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The dean of Cold War historians (The New York Times) now presents the definitive account of the global confrontation that dominated the last half of the twentieth century. Drawing on newly opened archives and the reminiscences of the major players, John Lewis Gaddis explains not just what happened but whyfrom the months in 1945 when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. went from The “dean of Cold War historians” (The New York Times) now presents the definitive account of the global confrontation that dominated the last half of the twentieth century. Drawing on newly opened archives and the reminiscences of the major players, John Lewis Gaddis explains not just what happened but why—from the months in 1945 when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. went from alliance to antagonism to the barely averted holocaust of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the maneuvers of Nixon and Mao, Reagan and Gorbachev. Brilliant, accessible, almost Shakespearean in its drama, The Cold War stands as a triumphant summation of the era that, more than any other, shaped our own.


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The dean of Cold War historians (The New York Times) now presents the definitive account of the global confrontation that dominated the last half of the twentieth century. Drawing on newly opened archives and the reminiscences of the major players, John Lewis Gaddis explains not just what happened but whyfrom the months in 1945 when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. went from The “dean of Cold War historians” (The New York Times) now presents the definitive account of the global confrontation that dominated the last half of the twentieth century. Drawing on newly opened archives and the reminiscences of the major players, John Lewis Gaddis explains not just what happened but why—from the months in 1945 when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. went from alliance to antagonism to the barely averted holocaust of the Cuban Missile Crisis to the maneuvers of Nixon and Mao, Reagan and Gorbachev. Brilliant, accessible, almost Shakespearean in its drama, The Cold War stands as a triumphant summation of the era that, more than any other, shaped our own.

30 review for The Cold War: A New History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    To say this book is bad would be a little unfair, though it does seem to rely on the reader being ignorant and gullible, however I did find it surprisingly ungood particularly considering his earlier book We now know which I assume was written by the same person (view spoiler)[ it was (hide spoiler)] . His basic message is that it was the free market what won it, and that it could have been far worse - meaning that more Americans might have died, even all of them perhaps (view spoiler)[ though To say this book is bad would be a little unfair, though it does seem to rely on the reader being ignorant and gullible, however I did find it surprisingly ungood particularly considering his earlier book We now know which I assume was written by the same person (view spoiler)[ it was (hide spoiler)] . His basic message is that it was the free market what won it, and that it could have been far worse - meaning that more Americans might have died, even all of them perhaps (view spoiler)[ though that seems to me to be far too optimistic about the capabilities of Soviet missiles (hide spoiler)] , that the lives of people in the countries where the Cold War was fought, even those who died in order that a red flag would never flutter above Nebraska or New Mexico, don't really count is a feature of this book. On the other hand, fans of Reagan and Thatcher and J-P II might be disappointed that, despite the page space they get, they aren't explicitly credited with winning the Cold War and creating the universal happiness and boundless wealth that everybody alive currently enjoys. This is an account from a US perspective written by an American with I assume a US audience in mind, well fair enough, you get what you pay for with books, or in this case what you can find on other people's shelves, however delightfully bemused though I am at how important Gaddis finds the watergate crisis to the Cold War (view spoiler)[ but not the Kennedy assassination, though the failed attempts on the lives of Reagan and J-P. II are so important to the course of the Cold War that they have to be mentioned, but not the failed attempt on the life of Thatcher even though the terrorist Freedom Fighters involved in that were getting weapons, indirectly no doubt, from Warsaw Pact countries (hide spoiler)] , I find his complete lack of analysis of US strategic thinking historically negligent, we get no insight in to why or how Domino theory seized the US strategic imagination, or indeed why despite some US successes in shifting alliances, they felt that dominoes would only fall one way, I had the feeling that Gaddis avoided asking where the US was in 1968 or 1956 by chopping up the timeline of his narrative, here Nixon meets Mao (1972) before the Prague Spring (1968) and he deals with 1956 in three different well separated segments. Here Gaddis speaks the same language, has access to archives, could interview participants but has nothing of note to say about US thinking or strategy which is what I naively might hope from a US book. Although I did learn that the it was the Cold War that learnt the US government to be duplicitous and use secret agents, this, Gaddis thinks, never happened before. Also according to him all national liberation movement leaders were Wilsonian Democrats (view spoiler)[ doubtless all enjoying watching 'Birth of a Nation' and fantasising about the knights of the South in their free time too (hide spoiler)] , and if they didn't realise that and thought they were Marxists instead - well they just brought trouble on their own heads apparently (view spoiler)[ but as above if they died as a result they were non-Americans and so don't count (hide spoiler)] . Also in like fashion he is breezy and dismissive of popular Communist movements, being on the verge of electoral victory in post war Italy - all due to money from the Soviet Union apparently, the role of communist partisans and resistance movements during World War Two too unimportant to mention, and therefore justifying massive inflows of US cash to the Christian Democrats even more (view spoiler)[ or less depending on your point of view (hide spoiler)] dubious recipients are not mentioned, but since they were anti-communist that would have been fine. One gets the sense that other countries may go Communist or Islamic fundamentalist, but otherwise have no right to deviate from US Strategic objectives (even though these aren't explained) therefore de Gaulle is 'the ultimate free rider'(oh the ingratitude!), little countries abusing their geopolitical position to wag the dog is like judo, just plain unAmerican. I was slightly disappointed as I recalled Gaddis' earlier book We now know as being mildly interesting on the role of unpatriotic US bears in almost triggering nuclear war (view spoiler)[ due to over enthusiastic rattling of security fencing at American airbases (view spoiler)[ the extent to which American Brown bears had been infiltrated by Marxist-Leninist thinking remains sadly under explored despite the evidence of Yogi Bear and his televised efforts to appropriate the picnic baskets of the bourgeoisie (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)] and of the banks of the Capitalist / Western world keeping Eastern European Communist countries afloat through loans (view spoiler)[ creating the prospect of an Autumn of the Patriarch style alternative ending to the Cold War when the bailiffs are sent in to take the whole country way . A book is a finite thing, so sometimes what you notice most is what the author chooses not to discuss. Here the interesting absence is espionage, for older readers I imagine the spy story is the archetypal cold war narrative, but here there are no bugs in hotel rooms, honey-traps, microfilms, exchanges of compromised agents before dawn on foggy bridges, instead Gaddis' story is largely of technology, and waiting for decades for Reagan to come along and disarm Gorbachev with his Hollywood smile, maybe he's right...maybe this is so high level an account that it is impossible to imagine any connection between the tree and the forest. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    If you asked the 10 best historians in the world to write a history of the Cold War in under 250 pages, you would get back 10 works that were overly broad, sweeping, slanted, and/or missing key facts. Gaddis hasn't avoided all these pitfalls, but it's an excellent effort, and most important for his target audience, the book is eminently readable. He creates a sense of urgency and page-turning suspense in a book that describes the history of a war that never actually got "hot." His political If you asked the 10 best historians in the world to write a history of the Cold War in under 250 pages, you would get back 10 works that were overly broad, sweeping, slanted, and/or missing key facts. Gaddis hasn't avoided all these pitfalls, but it's an excellent effort, and most important for his target audience, the book is eminently readable. He creates a sense of urgency and page-turning suspense in a book that describes the history of a war that never actually got "hot." His political leanings and his triumphalism aside, he does a fantastic job of capturing the key players, motives, and events of the Cold War for a generation that has been raised after the falling of the Berlin Wall-- scary, huh?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dеnnis

