The Brilliant Disaster

JFK, Castro, and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs


A “balanced, engrossing account” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) of the Bay of Pigs crisis drawing on long-hidden CIA documents and delivering the vivid truth of five pivotal days in April 1961.

At the heart of the Bay of Pigs crisis stood President John F. Kennedy, and journalist Jim Rasenberger traces what Kennedy knew, thought, and said as events unfolded. He examines whether Kennedy was manipulated by the CIA into approving a plan that would ultimately involve the American military. He also draws compelling portraits of the other figures who played key roles in the drama: Fidel Castro, who shortly after achieving power visited New York City and was cheered by thousands (just months before the United States began plotting his demise); Dwight Eisenhower, who originally ordered the secret program, then later disavowed it; Allen Dulles, the CIA director who may have told Kennedy about the plan before he was elected president (or so Richard Nixon suspected); and Richard Bissell, the famously brilliant “deus ex machina” who ran the operation for the CIA—and took the blame when it failed. Beyond the short-term fallout, Rasenberger demonstrates, the Bay of Pigs gave rise to further and greater woes, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and even, possibly, the assassination of John Kennedy.

Written with elegant clarity and narrative verve, The Brilliant Disaster is the most complete account of this event to date, providing not only a fast-paced chronicle of the disaster but an analysis of how it occurred—a question as relevant today as then—and how it profoundly altered the course of modern American history.
  • Scribner; April 2011
  • ISBN: 9781439100479
  • Read online, or download in secure EPUB format
  • Title: The Brilliant Disaster
  • Author: Jim Rasenberger
  • Imprint: Scribner

In The Press

“This is history at its best: meticulous research distilled into luminous prose and a gripping narrative. This is not only the finest book ever written on the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but also one of the most balanced, keen-eyed surveys of the early days of the Kennedy administration. A page-turner that packs as much of a punch as the best of fiction thrillers, Rasenberger’s The Brilliant Disaster lays bare many a bleached bone, but, in the process, also provides readers with invaluable treasure: a clearer understanding of the relation between past, present, and future.” Carlos Eire, National Book Award winning author of Waiting for Snow in Havana