Above and Beyond Cover

Above and Beyond

John F. Kennedy and America’s Most Dangerous Cold War Spy Mission

Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias

Public Affairs, New York, 2018, 360 pages

Book Review published on: October 19, 2018

October marks fifty-six years since the beginning of what was almost World War III. In 1962, the Nation stood at the brink of a nuclear holocaust. In classrooms, children rehearsed “duck-and-cover” drills in preparation for an inbound nuclear-tipped Soviet missile. The Defense Department (DOD) went to defense readiness condition (DEFCON) level II (DEFCON I would have been war). The DOD alerted, mobilized, and positioned tens of thousands of air, land, and sea forces in advance of a potential face-off with the Soviet Union; and it launched nuclear-armed bomber aircraft for continuous presence and readiness purposes. In a matter of thirteen days, the Nation went from a Cold War peace to the verge of nuclear annihilation and back to peace. In a fascinating account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, best-selling and award-winning authors Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias focus a study on the role U-2 spy planes played in general and on the heroics of pilots who flew them during those thirteen days. Sherman and Tougias mesmerize the reader with details of the crisis and cover the gamut from seventy-five thousand feet over Cuba, to the North Pole, and to the West Wing of the White House in Above and Beyond: John F. Kennedy and America’s Most Dangerous Cold War Spy Mission.

Sherman and Tougias are no strangers to the literary world. Together, they have authored and coauthored forty books. In 2016, Hollywood released two major motion pictures—The Finest Hours and Patriots Day—based on their books. Sherman is an Emmy nominee and the recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Journalistic Excellence; Tougias, with twenty-eight books to his credit including five best sellers, joined Sherman in writing Above and Beyond. Their objective in writing this book was to tell the story of normal humans thrust into extraordinary circumstances, how President John Kennedy’s experience as a skipper of a World War II patrol torpedo (PT) boat shaped his thinking, and to examine the human toll of war. Sherman and Tougias far exceeded their objective.

In great detail, Sherman and Tougias chronicle Rudolph “Rudy” Anderson Jr. and Charles “Chuck” Maultsby in their formative years, how they developed a love for flying, and how they became pilots of what was then the most sophisticated spy plane in the world. The authors meticulously describe Kennedy’s experiences when the Japanese destroyer Amagiri rammed his PT boat in August 1943, killing two of his crew. This experience had great impact on the future president, his thinking, and how he approached the Soviet Union’s emplacement of nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba. Sherman and Tougias deftly intertwine the stories, experiences, thinking, and feelings of the president, members of the executive committee of the National Security Council, and U-2 pilots in general—Anderson and Maultsby in particular.

The reader gains an appreciation for just how close America came to war with the Soviet Union and also gains an appreciation for the physical and mental demands placed on the president, the U-2 pilots, and their families. The book will appeal to students of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy presidency, decision-making in times of crisis, and the U-2 program.

Based on over 270 citations, Sherman and Tougias narrate the challenges, emotions, successes, and failures that our nation experienced in the fall of 1962. Most notably, the success of preventing nuclear war with the Soviet Union despite the failure of losing a U-2 and its pilot in the process. Prominent sources include interviews with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (son of Robert F. Kennedy Sr. and nephew to John Kennedy), Sergei Khrushchev (son of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev), James and Tripp Anderson (sons of Rudy Anderson), Charles W. Maultsby Jr. (son of Chuck Maultsby Sr.), and Col. Richard Leghorn (considered by many as the father of Cold War reconnaissance).

In the end, this is the story of how a young president and a group of U-2 pilots, two in particular, prevented nuclear war. As Kennedy told one pilot, Jerry McIlmoyle, a few days after the crisis was over, “I’ll never be able to thank you men enough for bringing back those pictures which allowed me to peacefully end this crisis.” Above and Beyond is a wonderful book that captures the reader’s interest from the first page. This reader found it difficult to put down and would endorse Hollywood’s making it into a third movie, courtesy of Sherman and Tougias.

Book Review written by: David D. Haught, Fort Belvoir, Virginia