    History is written by the winners. This book is no way an exception to this adage. True, I was born in the vanquished state, yet I was in a tender age, when the collapse occurred hence unlike adults I lost little in the process. Or I was lucky enough to have parents and family to shield me from the embittering and devastating effects of the chaos that ensued. Anyway I approached the book with as open mind as possible, given the situation. Previously I was smitten with revelations of how the Cold History is written by the winners. This book is no way an exception to this adage. True, I was born in the vanquished state, yet I was in a tender age, when the collapse occurred hence unlike adults I lost little in the process. Or I was lucky enough to have parents and family to shield me from the embittering and devastating effects of the chaos that ensued. Anyway I approached the book with as open mind as possible, given the situation. Previously I was smitten with revelations of how the Cold War unfolded in Europe, following my reading of the wonderful Tony Judt’s “Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945”. There the whole misery of European countries beyond the Iron Curtain dawned on me (not that it was only hopeless drudgery instead of life over there. There were bright spots for sure). We are not that much educated upon what was happening in USSR-influenced territories. Prevailing opinion here is that they just sucked of vital resources, which were more than necessary home, since people in USSR we constantly confronted with shortages of this and that. And when those countries eagerly rushed into embraces of the archenemy – well, they were branded ungrateful renegades, who defected even when we afforded them better living conditions than we had ourselves. Now the book. I did count on objective narrative of this most cynical standoff that dominated world politics for nearly 50 years. And it appears that the author did try to make a book precisely like that. But to me it appears that it just proved the rule, quoted in the beginning. Time and again I tried to check my frustrations saying “it’s just because you’re from the USSR and it’s your natural defensiveness”. Thus maybe you should also doubt my impressions, but I tried to be unbiased. First of all I believe such histories should be written by the least biased nationals as possible, either by neutrals or…Swedes :) Because time and again I felt that Communist block’s actions were thoroughly thrashed and vilified while similar misgivings and CRIMES by the US were giving a superficial disapproval, without exposing their full horrible consequences. True, the author perfunctory coverage of the Vietnam War is compensated with equally tangential description of Afghan War (where no US participation is acknowledged, no matter how direct). Yet while the USSR is being lambasted for its role in suppression of Hungarian and Czech uprisings, American actions in other countries are presented in far less dramatic cadences. What actually pricked my ears first early in the book was author’s statement that since the Americans preferred a state of aloofness they didn’t pestered foreign nations. He does acknowledge that the US had procured a colony for itself in Philippines. Not so fast, I read S. Kinzer’s wonderful book “Overthrow: America’s century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq”. You don’t fool me. USA finished independent kingdom of Hawaii on a whim, USA invaded Cuba on a trumped up pretext, and there were several other blatant cases beyond the acknowledged interventions in Guatemala, Iran, Vietnam and Chile. Should I be surprised that the US invaded Grenada as late as mid 80-es to forestall recently elected leftist government there (just in case – it’s our underbelly after all) and the author prefers not to mention it, overawed by the unfolding disintegration of corrupted Eastern Bloc in Europe? Yet by and large all these my pickings are just historical footnotes and may as well be subjective. What counts is now. And looking at the winner and the world it created I cannot say that the best scenario had won the global dominance. US (with defeated Russia not far away) is world’s leader for prison inmates. Itself and its citizens are carrying the largest debt, and has the military strength mightier than several followers combined with bases and secret prisons everywhere. It has a huge number of homeless people and there’s no safety net, enjoyed by the oppressed citizens of the Eastern block. If now all those unlucky millions who eat dust in the wake of the rat race towards the American dream are asked “How would you look at guaranteed lifetime employment with salary and generous paid vacations, decent free medicine and free college education (and higher) and a pension enough not only to survive, but to still have a human dignity (things all people in Soviet block had), but have little say in matters of politics, don’t have a tremendous choice of goods, and opportunities to travel beyond a dozen of states, but where country leaders are not fat cats, and where you can let your 7-year old child travel the public transport to go to the free Olympic swimming pool for practice half a city size of Moscow away (myself) without any threat of him being molested, kidnapped or shot”? I am not sure everyone would have chosen an abstract ‘freedom’, being sold now. Be sure I’m not an apologist of the USSR, but as I said above, if it was Sweden or any other Nordic European country that had won the Cold War and established its system’s supremacy and model all over the world, I would have had no qualms. But here in this book I encounter a narrative that offers no explanation for the imploration of the Eastern block beyond the statement that ‘times they a’ changing’ and new leaders of the West had hugely benefited from their stints as actors to cut new figures on the political scene (Reagan and John Paul II). Yet all the way being very pleased that the ‘bad guys’ lost. My Goodreads friend Caroline has recently reviewed a book on the apparent shortcomings of ‘free capitalism’ - "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism". It appears that taken at face value and with blind faith the ‘free market’ system as viable and human being friendly as theoretical communism. Quite the opposite that is. This is the only reason I didn’t like the book, which instills a thought that the best ever option won, and currently as it controls the world, we are living in the best reality possible. When in fact it’s not. It does sound self-congratulatory indeed. P.S. For a great objective review of a conflict, we all think we know everything about, try “Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization “. Here the author tries to see real Carthage under the layers of interpretations and clichés heaped upon it by centuries of Roman commentators and the later admirers. The picture appearing does not flatter the Romans…

