About the Author
Harvey Simon is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC. His articles have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, the History News Network and elsewhere.
Before moving to Washington, he was a national security analyst at Harvard University, where he also wrote about other public policy issues.
The Madman Theory (Sept. 18, 2012, Rosemoor Press) is Simon’s debut novel. Its release coincides with the 50th anniversary of the most dangerous event in U.S. history – the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Simon received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University and has an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
About the Book
THE MADMAN THEORY is an alternate history novel about the Cuban Missile Crisis. On September 17, Rosemoor Press will publish this fresh take on the crisis by Harvey Simon to coincide with the 50th anniversary the following month of the most dangerous week the world has ever known.
In this retelling, Sen. John F. Kennedy loses the 1960 presidential election to his young opponent, Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Two years later the Soviets are caught building a secret nuclear missile base in Cuba and President Nixon faces the same decision Kennedy confronted – whether to bomb the launching sites and invade the island.
As the confrontation between the US and its nuclear foe spirals out of control, Pat Nixon struggles to reconcile her strong sense of a wife’s proper role with her marriage to a man who abuses her and has thrust her into a public life she despises and the two confront their longstanding grievances.
Q & A w/Harvey
What exactly is the madman theory that gives the book its title, and what inspired you to make it into a full-length novel?
I wrote The Madman Theory because I was interested in exploring what would have happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis, had Kennedy lost the ’60 election. Richard Nixon would have been president and would have had the chance to employ his actual philosophy about foreign policy, which he really did call his madman theory. He believed that if he could convince Soviet leaders he was a madman – that he was unstable enough to unleash nuclear war–that there’d be no war. The other side would be so traumatized they’d back down from any aggressive action that could threaten the U.S. I wrote the novel to explore how that might have played out.
How much of your book is based on fact?
The Madman Theory is based in fact, as much as any novel can be. Everything in the novel after the 1960 election is, of course, straight out of my imagination. But in imagining what would have happened had Kennedy been defeated, I relied completely on the historical record. I tried to imagine this period as it really would have been, had Nixon been elected. The details are accurate right down to the look of Air Force One – a plain silver fuselage–and the color of the presidential limousine–black, not Kennedy’s dark blue.
What about the characters? Are they real or imagined?
I did not invent any major characters for The Madman Theory. The people around Nixon could very plausibly have made up a 1960 Nixon administration.
Is there really a place like Mount Weather?
Mount Weather is quite real. It is believed to be the “secure, undisclosed location” Vice President Dick Cheney was taken to after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was built during the Eisenhower administration as an alternative White House in case of nuclear war. The Madman Theory's descriptions of the shelter rely on the limited reporting done about the facility and a visit to the underground alternative Congress, built about the same time under a resort in West Virginia. But there is much that is still unknown about Mount Weather and I had to extrapolate from what I knew to describe some of the shelter’s further recesses.
Does your novel have any relevance to the presidential election?
One inherent message in The Madman Theory is that presidential elections have huge consequences for our lives in ways we can’t fully imagine. With the November elections approaching, the book underscores the importance of everyone’s vote and the critical need to carefully evaluate each candidate’s views on foreign policy.
Are you suggesting who people should vote for this year through the book?
The 1960 presidential contest was between a candidate with no foreign policy experience–Sen. Kennedy–and Vice President Nixon, who had met more foreign leaders and had traveled the world more than any other vice president. Yet Kennedy saw us safely through the Cuban Missile Crisis. Does that mean you should vote for the least experienced candidate? Of course not. So The Madman Theory won’t help you decide how to vote in November. But it will impress upon you the importance of your choice.
Do you see any parallels between the Cuban Missile Crisis and current events? What about Iran?
The decision about whether the U.S. or Israel should bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities has parallels in the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is at the heart of The Madman Theory. We are all trying to imagine the possible consequences of a strike against Iran, just as President Nixon, in my novel, tries to think through the ramifications of possibly destroying Soviet missiles in Cuba.
Is it really plausible to base your novel on Kennedy losing the 1960 election?
The 1960 presidential election was the closest in American history, up to that point. A number of states tipped to Kennedy by razor-thin margins. It wouldn’t have taken much at all to tip that balance the other way. In The Madman Theory the balance shifts when President Eisenhower disregards Vice President Nixon’s seemingly inexplicable recommendation that the president refrain from campaigning vigorously on his behalf.
If Nixon had been elected instead of Kennedy, isn't it possible the Cuban Missile Crisis might never have happened?
This is a real thicket. In reality, Kennedy botched the Bay of Pigs invasion, a 1961 attempt to overthrow Castro. If Nixon had been elected, instead of Kennedy, maybe the invasion would have succeeded. Then the Cuban Missile Crisis would not have happened. But in The Madman Theory, the ’61 invasion is not the disaster it was for Kennedy, but doesn’t succeed in overthrowing Castro either. To add another wrinkle, some argue the Missile Crisis came about because the Soviet Union perceived Kennedy as weak. With Nixon in the Oval Office, things would have been different, they claim. But I believe this argument ignores Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s primary motivations for building a secret nuclear missile base in Cuba.
We never hear about the Bay of Pigs in your novel. But you refer to something similar at a place called Trinidad. What's that all about?
President Kennedy changed the landing site that the CIA proposed for the 1961 Cuba invasion from Trinidad to the Bay of Pigs. This was one of many changes he approved to make it less likely the invasion by CIA-trained Cuban exiles would be traced back to the U.S. In The Madman Theory, President Nixon approves the original Trinidad landing site. So instead of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the novel refers to the Trinidad invasion.
Do you plan to write more books? If so, can we get a sneak peek into your next novel?
I have a few ideas for another alternate history novel, which I’m not yet ready to disclose. I’m also toying with the idea of writing short stories based on current events. But that’s all I can say for now.
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