It is almost twenty years since the United States government and its Central Intelligence Agency stumbled ingloriously into the Bay of Pigs disaster. In what hindsight tells us was the rehearsal for Vietnam, Cuban exiles were sent into Cuba as proxies for the United States in an ill-fated effort to get rid of Fidel Castro. The effort was virtually doomed from the outset. Faulty intelligence, poor military planning, and inadequate logistics arrangements contributed to the failure. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy share the blame for the fiasco—an unenthusiastic Eisenhower for allowing the planning to proceed in the first place, and a wavering Kennedy for allowing the project to be carried out when it came to him for the final go-ahead.

The details of the invasion and its defeat are familiar. At least a dozen English-language studies—journalistic or semischolarly in nature—have probed the events of that April in 1961 with some success. But the Bay of Pigs invasion still awaits its chronicler. Peter Wyden’s The Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story falls short of being a totally adequate account of the incident, although it is clearly one of the better titles on the subject.

Wyden goes over the familiar material, often adding special insights. The CIA’s photoanalysts dismissed dark spots near the intended landing sites as “seaweed.” They turned out to be coral reefs, which ripped open the hulls of landing craft. Crewmen from the destroyer “Eaton” painted out its name while the ship hovered offshore so the Cubans could not identify the ship. But the vessel was clearly a United States naval destroyer and it was close enough to shore for Castro’s soldiers, using binoculars, to read the raised lettering that had been painted over. Item after item of this sort suggests the ludicrousness of the invasion plan.

Even more damaging in Wyden’s account is the story of how the Cuban exiles, trained at United States expense and taken to Cuba by the United States Navy, were left to fend for themselves against a vastly superior Cuban army while Washington debated air cover, sea barrage, and other aid that might have at least permitted the exiles to escape otherwise certain capture. It was not a fine hour for the United States.

Wyden’s account suggests how many of the planners were contemptuous of Cubans and other Latin Americans; he touches briefly on the cultural blindness of these planners. “American policy-makers suffer from it chronically. They tend to underestimate grossly the capabilities and determination of people who committed the sin of not having been born Americans” (p. 326). It can be wished that Wyden had expanded on this theme.

Perhaps the most important part of Wyden’s chronicle is his long interview with Castro concerning the invasion. It is the first time the Cuban leader has talked extensively about his perception of the event. Woven throughout Wyden’s account are Castro’s observations about the whole Bay of Pigs incident. This, in itself, makes Wyden’s book a most important addition to the long list of titles on the Bay of Pigs fiasco.