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    The Cold War: A New History provides an excellent example of the ideological biases of a historian creating a skewed misrepresentation of the facts about an era in order to conform with biased perceptions. This so-called new history is full of sweeping generalizations, unwarranted conclusions, and dubious assertions that scream out bias at every turn. In conclusion, beware of books claiming to be history books! This one doesnt meet the most basic criteria of objective reporting of the facts. The Cold War: A New History provides an excellent example of the ideological biases of a historian creating a skewed misrepresentation of the facts about an era in order to conform with biased perceptions. This so-called “new history” is full of sweeping generalizations, unwarranted conclusions, and dubious assertions that scream out bias at every turn. In conclusion, beware of books claiming to be history books! This one doesn’t meet the most basic criteria of objective reporting of the facts.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    The Cold War: A New History is among the latest entries by John Lewis Gaddis on the history and politics of the Cold War. Though it reviews a time still within the living memory of many, Gaddis frets that younger generations have grown up without an understanding or an appreciation for the important lessons of the Cold War. This he thinks a shame, perhaps even a danger. So to provide a remedy and cure the ailment of historical ignorance, Gaddis proposes to write a historya new historythat will The Cold War: A New History is among the latest entries by John Lewis Gaddis on the history and politics of the Cold War. Though it reviews a time still within the living memory of many, Gaddis frets that younger generations have grown up without an understanding or an appreciation for the important lessons of the Cold War. This he thinks a shame, perhaps even a danger. So to provide a remedy and cure the ailment of historical ignorance, Gaddis proposes to write a history—a new history—that will supply his readers an account in short form of the essentials of the Cold War. This anyway is the original intent of the book. But Gaddis does not develop his history in the way the typical history might. Gaddis does not retell the course of the Cold War year by year. He does not explain why this thing or why that. Gaddis engages the matter differently. He recounts the Cold War by its themes, rather than by its chronology. His chapters do not proceed in a linear course from the beginning of the Cold War to the end. Rather each chapter fixates on a particular theme that figures large in the Cold War, and then elaborates on the most signal events. One theme for each chapter: the first on the origins of the Cold War; the second on the perils of nuclear confrontation; the third on the failure of Soviet ideology and economy; the fourth on the burdens of superpower status; the fifth on the backlash to immoral foreign policies; the sixth on rise of Cold War iconoclasts; and the seventh on the marvel of bloodless revolution that ended the Cold War. These themes form the very essence of Gaddis's book. Although it may be history, it is history in the thematic sense. Therefore what Gaddis's book ultimately supplies is not a description of the Cold War. It could not even be generously characterized as an explanation. Rather what Gaddis gives is an interpretation—and a moral one at that. The whole of the book abounds with moral overtones. The sense of right and wrong is everywhere. Historical figures are drawn as either black or white. Ideologies are contrasted as moral opposites. Outcomes in the Cold War are delivered with the authority of a judge’s verdict. The whole of the history is perceived as the completion of an inevitable, inescapable arch. The book therefore oozes with moral sentiments. If this understanding of Gaddis's New History is right, what then are the larger morals and lessons that he intends to impress on his readers? Though Gaddis offers half-dozen smaller morals, surprisingly there is no single overarching takeaway. Gaddis tries to repair this omission in the epilogue of his book. There he tries to elaborate what are the implications of the period for post Cold War. But this efforts comes up far short; his improvised conclusions have all the texture and flavor of stale bread. He refers to the obsolescence of war, the discrediting of dictatorship, and the rise of democracy and globalization. But these sound more like the ejections of scholarly reflex rather than well-considered, deliberate conclusions. And the disjunct between it and the chapters that precede it are so great, the epilogue might as well be discarded. Gaddis's real lessons of the Cold War are found instead in the seven main chapters themselves. Each serves as a little historical allegory onto itself. There is a unity in that they all are associated with the Cold War. But as explained above, they do not combine to form one single overarching moral. It is fitting then to gives brief mention of the chapter lessons each. The book begins with consideration of the origins of the Cold War. For Gaddis, the critical point is that the mistrust that nurtured the Cold War’s origins had taken root before the defeat of Nazi Germany. These suspicions were deep-set and mutually shared. They beget intrigue and recrimination. The peace settlements at the end of the Second World War served to exacerbate the mistrust, rather than alleviate it. So for Gaddis the emergence of Cold War politics was more fact than failure. The rise of Cold War politics was not a blunder of statesmanship, but a necessary and unavoidable evil. The second chapter considers the influence of nuclear weapons on Cold War politics. Gaddis lauds President Truman's decision to resist using atomic weapons in Korea. It was, he says, one of the most important decisions of inaction of all the 20th century. But it was not at first appreciated. Like in the game of Poker, enthusiasts usually celebrate great bates or great bluffs. But who boasts about a really great fold? For this reason Truman’s insight had to be relearned. It required the perilous experience of the Eisenhower and Khrushchev years to appreciate the wisdom of Truman’s nuclear moratorium. The third chapter draws out the ideological dimension of the Cold War. Under Gaddis’s understanding, the Cold War was less a time of tense, distrustful relations—it was less about relaxing the enmity of the early Cold War years—and more a contest between two revolutionary regimes, idealized by Lenin on the side and Wilson on the other. So by this theory, the failing economy and bankruptcy of the Soviet economy was not so much about the vicissitudes of international economics, but much more a confirmation of the triumph of American ideology. The fourth chapter portrays the Soviets and the Americans as prisoner to their own superpower status. For all their power and influence, the superpowers were hostage to the failures and shortfalls of their allies and protectorates. The leaders of client states like Taiwan, the Koreas, the Germanys, the Vietnams, and Afghanistan, were able to frighten their superpower patrons into commitments out of proportion with their interests. Rather than the US and the Soviets uniting over their strength, they divided because of the weakness of their allies. Perhaps most embarrassing, allies like France and China learned to manipulate Cold War politics so to seize all the benefits of alliance while resisting the costs. Woe onto the superpowers. The fifth chapter discusses the backlash in America to the experience of Cold War politics. Allegations of foreign intrigues, coups, assassinations, secret bombings, and war levied on false pretenses—these all had generated a deep well of resentment in the American public. By the height of the Vietnam War, the American public was bristling with anger. Revelation of Nixon’s complicity in the Watergate scandal brought this anger to a head. Dramatic political action followed. Congress terminated funds for Vietnam and Angola; it sabotaged Kissinger’s trade treaty with the Soviets; it set new limits on President’s powers of war and surveillance; the CIA was forced to disclose its notorious episodes of its clandestine activities. A new zeitgeist was had taken hold in US foreign policy. Leaders who adopted principled foreign policies were encouraged. Immoral, and amoral, foreign policies had fallen into disrepute. The sixth chapter was example that even the powerful inertia of Cold War politics can be reversed. Though the Cold War world had become established as the political status quo, the emergence of new leaders like John Paul II, Thatcher, Walesa, Xiaoping, Reagan, and especially Gorbachev, combined to create a new political atmosphere. These leaders were not prisoner to the old politics and the legacies of their predecessors. They intended to be agents for change – and they succeeded. In spite of powerful countervailing forces, by 1989 enough incremental steps had been taken the politics of the Cold War was ripe for dramatic change. The seventh chapter is a panegyric to what Gaddis calls the first bloodless revolution in history. It was he says what the Bolshevik revolution had wanted to be: spontaneous and truly popular. With the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, and then the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an enormous political change was brought about. But it was achieved without war, and with a surprisingly little bloodshed. The ending of the Cold War exploded the myth that great revolutions are inevitably attended by great suffering. The peaceful retirement of the Soviet empire was proof of the possibility. These anyway are the larger lessons that Gaddis is really intent upon. Much of his book is history. But both above and beneath that history are these larger morals that he perceives. Of course these different points can be debated; one could accuse Gaddis of partiality, of oversimplification, of exaggeration, of presumption, and similar criticisms. But these are weaknesses inherent to any book that gives a moral history. It is not surprising that a distinguished historian, on a subject of his expertise, and in the twilight of his career, might descant on the greater moral lessons of the Cold War. This is well within the traditions of historical writing. And so far as these criticisms would try and quibble with his history or unmake his morals conclusions, they would miss the mark. That said, the book does suffer from serious deficiencies. Gaddis claims to be writing history. But his book is more a compilation of historical essays than history itself. Nevertheless Gaddis insists on having it both ways; he wants both the history and the space to expound upon it. Although this may not be a flawed strategy in principle, in practice Gaddis has failed to achieve this balance in his book. This divided purpose, between explanation and interpretation, tends to create confusion within his chapters. His main point is often lost in a blizzard of anecdotes and historical citations. The books moral arguments often do not persuade, and perhaps worse, they rarely inspire. Some of his arguments suffer because he takes his moralizing too far, such as his comparison of Lenin and Wilson, with a severe condemnation of the former and a drooling endorsement of the latter. But more often his arguments do not impress since Gaddis prefers to assert rather than consider. Unlike other famous writers on history, Gaddis does not spare much space for deliberation. He resembles more a sea bird that is only willing to skim the surface and then quickly return to flight, rather than show a willingness to dive in and delve deep. This gives his whole history a light, glancing, insubstantial feeling. Although this may suffice if Gaddis was writing history in the conventional manner, it will not do for his moral history. The book then is somewhat of a disappointment. But the disappointment must be double for Gaddis himself. After much study and labor on a subject for so many years, one would think Gaddis would meditate more seriously on the lessons of the Cold War and its meaning for history; the kind of serious reflections that often form the crown of an illustrious academic career. A New History does not rise to the challenge. For Gaddis, it is an opportunity missed.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Moriartyandherbooks

    This was beyond amazing! Very clear and concise! If you want a run down of the Cold War I would recommend this book! Seriously, this will forever be my go-to on the topic.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    My 2009 booklog says "A+, masterful." OK, let's see what else I have: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/boo... "...require[s] a scholar of extraordinary gifts to tell why nine cold-war presidents deployed our national treasure against an empire that broke apart so clumsily in the end. John Lewis Gaddis is that scholar, and "The Cold War: A New History" is the book they should read. A professor of history at Yale, Gaddis is the author of six renowned volumes on the cold war -- especially the My 2009 booklog says "A+, masterful." OK, let's see what else I have: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/boo... "...require[s] a scholar of extraordinary gifts to tell why nine cold-war presidents deployed our national treasure against an empire that broke apart so clumsily in the end. John Lewis Gaddis is that scholar, and "The Cold War: A New History" is the book they should read. A professor of history at Yale, Gaddis is the author of six renowned volumes on the cold war -- especially the strategies of both sides -- that were written during or shortly after the struggle." [2006 NYT review] It's interesting, and saddening, how hopeful we were about the "New World Order" back then. Mostly back to the "Same Old Shit" now.... Discounting my 2009 rating accordingly, to 4 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Doreen Petersen

    I hate giving any book a one star but this book was that bad. Very poorly written. Subject matter jumped all over the place. I wouldn't bother with this one.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

    The target audience of this book is the generation younger than me that has the Cold War as a historical event rather than part of their lives. As that, it is fairly well written, targeted well, and concise. Perhaps a bit too concise. The whole premise of the book comes off feeling as if decades passed without anything happening, then Ronald Reagan, the great professional actor comes and saves the day. The author clearly admires that particular president, and his usually restrained prose waxes The target audience of this book is the generation younger than me that has the Cold War as a historical event rather than part of their lives. As that, it is fairly well written, targeted well, and concise. Perhaps a bit too concise. The whole premise of the book comes off feeling as if decades passed without anything happening, then Ronald Reagan, the great professional actor comes and saves the day. The author clearly admires that particular president, and his usually restrained prose waxes ebullient when President Reagan reaches the stage. I don't have any strong dislike of him, but when the author uses a paragraph to say that the Pope and Reagan were both shot and it is a good thing the President didn't die, because we would still be in the Cold War, one begins to wonder if his enthusiasm hasn't taken himself a bit too far. If there were one other idea that he seems too fixated upon is this idea of Marxist infallibility. Somehow, that is supposedly the core idea that held the whole system together and when Stalin fell out of favor of the party, that was the beginning of the end.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    My views on this piece are really mixed. On one hand, it's a great skeleton of events for those who are new to the history of the Cold War. If a reader has never learned anything about the Cold War and just wants a quick overview, I'll probably directly them to this book. On the other hands, it faces a lot of issues which can be categorized into two groups: organizational and analytical. My qualms with the organization of the book is that it emphasizes superpower politics over all other My views on this piece are really mixed. On one hand, it's a great skeleton of events for those who are new to the history of the Cold War. If a reader has never learned anything about the Cold War and just wants a quick overview, I'll probably directly them to this book. On the other hands, it faces a lot of issues which can be categorized into two groups: organizational and analytical. My qualms with the organization of the book is that it emphasizes superpower politics over all other considerations. There is a chapter on "Autonomy" that looks at the role of other states-- whether they be France, Germany, China, Cuba, or somewhere else. Nonetheless, they still hone in only on the most "significant" events (from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, that is). I think that much of Gaddis's discussion would be weakened if he spent time discussing politics and the role of "hot wars" during the Cold War-- going to show that the Cold War was not inherently ideological or "Cold" at all, but--from the perspective of those on the ground--much more about tactical supremacy. This ties into my criticism of Gaddis's analysis. His highlighting the ideological aspects of the Cold War were definitely heavily discussed during the Cold War, but actions were not inherently ideological. Yes, the USSR and the US were the symbols of Communism and Capitalism, respectively, but their main goals were based around global mastery, and reliance on capitalism or communism were simply ways of achieving those goals. I think that this is most obvious when looking at the case of China, where a Communist country worked with the Capitalist superpower in order to have a better position in the global order, going on to weaken the Soviets. Analytically, Gaddis also spends far too much time praising the icons of the 80s. They were undeniably important, but I don't know that the Cold War would have come to an end simply because of them (which he does not explicitly argue, but the organization of the text points in this direction). I think his argument would have stayed stronger if he spent time looking at the fall of the Communist bloc as a response to the rise of alternative universalist ideologies-- something he gets close to when he talks about Helsinki and the emergence of "human rights" (see The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History for more on this). Another example is the rise of political Islam, where the most illuminating example is the Iranian Revolution (taking place in three years after Helsinki, near the same time Deng Xiaoping consolidated power, and almost simultaneous to Margaret Thatcher's election and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan). Pulling on these strings a little harder would have gone a long way. In any case, this is--for the most part--a decent book and should be taken a look at. I think that it is inferior to Odd Arne Westad's books (The Cold War: A World History and The Global Cold War), but those are much more expansive and require far more time than this one.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Kotsarinis

    I found this book very interesting and quite easy to read. It doesn't deal with exhaustive lists of facts, dates and persons or the minutiae of the Cold War but paints a broad picture of it. It certainly doesn't miss any of key events but it tries to put everything into perspective and show the underlying relations. I particularly liked the effort to explain the rationale behind the decisions of the key players and the predominant way of thinking.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Max Nova

