The veteran television producer Taylor Downing is best known for his work on Jeremy Isaacs’s 1998 CNN series about the Cold War. His new book revisits what Ronald Reagan called the ‘really scary’ events of late 1983, when the two superpowers came closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis two decades before. Downing uses some of the interview material left over from a documentary he made in 2007 on this later crisis, combining this with published memoirs, a sprinkling of academic secondary literature, and documents from US government agencies found by assiduous scholars at the National Security Archive in Washington.
After lengthy scene-setting, Downing gets to the matter in hand. In January 1981, Ronald Reagan became the fortieth US president on a ‘make America great again’ ticket that included a commitment to massively increasing US armaments and fiery rhetoric about opposing the Soviet Union. That May, on orders from