Told in short, strikingly pithy chapters, each dedicated to one globally significant event, 1956: The World in Revolt features an A-list cast of historical characters and plenty of action. There is no doubt, as Simon Hall asserts, that it was an eventful year. In Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company, giving Britain and France the cue that would result in the Suez Crisis and a decisive, humiliating defeat for the old European empires. Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Che Guevara led a tiny band of rebels who set sail from Mexico for Cuba to start what was then a nationalist – not communist – revolution against an American-backed dictator. Nelson Mandela was among those arrested and imprisoned in the South African government’s crackdown on those fighting against apartheid.
Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, denounced Stalin in a ‘secret speech’ that was so shocking to his Communist Party audience that ‘some people became unwell and had to be helped out of the auditorium’. Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, wondered if Khrushchev ‘might have delivered his remarks