    Gaddis does it again. The Cold War: A New History is an eminently readable account of the Cold War that places it in a larger historical, ideological, and strategic context. If you're alive today, you should probably read this book so that you can understand where we're coming from. I'm not quite sure what it is about Gaddis's style, but this book reads much more like a novel than a dry history book. And of course, he manages to sneak in some of the Grand Strategy reading list too - from Gaddis does it again. The Cold War: A New History is an eminently readable account of the Cold War that places it in a larger historical, ideological, and strategic context. If you're alive today, you should probably read this book so that you can understand where we're coming from. I'm not quite sure what it is about Gaddis's style, but this book reads much more like a novel than a dry history book. And of course, he manages to sneak in some of the Grand Strategy reading list too - from Thucydides to Machiavelli and Clausewitz. I've included some of the best passages from the book below: ### Rebuilding Europe ### The British would attempt to influence the Americans as much as possible—they aspired to the role of Greeks, tutoring the new Romans—but under no circumstances would they get at odds with the Americans. Not only did Soviet troops expropriate property and extract reparations on an indiscriminate scale, but they also indulged in mass rape—some 2 million German women suffered this fate between 1945 and 1947.24 Several premises shaped the Marshall Plan: that the gravest threat to western interests in Europe was not the prospect of Soviet military intervention, but rather the risk that hunger, poverty, and despair might cause Europeans to vote their own communists into office, who would then obediently serve Moscow’s wishes; that American economic assistance would produce immediate psychological benefits and later material ones that would reverse this trend; that the Soviet Union would not itself accept such aid or allow its satellites to, thereby straining its relationship with them; and that the United States could then seize both the geopolitical and the moral initiative in the emerging Cold War. And when several recipients of Marshall Plan aid pointed out that self-confidence could hardly be attained without military protection, the Americans agreed to provide this too in the form of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the first peacetime military alliance the United States had entered into since the termination, in 1800, of the one with France that had secured American independence. ### Grand strategy in the atomic age ### This grim trend led the great Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz, writing in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, to warn that states resorting to unlimited violence could be consumed by it. If the object of war was to secure the state—how could it not be?—then wars had to be limited: that is what Clausewitz meant when he insisted that war is “a continuation of political activity by other means. . . . The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.” States themselves could become the victims of war if weapons ever became so destructive that they placed at risk the purposes for which wars were being fought. Any resort to force, under such circumstances, could destroy what it was meant to defend. As the means of fighting great wars became exponentially more devastating, the likelihood of such wars diminished, and ultimately disappeared altogether. Contrary to the lesson Thucydides drew from the greatest war of his time, human nature did change—and the shock of Hiroshima and Nagasaki began the process by which it did so. Without ever having read Clausewitz—at least as far as we know—the president revived that strategist’s great principle that war must be the instrument of politics, rather than the other way around… That stark fact caused this ordinary man to do an extraordinary thing. He reversed a pattern in human behavior so ancient that its origins lay shrouded in the mists of time: that when weapons are developed, they will be used. Apart from the single instance of the Berlin blockade, it is difficult to see that the United States got any political advantages from its nuclear monopoly. “They frighten [us] with the atomic bomb, but we are not afraid of it,” Stalin assured the same Chinese he had warned about the dangers of risking war.20 The claim may not have been true, but Stalin’s strategy made sense: he had shrewdly calculated that, short of war itself, the atomic bomb was an almost unusable weapon. There was, thus, no direct Soviet-American military confrontation over Korea—or so it appeared for many years. Recent evidence, however, has required revising this conclusion, for one other thing Stalin did was to authorize the use of Soviet fighter planes, manned by Soviet pilots, over the Korean peninsula—where they encountered American fighters flown by American pilots. And so there was, after all, a shooting war between the United States and the Soviet Union: it was the only time this happened during the Cold War. Both sides, however, kept it quiet. The Soviet Union never publicized its involvement in these air battles, and the United States, which was well aware of it, chose not to do so either. The two superpowers had found it necessary but also dangerous to be in combat with one another. They tacitly agreed, therefore, on a cover-up. In the end, as the president saw it, if the United States could build what was now coming to be called a “hydrogen” bomb, then it must build one. To be behind in any category of weaponry—or even to appear to be—would risk disaster. The problem now was not so much how to defeat an adversary as how to convince him not to go to war in the first place. Paradoxically, that seemed to require the development of weapons so powerful that no one on the American side knew what their military uses might be, while simultaneously persuading everyone on the Soviet side that if the war did come those weapons would without doubt be employed. ### Ideology ### “The fact of the matter is that there is a little bit of the totalitarian buried somewhere, way down deep, in each and every one of us,” Kennan told students at the National War College in 1947. “It is only the cheerful light of confidence and security which keeps this evil genius down. . . . If confidence and security were to disappear, don’t think that he would not be waiting to take their place.” This warning from the founder of containment—that the enemy to be contained might as easily lie within the beneficiaries of freedom as among its enemies—showed how pervasive fear had become in a postwar international order for which there had been so much hope. It helps to explain why Orwell’s 1984, when it appeared in 1949, became an instant literary triumph. Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech of January, 1918, the single most influential statement of an American ideology in the 20th century, was a direct response to the ideological challenge Lenin had posed. The reasons had less to do with any fundamental shift in the means of production, as a Marxist historian might have argued, than with a striking shift in the attitude of the United States toward the international system. Despite having built the world’s most powerful and diversified economy, Americans had shown remarkably little interest, prior to 1941, in how the rest of the world was governed. Repressive regimes elsewhere might be regrettable, but they could hardly harm the United States. Even involvement in World War I had failed to alter this attitude, as Wilson discovered to his embarrassment and chagrin. What did change it, immediately and irrevocably, was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That event shattered the illusion that distance ensured safety: that it did not matter who ran what on the other side of the ocean. The nation’s security was now at risk, and because future aggressors with air and naval power could well follow the Japanese example, the problem was not likely to go away. There was little choice, then, but for the United States to assume global responsibilities. Those required winning the war against Japan and Germany—Hitler having declared war on the United States four days after Pearl Harbor—but they also meant planning a postwar world in which democracy and capitalism would be secure. Not only had capitalism generated social inequality, as Marx had predicted it would. By this line of reasoning, it had also produced two world wars. BOTH OF the ideologies that defined those worlds were meant to offer hope: that is why one has an ideology in the first place. One of them, however, had come to depend, for its functioning, upon the creation of fear. The other had no need to do so. Therein lay the basic ideological asymmetry of the Cold War. By that time, one historian has estimated, the Stalinist dictatorship had either ended or wrecked the lives of between 10 and 11 million Soviet citizens—all for the purpose of maintaining itself in power. But that meant accepting the proposition that Stalin himself was the font of all wisdom and common sense, claims his acolytes made frequently during the final years of his life. Whether he believed them or not, the “greatest genius of mankind” was in fact a lonely, deluded, and fearful old man, addicted to ill-informed pontifications on genetics, economics, philosophy, and linguistics, to long drunken dinners with terrified subordinates, and—oddly—to American movies. “I’m finished,” he acknowledged in a moment of candor shortly before his death. “I don’t even trust myself.” But the system he was trying to preserve had itself been based, since the time of Marx and Engels, on the claim to be error-free. That was what it meant to have discovered the engine that drove history forward. A movement based on science had little place for confession, contrition, and the possibility of redemption. The problems Khrushchev created for himself and for the international communist movement, therefore, began almost from the moment he finished speaking. Mao took a different path. His principal theoretical innovation was to claim that peasants were proletarians: that they did not have to be transformed. Accordingly, Mao added to his industrialization and collectivization campaigns his own purge of potential dissidents. “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend,” he proclaimed ; but then he arrested as “rightists” those critics unwise enough to have taken him at his word. It was a strategy designed to “coax the snakes out of their holes, . . . to let the poisonous weeds grow first and then destroy them one by one. Let them become fertilizer.” The result of Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” was the greatest single human calamity of the 20th century. Stalin’s campaign to collectivize agriculture had caused between 5 and 7 million people to starve to death during the early 1930s. Mao now sextupled that record, producing a famine that between 1958 and 1961 took the lives of over 30 million people, by far the worst on record anywhere ever. So Mao did wind up surpassing the Soviet Union and everyone else in at least one category. But it was not one of which the ideologists of Marxism, Leninism, Stalinism, or Maoism could be proud. This is where the capitalists got it right: they were better than the communists at learning from history, because they never bought into any single, sacrosanct, and therefore unchallengeable theory of history. ### NIXON AND THE CIA #### But the nation would soon see Nixon haunted again, this time irreversibly, not by Vietnamese insurgents or radical students but by the legal consequences of a petty burglary that would drive him from office. The rule of law, within the United States at least, outweighed the accomplishments of grand strategy. The claim was not a new one. Every chief executive since Franklin D. Roosevelt had sanctioned acts of questionable legality in the interests of national security, and Abraham Lincoln had done so more flagrantly than any of them in order to preserve national unity. Nixon, however, made several mistakes that were distinctly his own. The first was to exaggerate the problem confronting him: the leaking of The Pentagon Papers to the New York Times was not a threat comparable to secession in 1861, or to the prospect of subversion during World War II and the early Cold War. Nixon’s second mistake was to employ such clumsy agents that they got themselves caught. And his third mistake—the one that ended his presidency—was to lie about what he had done in a futile attempt to cover it up. AMERICAN officials were, at first, reasonably confident that they could contain the Soviet Union and international communism without abandoning standards of behavior drawn from their own domestic experience. They believed firmly that aggression was linked to autocracy, and that a stable international order could best be built upon such principles as freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom of enterprise, and freedom of political choice. “The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations,” Kennan wrote in the summer of 1947. “To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation. Surely, there was never a fairer test . . . than this. The newly established Central Intelligence Agency had neither the capability nor the authority at the time to conduct covert operations : such was the relative innocence of the era. But with the State Department’s encouragement, it stepped into the breach... Shortly thereafter, the National Security Council expanded the role of the C.I.A. to include propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance movements, guerillas and refugee liberation groups, and support of indigenous anti-communist elements in threatened countries of the free world. Kennan insisted that the State Department monitor C.I.A. activities to ensure that “plausible deniability” would not mean the lifting of all restraints... As Kennan later admitted : “It did not work out at all the way I had conceived it.” The expanding scale and audacity of covert operations led Kennan to admit, years later, that recommending them had been “the greatest mistake I ever made.” “[W]e are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination,” the Doolittle Report, a highly classified evaluation of C.I.A. covert operations, concluded in 1954. “There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply.” … And so the Cold War transformed American leaders into Machiavellians. “I can say unequivocally,” Nixon wrote after resigning the presidency, “that without secrecy there would have been no opening to China, no SALT agreement with the Soviet Union, and no peace agreement ending the Vietnam war.” There is little reason to doubt that claim. ...Where Nixon went wrong was not in his use of secrecy to conduct foreign policy—diplomacy had always required that—but in failing to distinguish between actions he could have justified if exposed and those he could never have justified. ### Beginning of the end of Communism in Europe ### His problem was that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, like all other ruling communist parties, drew its authority from its claim to historical infallibility: that left it vulnerable when events failed to follow the script. Helsinki became, in short, a legal and moral trap. Having pressed the United States and its allies to commit themselves in writing to recognizing existing boundaries in Eastern Europe, Brezhnev could hardly repudiate what he had agreed to in the same document—also in writing—with respect to human rights. Without realizing the implications, he thereby handed his critics a standard, based on universal principles of justice, rooted in international law, independent of Marxist-Leninist ideology, against which they could evaluate the behavior of his and other communist regimes. Real power rested, during the final decade of the Cold War, with leaders like John Paul II, whose mastery of intangibles—of such qualities as courage, eloquence, imagination, determination, and faith—allowed them to expose disparities between what people believed and the systems under which the Cold War had obliged them to live. The gaps were most glaring in the Marxist-Leninist world: so much so that when fully revealed there was no way to close them other than to dismantle communism itself, and thereby end the Cold War. ### Reagan and Gorbachev ### Reagan was as skillful a politician as the nation had seen for many years, and one of its sharpest grand strategists ever. His strength lay in his ability to see beyond complexity to simplicity. And what he saw was simply this: that because détente perpetuated—and had been meant to perpetuate—the Cold War, only killing détente could end the Cold War. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Gorbachev acknowledged his failure. “The Achilles heel of socialism was the inability to link the socialist goal with the provision of incentives for efficient labor and the encouragement of initiative on the part of individuals. It became clear in practice that a market provides such incentives best of all.” But German reunification was, nonetheless, an unsettling prospect, not just for the Soviet Union but for all Europeans who remembered the record of the last unified German state. Gorbachev was never a leader in the manner of Václav Havel, John Paul II, Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Lech Wałęsa—even Boris Yeltsin. They all had destinations in mind and maps for reaching them. Gorbachev dithered in contradictions without resolving them… He chose love over fear, violating Machiavelli’s advice for princes and thereby ensuring that he ceased to be one. ### Parting Notes ### Columbus’s reputation, in turn, would hardly have been what it was had it not been for the decision of the Hongxi emperor, in 1424, to suspend China’s far more costly and ambitious program of maritime exploration, thus leaving the great discoveries to the Europeans. A strange decision, one might think, until one recalls the costly and ambitious American effort to outdo the Soviet Union by placing a man on the moon, completed triumphantly on July 20, 1969. It had been, President Nixon extravagantly boasted, “the greatest week in the history of the world since the Creation.” But then, after only five more moon landings over the next three and a half years, Nixon suspended the manned exploration of space altogether, leaving future discoveries to be postponed indefinitely. Which emperor’s behavior will seem stranger 500 years hence? It is difficult to say. The Cold War may well be remembered, then, as the point at which military strength, a defining characteristic of “power” itself for the past five centuries, ceased to be that. The Soviet Union collapsed, after all, with its military forces, even its nuclear capabilities, fully intact.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mason

