuable insights into leadership and crisis management.

    Who is the author of Thirteen Days?

    The author of Thirteen Days is Robert F. Kennedy.

    What to read after Thirteen Days?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Thirteen Days, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
    • Optimal Illusions by Coco Krumme
    • Sully by Chesley B. Sullenberger III & Jeffrey Zaslow
    • An Ordinary Man by Richard Norton Smith
    • Israel by Daniel Gordis
    • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    • Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
    • Million Dollar Weekend by Noah Kagan
    • Killing the Witches by Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard
    • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith