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The Tunnels: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill by Greg Mitchell (Crown 2016; 382 pp $28

Today’s fraught world got you yearning for yesteryear? Read The Tunnels. With main and supporting characters, plots and subplots and sub-subplots, along with multifarious intertwined threads of finagling and inveigling, Mitchell deftly navigates the mad months of 1961-62, when East Berlin was trying to wall off the West, Cuba was turning deep Red, John Kennedy was getting his presidential sea legs, and the world seemed bound for hell in a nuclear handbasket. Vertiginously evoking those hair-raising times, Mitchell chronicles how American networks, prefiguring reality TV by decades, were underwriting border-busting excavators and the extent to which American policymakers, JFK included, were trying to muscle the media out of airing the resulting documentaries. Mitchell closes his energetic and illuminating narrative by noting that, after jousting with NBC and CBS, Kennedy ordered up Project Mockingbird, a domestic CIA program aimed at reporters and foreshadowing so many other aspects of the American future.—Michael Dolan