    Most contemporary university students such as myself were not born when the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. As the author of The Cold War: A New History, John Lewis Gaddis, rather facetiously puts it: My students [have] very little sense of how the Cold War started, what it was about, or why it ended the way it did. For them its history: not all that different from the Peloponnesian War. While the Cold War should not be equated with the Peloponnesian War Most contemporary university students – such as myself – were not born when the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. As the author of “The Cold War: A New History”, John Lewis Gaddis, rather facetiously puts it: “…My students … [have] very little sense of how the Cold War started, what it was about, or why it ended the way it did. For them it’s history: not all that different from the Peloponnesian War.” While the Cold War should not be equated with the Peloponnesian War because the consequences of the actions undertaken during the Cold War are still being felt – e.g. the American decision to arm Islamic Fundamentalists/radicals in Afghanistan – knowledge about the Cold War has been diminishing among the youth. My own experience within the British education system has given me first-hand experience of this knowledge deficit among the youth: we were simply never taught about one of the most important events within history that is having major consequences on the world we inhabit. In response to this historical ignorance, Gaddis has sought to put all his considerable knowledge into a concise and readable book for those who are just starting out in their study of the Cold War. Gaddis explains that his book does not provide any new sources or interpretations that depart from his prior books on the Cold War, it is just a summing up of all his previous scholarship. As someone who has studied most of his previous works and now has a good understanding of the Cold War, this meant that I found it to be a rather banal read. The only moments where I derived any enjoyment in this book was in his first three chapters: the origins of the conflict, the Korean war and the ideological battle between communism and capitalism. My reason for this is that Gaddis brings to life these chapters through the use of anecdotes and creative writing. For instance, Gaddis opens his chapter on the Korean war with a fictional account, which involves the use of nuclear weapons on multiple fronts and the obliteration of Europe, as to how the war could of generated into a direct conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. While this will be a banal read for all of those who know a bit about the Cold War, should those who are starting out on their studies of the Cold War read this book? The quick answer is no. These people should read Walter LaFeber’s “America, Russia and the Cold War”, Richard Crockatt’s “The Fifty Years War” and, for an excellent orthodox version of the conflict, Henry Kissinger’s “Diplomacy”. Within these works one will find a good chronological interpretation of Cold War history and, in the case of Crockatt, one that attempts to remain as unbiased as possible. These works are in complete contrast to Gaddis’ book because “The Cold War: A New History” is not a chronological explanation as to what happened which, as is quite evident in some of the reviews for this book, can be quite jolting. In addition, I would recommend some of his previous works over this because they fully explain the events in question – equipping the reader with the necessary nuances they need in order to understand the Cold War.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Beaudoin

