The book paints a pretty dim picture of Kennedy in the tilt with Khrushchev and suggests that had he taken a stand against the wall, we might have been able to end the Cold War earlier. After all, Khrushchev had responded to Kennedy's election by printing his uncensored inaugural address in the Russian papers sending his a personal letter. Kempe is pretty down on Kennedy, though he does credit him with learning enough about dealing with Khrushchev to weather the subsequent Missle Crisis--though he suggests that that wasn't really the scary confrontation the public thought it was. (I remember being too worried about a History test and my need to show that prof I wasn't a dolt to worry much about getting blown up.)
It also shows how little I understood about politics and world affairs at the time. I thought getting even close to the Communists was great fun. I came home with stories about the bridge where they exchanged prisoners, about headlines routinely in red type in East Berlin, about the dearth of goods in the GUM department store (and how it contrasted with the lavish display windows--including some glass stands out on the sidewalks--on the Kurfürstendamm), about the people who would get on our bus as we toured the East and regale us with stories--and then politely ask to be left off at the border crosssings. There were crossings then where you had to show papers (anyone with an allied country passport was not hassled) but no wall. Often you could cross without being stopped. The East German border was more dramatic (we traveled by bus), with the searchlights and plowed strip just like in the spy movies.
But I didn't understand anything at all about the politics and saw both the refuge problem and the border closing as mainly concerning the people of the East. I didn't expect the US to do anything. I suppose I thought we could do something if we wanted to. I didn't even think about why we'd want to. I understood that our trip was financed by the Federal Republic so we'd support Wiedervereinigung (reunification) but did support it so didn't think much about it. The college that sponsored our summer abroad forbade us to go back after the Wall and I, with my friends, pooh-poohed the danger, but I didn't have the spending money to go back anyway.
This book is worth reading, though if you see Kennedy as a hero, somewhat painful, but I doubt that it's completely wrong-headed, though maybe his speculations about ending the Cold War earlier weren't entirely realistic and he acknowledged the logic of Kennedy's rationale: "A wall is better than a war." The real issue was how likely Khrushchev would be to jump to a nuclear war. Then our assumptions (at least mine and I think most of the public's) were the Russia had superior military might and possibly more nuclear weapons. They certainly had more fighting power in and near Berlin. But Khrushchev seemed a real person, not just a cardboard bad man, scruffier but just as bad as Nazis in the movies--as all the other Russian leaders seemed.
In retrospect Khrushchev was not at all anxious for war, but most of us didn't know that. Still Kennedy did pretty much know that. He had a private correspondence (through RFK and a Russian spy), but Khrushchev also seemed impulsive, the sort who might start a war because he was mad. And Kennedy was haunted by the thought that he'd be the President who unleased a nuclear war.
The introduction to the book was written by Brent Scowcroft for what that's worth.