On May Day 1960, Soviet forces downed a CIA spy plane flown deep into Soviet territory by Francis Gary Powers two weeks before a crucial summit. This forced President Dwight Eisenhower to decide whether, in an effort to save the meeting, to admit to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev—and the world—that he had secretly ordered Powers’s flight, or to claim that the CIA could take such a significant step without his approval.
In rich and fascinating detail, Mayday explores the years of U-2 flights, which Eisenhower deemed “an act of war,” the US government’s misconceived attempt to cover up the true purpose of the flight, Khrushchev’s dramatic revelation that Powers was alive and in Soviet custody, and the show trial that sentenced the pilot to prison and hard labor. From a U-2’s cramped cockpit to tense meetings in the Oval Office, the Kremlin, Camp David, CIA headquarters, the Élysée Palace, and Number Ten Downing Street, historian Michael Beschloss draws on previously unavailable CIA documents, diaries, and letters, as well as the recollections of Eisenhower’s aides, to reveal the full high-stakes drama and bring to life its key figures, which also include Richard Nixon, Allen Dulles, and Charles de Gaulle.
An impressive work of scholarship with the dramatic pacing a spy thriller, Mayday “may be one of the best stories yet written about just how those grand men of diplomacy and intrigue conducted our business” (Time).