    Gaddis explains in his preface that he set out to write this book for his students, utilizing their feedback that the books they use in his classes have too many dates (among other things). He then wrote this book as a history of the Cold War, but focusing more on events and their impact upon subsequent events, rather than writing a chronological narrative. The result is a book that is engaging, interesting, and rarely feels like a "history book". Gaddis draws correlations between the actions of Gaddis explains in his preface that he set out to write this book for his students, utilizing their feedback that the books they use in his classes have too many dates (among other things). He then wrote this book as a history of the Cold War, but focusing more on events and their impact upon subsequent events, rather than writing a chronological narrative. The result is a book that is engaging, interesting, and rarely feels like a "history book". Gaddis draws correlations between the actions of leaders and events, shows the influence of some leaders upon others, and focuses on telling the story of the key Cold War events from a wide perspective, not just the usual America vs. USSR one upon which most books on this topic seem to focus. There were a few times when the small amount of dates frustrated me and I was often trying to place events chronologically in my mind. However, I think these are good signs, as I was constantly engaged enough in the reading to draw these connections, rather than losing the thread of the narrative through the time line, as so often happens. Overall, this is one of the most interesting and informative nonfiction books I have read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carol Bundy

    I thought I was going to like this a lot more than I did. I was hoping to find a book that would treat the Cold War in a way comparable to McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" for the Civil War. I didn't. Certainly it is a comprehensive but shortish history of the Cold War. It is well written. And I am sure that it serves its purpose but I was put off by it. First Gaddis' tone -- his authorial voice -- disturbed me. Second, there is a lot he leaves out. Third, I felt his viewpoint was heavily I thought I was going to like this a lot more than I did. I was hoping to find a book that would treat the Cold War in a way comparable to McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" for the Civil War. I didn't. Certainly it is a comprehensive but shortish history of the Cold War. It is well written. And I am sure that it serves its purpose but I was put off by it. First Gaddis' tone -- his authorial voice -- disturbed me. Second, there is a lot he leaves out. Third, I felt his viewpoint was heavily slanted. So reading this book has given me a lot to think about. I found a review of this book in the NYRof Books by Tony Judt and was relieved to see that quite a few of my objections were articulated very well by Judt.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Belhor

    A perfectly readable and pretty thorough history of cold war. Learned so much from it. The new evidence which were used for this book also sheds new light on some of the incidents during the cold war years which made the book even more interesting of a read. If you are under thirty and like me know very little about cold war, this book is for you.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I listened to this one and I think I need to listen to it twice. I found it extremely engaging, but it's not your typical "narrative" history. He organizes his materials more or less chronologically, but focuses on idea and concepts and people more than chronology. Most fascinating was the chapter called "Actors" which he means both literally and figuratively, i.e., the world personalities involved whom he saw as capable actors on the world stage, with a clearly articulated and easily I listened to this one and I think I need to listen to it twice. I found it extremely engaging, but it's not your typical "narrative" history. He organizes his materials more or less chronologically, but focuses on idea and concepts and people more than chronology. Most fascinating was the chapter called "Actors" which he means both literally and figuratively, i.e., the world personalities involved whom he saw as capable actors on the world stage, with a clearly articulated and easily understandable message about the rivalry that dominated the last half of the 20th century. And of course he notes that there was a professional among them, (i.e., Reagan). This is a very conservative view of the world--not my usual fare, but a very interesting thesis nonetheless. The actors were Reagan, Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping, Lech Walęsa, Pope John Paul II ( whom he refers to as Karol Wojtyla throughout) Vąclav Havel, "even Boris Yeltsin" (whom Gaddis doesn't exactly like) who cut through policies and procedures and spoke directly to the people about change. But not Mikhail Gorbachev (my own hero) who did so much to change the USSR but had no vision of what would replace it. Interesting that those of us who hated Reagan and Thatcher focus on domestic affairs mostly. Both seemed to me way too simplistic in foreign affairs, but that's what Gaddis liked, that they HAD a vision and spoke it clearly so that everyone--the people--at home and abroad could hear it: as in."Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". Still he had a fit tribute to Gorbie, "And so, in the end, he gave up an ideology, an empire and his own country, in preference to using force. He chose love over fear, violating Machiavelli's advice for princes and thereby ensuring that he ceased to be one. It made little sense in traditional geopolitical terms. But it did make him the most deserving recipient of the Novel Peace Prize." I suspect there's more cynicism in that statement which I tend to take seriously. You'll see from that quote, too, that Gaddis is an excellent writer and stylist. I give it 8/10. If I were more of a conservative, I think I'd give it a 10

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marci Miller

    Main points I got from this book: -The subject is an extremely political one, and I feel a lot of historians would be very biased when touching upon it. Clearly that's the case with Gaddis, which takes a very pro-US government view. -It is concise and touches on a lot of the events that took place in those years, so it proves to be a good reminder of the milestones of the conflict. The book is full of interpretations too, which of course, are subject to the reader's scrutiny. -Much of its focus is Main points I got from this book: -The subject is an extremely political one, and I feel a lot of historians would be very biased when touching upon it. Clearly that's the case with Gaddis, which takes a very pro-US government view. -It is concise and touches on a lot of the events that took place in those years, so it proves to be a good reminder of the milestones of the conflict. The book is full of interpretations too, which of course, are subject to the reader's scrutiny. -Much of its focus is on the grand strategy of the war, of trying to rationalise why each side took the decisions they did. It is a point of view of someone that has had-I understand-influence in the US Governments in recent years (Gaddis was advisor to Bush jr). So clearly worth making an effort to know about the explanations and rationalisations he provides. -Although I don't know much about the Cold War, I feel that for sure the books has many gaps in its exposition and I just cannot wait to read another book on the subject in order to get a broader view on it. -I couldn't wait to finish the book to go online and read reviews about it as I had the strong feeling that I was not being told the full story. Interestingly enough, I found this review by Professor Judt, which I thought it was a very pertinent one and pointing to many of the question marks I was having whilst reading it. I attach the link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andrew St.

