Nuclear war was averted during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis "only thanks to the bravery of the Cuban people and the hard line and decisive measures taken by the Soviet Union," says a standard history textbook for high school seniors in the Soviet Union.

The conflict was prompted by "American imperialists," it says, and there is no mention of Soviet missiles on Cuban soil.

The book, "Contemporary History (1939-1984)," states that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not "dictated by military necessity" but meant "to frighten all the peoples of the world and force them to bow their heads to the mighty U.S. The fate of the Japanese aggressors was decided not by atomic bomb blasts but by the actions of the Soviet armed forces."

While Americans may object to the ideological tone of this and other Soviet texts, Soviet and U.S. experts involved in a recent study agreed that American textbooks also are riddled with problems in their treatment of the Soviet Union.

They said U.S. textbooks often overlook Soviet cultural achievements, virtually ignore the Soviet Union's role in fighting Nazi Germany and mistakenly refer to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the Soviet revolutionary hero, as "Nikolai Lenin."

"It would be like calling George Washington 'Harry.' We wouldn't take well to that," said State Department geographer George Demko, a participant in the study.

As the summit approaches, U.S. and Soviet educators and scholars have been quietly assessing each other's school textbooks. While the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Textbook Study Project may reflect the current spirit of cooperation between the superpowers, its findings underscore an enormous gulf of misunderstanding.

"There is a lot of language in these {American} books that is just plain gratuitous, insulting. In theirs, too," said project member Janet Vaillant, associate director of the Soviet and East European Languages and Area Center at Harvard University.

Given education-reform movements in both countries and the current spirit of glasnost, or openness, in the Soviet Union -- where ninth and 10th grade history texts are being rewritten in a national reexamination of history -- educators have expressed hope that the study could lead to broader textbook revisions, correcting inaccuracies and softening Cold War rhetoric.

The stakes are high. While consumers of textbooks are children, far from the centers of power, educators agree that school texts can have a profound impact in forming attitudes.

"Where do Americans get their impressions of foreign cultures? From textbooks in elementary and secondary school and the media," Demko said. Textbooks must accurately impart another culture's subtleties, he said.

But the way American and Soviet textbooks are now written, children in the two countries "come away thinking Stalin still runs the Soviet Union, and we still hang blacks," he said.

Like diplomatic relations between the superpowers, the textbook project has had a fitful history. It was initiated in 1977 by the Soviet Ministry of Education and several private organizations in the United States, suspended two years later in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and resurrected last year as part of a cultural exchange.

Last month, seven Americans and nine Soviets -- led by Grigoriy Sevastianov of the Institute of World History at the Soviet Academy of Science -- met near Racine, Wis., to critique junior and senior high school geography and history books. The delegates plan to produce a written report in several months, but problems and issues they raised are clear. Many echoed articles and reports released in 1981 after their initial meetings.

"All sides agreed that Soviet textbooks contain a great deal more solid information about the world in general and the United States specifically," said Ben Eklof, senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center here. "Everybody agreed that American textbooks were outrageously full of factual errors."

A map in one American text, for example, reversed the Black and Caspian seas and another placed Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, within the Soviet Union, Eklof said. That is equivalent to placing the capital of Poland, for instance, within Soviet boundaries. Demko also said an American text reported that Soviet cows give less milk because they are not allowed to roam freely.

U.S. textbook treatment of Soviet history is characterized by "political bias, oversimplification and distortion of the truth," wrote A.I. Danilov, then minister of education for the Russian Republic, and I.I. Sharifzhanov, from the Kazan State Pedagogical Institute, in a 1981 article in the American journal "Social Education."

They complained that the textbooks undermine the legitimacy of the Bolshevik party in the 1917 revolution, depict their country's history as "dependent" on invading forces, "dwell on the 'expansionism' of the Russians and the economic and political 'backwardness' of Russia" and unfairly describe Soviet society as "totalitarian."

A point of great contention is lack of coverage in American texts of the Soviet role in World War II. "While presenting the movements of the American and British troops in detail, the authors try in every conceivable way to undercut the decisive role of the Soviet Union in defeating fascist Germany," Danilov and Sharifzhanov wrote.

American scholars on the study agreed.

"Our textbooks emphasize the wonderful landing in Normandy and neglect to point out that the Soviets lost a tremendous number of people and did much to turn the tide against Hitler," said Vaillant, adding that many American children think that the United States and Soviet Union fought each other in World War II.

But Vaillant also said the standard approved texts used in each grade throughout the Soviet Union "dwell on all the most negative parts of our society. They put great emphasis on the suffering of slaves . . . but say little about immigrants who came to this country and prospered."

On the subject of black Americans, the Soviet text "Contemporary History," states: "Monopolies get huge profits from cruelly exploiting black and colored peoples . . . . Legislation does not provide for active measures for the defense of the black population from the tyranny of racists. The criminal activity of racist organizations is not forbidden."

At the Wisconsin meeting, Americans complained to the Soviets that their textbooks overemphasized poverty and other problems among blacks, Eklof said.

In response, he said, Soviet geographer Leonid Smirnygin unfurled an issue of USA Today that had been left at his hotel door. Depicted clearly in charts and bar graphs were Census Bureau statistics showing that more than 33 million Americans were living in poverty, with a disproportionate number of blacks falling below the poverty line.

"He stood his ground," Eklof said, quoting Smirnygin as saying: "It is absolutely stunning to us to see, in this country of wealth, these figures on poverty."

Howard Mehlinger, dean of education at Indiana University and a professor of Russian history and chief of the American textbook delegation, said the incident illustrates the difficulty of negotiating textbook content and tone, given each country's tendency to place its own interpretation on information.

"There's no commitment on the part of educators in the Soviet Union to paint an attractive picture of the United States," he said, "but neither are they simply creating a lot of things out of whole cloth."