The best books about the Cuban Missile Crisis and aerial reconnaissance over Cuba

Francis Gary Powers Jr.
By Francis Gary Powers Jr.

Who am I?

Both my parents worked for the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s. On May 1, 1960 my father was shot down over the Soviet Union while on a CIA U-2 spy flight and spent nearly 2 years in a Soviet prison before being exchanged for Soviet KGB Spy Colonel Rudolph Abel in 1962 as recently depicted in Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller, Bridge of Spies. As a result of growing up in this family I have always been interested in espionage and the Cold War. In 1996, I founded The Cold War Museum to honor Cold War veterans, preserve Cold War history, and educate future generations about this time period.


My project is...

Book Gary Powers For A Lecture

Francis Gary Powers, Jr. lectures internationally and appears regularly on the History, Discovery, and A&E channels. He is the son of Gary Powers, Sr., the CIA U-2 pilot whose plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960, triggering the U-2 Incident. In 2015, he consulted for Steven Spielberg’s movie Bridge of Spies, about the 1962 spy exchange between KGB spy Rudolph Abel and CIA U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, Sr. Gary is the author of Enemy Territory (2022), Letters from a Soviet Prison (2017), and Spy Pilot (2019). He holds a BA in Philosophy and Masters in Public Administration and US History.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Eyeball to Eyeball: The Inside Story of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Why did I love this book?

This book was written by one of the leading photographic interpreters of the Cold War. He worked directly under Art Lundahl at the National Photographic Interpretive Center (NPIC) in preparing and briefing President Kennedy on the high-altitude U-2 and low-level RF-8A Crusader's photoreconnaissance imagery that confirmed Soviet missiles in Cuba. Dino Brugioni was a family friend and a mentor to me as a young adult. He personally escorted me thru the CIA headquarters in 1977 when I was 12 years old shortly after my father’s death earlier that year. When I founded The Cold War Museum in 1996, Dino agreed to serve as an Advisory Board Member. Dino is a great writer and researcher. This book really helps the reader to learn about the importance of photographic reconnaissance, Cuban Missile Crisis, and how close we came to nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

By Dino A. Brugioni,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eyeball to Eyeball as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Offers a day-to-day account of the crisis, drawing on interviews and inside knowledge to discuss how the Russian missiles were actually discovered, what the United States told foreign leaders, and more


Book cover of One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War

Why did I love this book?

Back in October 2012, I organized the 50th-anniversary conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis for The Cold War Museum and George Mason University. Michael Dobbs was one of the panelists along with Sergei Khrushchev and Dino Brugioni. It was great to hear Michael Dobbs talk about his book and the research he did to bring this history alive. It was an honor and privilege to join him again in October 2022 as a co-panelist for the DIA’s 60th-anniversary conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a result of his research, this book was named as one of five non-fiction books of the year by The Washington Post and is an hour-by-hour account of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

By Michael Dobbs,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked One Minute to Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

October 27, 1962, a day dubbed Black Saturday in the Kennedy White House. The Cuban missile crisis is at its height, and the world is drawing ever closer to nuclear apocalypse.

As the opposing Cold War leaders, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, mobilize their forces to fight a nuclear war on land, sea and air, the world watches in terror. In Bobby Kennedy's words, 'There was a feeling that the noose was tightening on all of us, on Americans, on mankind, and that the bridges to escape were crumbling.'

In One Minute to Midnight Michael Dobbs brings a fresh…


Book cover of DEFCON-2: Standing on the Brink of Nuclear War During the Cuban Missile Crisis

Why did I love this book?

Norman Polmar and I have been colleagues and friends for over 20 years. Not only have we served together on several Cold War history panels including the DIA’s 60th-anniversary conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis in 2022, but we also co-authored the Epilog for my father’s book, Operation Overflight, when it was republished in 2004. Polmar’s book is an in-depth study of the personalities that orchestrated the Cuban Missile Crisis. Even the title, DEFCON-2, emphasizes exactly how close we came to launching an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union in October 1962.

By Norman Polmar, John D. Gresham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked DEFCON-2 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The closest we've ever come to the end of the world

"DEFCON-2 is the best single volume on the Cuban Missile Crisis published and is an important contribution to the history of the Cold War. Beyond the military and political facts of the crisis, Polmar and Gresham sketch the personalities that created and coped with the crisis. They also show us how close we came to the edge without becoming sensationalistic."—Larry Bond, bestselling author of Dangerous Ground

Spy-satellite and aerial-reconnaissance photos reveal that one of the United States's bitterest enemies may be acquiring weapons of mass destruction and the means…


Book cover of Blue Moon Over Cuba: Aerial Reconnaissance during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Why did I love this book?

Kenneth Jack and I first met in July 2012 when I was in the process of organizing the 50th Anniversary Conference on the Cuban Missile crisis for The Cold War Museum and George Mason University. As a result of his interest in preserving a firsthand account of the Cuban Missile Crisis he was able to get Captain Ecker’s memoir published in 2012 (3 years after Capt Ecker’s death) just in time for the 50th anniversary of the crisis. Captain Ecker was the commanding officer of the US Navy Light Photographic Squadron (VFP-62) during the Crisis. Under heavy enemy fire, he and his fellow pilots flew numerous low-level photo reconnaissance missions over Cuba in their RF-8A Crusaders.

As a result of these flights over the missile launch sites in Cuba and high-altitude photos taken by the U-2, President Kennedy was able to show the world irrefutable proof that the Soviets were placing medium and intermediate-range nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles in Cuba. According to Michael Dobbs who wrote the forward for this book, it “tells the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis from the vantage point of the pilots who risked their lives to bring back the intelligence required by Kennedy for each stage of his high-stakes poker game with Khrushchev.” 

By William B. Ecker, Kenneth V. Jack,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blue Moon Over Cuba as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Most books on the Cuban Missile Crisis tell the story using the memoirs of those who advised President Kennedy as he struggled to avoid World War III. This book is the only known personal account of the lead photographic reconnaissance squadron's scouting dangerous low-level operations, flying the supersonic RF-8A Crusader, during the classified Operation Blue Moon. Captain Ecker was the commanding officer of US Navy Light Photographic Squadron 62 (VFP-62, otherwise known as "Fightin' Photo") during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a team created for reconnaissance and aerial photography, and consulted on the movie Thirteen Days, which included dramatic scenes of…


Book cover of Countdown to 13 Days and Beyond: U.S. Marine Aerial Reconnaissance Operations Against Castor’s Cuba 1960-1990

Why did I love this book?

I first met Colonel Whitten in October 2012 when he attended the Cuban Missile Crisis 50th Anniversary conference that I organized for The Cold War Museum and George Mason University. His book is a nonfiction narrative about the Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron 2 (VMCJ-2) that flew low-level photographic reconnaissance flights over Cuba before, during, and after the Crisis in their F8U-1P (RF-8A) Crusaders. As a result of these missions, the VMCJ-2 squadron was awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for the period September 1, 1960 – December 1, 1962. According to USMC Brigadier General William A. Bloomer (ret) who wrote the forward, this book not only gives an account of the Marine Corps role in the Crisis but also, “recounts Castro’s rise to power, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and his build up in military capabilities courtesy of the Soviet Union.”

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba, and the Cold War?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba, and the Cold War.

The Cuban Missile Crisis Explore 17 books about the Cuban Missile Crisis
Cuba Explore 78 books about Cuba
The Cold War Explore 198 books about the Cold War

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Cold War, A Spy Among Friends, and Bridge of Spies if you like this list.