    From the perspective of one who did not live during (or, as a child, was not aware of) these world events, this book represents, to me, a fascinating collection of usable facts and their corresponding dates. As opposed to many other works of history that I have read, Gaddis' book provides a clear look at each situation occurring to a certain point before moving along the timeline. In a sense, this book is like an organized forum of correspondents who are allowed to discuss what happened within From the perspective of one who did not live during (or, as a child, was not aware of) these world events, this book represents, to me, a fascinating collection of usable facts and their corresponding dates. As opposed to many other works of history that I have read, Gaddis' book provides a clear look at each situation occurring to a certain point before moving along the timeline. In a sense, this book is like an organized forum of correspondents who are allowed to discuss what happened within the particular arena of their findings from this vital historical account. Many other historical accounts tell their stories chronologically, all the while dipping into occurrences, views and conversations that offer deeper (albeit inconsequential) probes into the surrounding circumstances at the time. As a person who finds more importance in the completion of a task itself, in comparison to how long it will take me to do it, I find Gaddis' book to be a practical look at the Cold War as an event, as well as an easily digested work from which I can recite dates and memorable quotes.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Ratzman

    The eminent Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis was at my alma mater, Ohio University, before moving to Yale. His editor suggested he distill his vast knowledge into this accessible intro. This is old-school history: documents, big leaders and events--all sprinkled with an almost invisible coating of analysis, speculation and ideology. It seems that the Great Powers knew theyd never use their weapons, and made awkward attempts to maintain the status quo, like a Romantic Comedy where small bit The eminent Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis was at my alma mater, Ohio University, before moving to Yale. His editor suggested he distill his vast knowledge into this accessible intro. This is old-school history: documents, big leaders and events--all sprinkled with an almost invisible coating of analysis, speculation and ideology. It seems that the Great Powers knew they’d never use their weapons, and made awkward attempts to maintain the status quo, like a Romantic Comedy where small bit players keep on screwing up the romance: gung-ho China, Third World dictators, embarrassing autocrats. There are a lot of tails wagging our two main dogs. I got a better picture of this period—I lived through half of it!—and the politics behind it, especially its confusing end. Though tens of millions died of man-made famines, the Cold War “could have been worse-much worse”; The motive for the botched Communist cause—the vast masses of the oppressed, hungry and overworked—gets overlooked again.

  21. 4 out of 5

    John Grinstead

    This is a really good analysis of the events that led up to the Cold War; an explanation of the pressures that built up during the 1950s and 60s; the brinkmanship; some of the political tensions that existed within the Communist sphere of influence - in particular the distrust/dislike that existed between China and the USSR - ;and, importantly, the events that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It explains, in layman's terms, the significance of the roles This is a really good analysis of the events that led up to the Cold War; an explanation of the pressures that built up during the 1950s and 60s; the brinkmanship; some of the political tensions that existed within the Communist sphere of influence - in particular the distrust/dislike that existed between China and the USSR - ;and, importantly, the events that led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It explains, in layman's terms, the significance of the roles played by the Catholic church, the trade unions in Poland, the stagnation of the politburo, the influence of Gorbachev and the groundswell of grass routes opinion that led to what Gaddis suggests was the inevitable failure of Communism. The closing account of events on the Hungarian border and within the Warsaw Pact were, for me, a revelation. An easy read and a good introduction for further exploration into events and the people that made up a significant part of our modern history.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Darran Mclaughlin

    I thought this was ok. It's pacy and readable, but perhaps he's playing to the gallery too much. It's really simplified and very obviously written for the general reader. His biases are fairly obvious. He devotes a lot of space to the era's and achievments of Nixon and Reagan, and not much to Kennedy and Carter, and he portrays all the Soviet leaders as thick, cruel and hateful until Gorbachev. I read this not long after Postwar by Tony Judt, which is a vastly superior book that covers much of I thought this was ok. It's pacy and readable, but perhaps he's playing to the gallery too much. It's really simplified and very obviously written for the general reader. His biases are fairly obvious. He devotes a lot of space to the era's and achievments of Nixon and Reagan, and not much to Kennedy and Carter, and he portrays all the Soviet leaders as thick, cruel and hateful until Gorbachev. I read this not long after Postwar by Tony Judt, which is a vastly superior book that covers much of the same ground in a far more interesting and analytical way.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This is in many ways a good short synthesis of a very broad topic. Its strength probsbly lies in its readability for a lay audience. It's major weakness, however, lies in it's Americentrisim, which I found often a bit hard to take and definitely colored my enjoyment of it. If read with other works it can be interesting to compare narratives of the same events. In such a light the limitations of the view adopted by Gaddis come to light. I would recommend it with that caution.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I was really surprised at the end when Germany reunited and the USSR broke up. Good writing and a twist ending that I never saw coming. Sorry for the spoilers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aditya Pareek

    An objective account of the greatest era of geopolitical upheaval by the most respected scholar of the field. If there was one book you would need to understand the cold war, this is it.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Guido

    Do you think I should teach my classes online? Professor Gaddis asked all of us teaching assistants on a warm and sunny Fall afternoon in September, 2014 after presenting one of his favorite lectures on President Eisenhauer for his undergraduate class History of the Cold War. The class was actually the most popular undergraduate class on campus, filling Yales largest lecture hall. His question was pointed: we all agreed that he should not teach online but in person. He nodded quietly in “Do you think I should teach my classes online?” Professor Gaddis asked all of us teaching assistants on a warm and sunny Fall afternoon in September, 2014 after presenting one of his favorite lectures on President Eisenhauer for his undergraduate class “History of the Cold War.” The class was actually the most popular undergraduate class on campus, filling Yale’s largest lecture hall. His question was pointed: we all agreed that he should not teach online but in person. He nodded quietly in approval, smiling wryly. Professor Gaddis relished the lectures and his time on stage (literally in this particular lecture hall). He needed to hear the students laugh at his jokes-which there were many (both jokes and students). Fusing his lecture notes with personal photographs and stories collected from a lifetime living and studying the Cold War to include video clips taken from the 24 episode television series “The Cold War,” personally funded by Ted Turner, which Professor Gaddis was a prominent advisor, these Monday and Wednesday afternoon lectures were multimedia extravaganzas in which he delighted in recounting the ups and downs in a conflict which could have ended civilization as we know it in rather short order. This deft recounting of the most significant and serious events of The Cold War along with the dexterity and detail of everyday people is precisely what makes “Cold War: A New History” so great. A masterfully told history of the Cold War, accessible to anyone, “A New History” was needed both because his wife demanded it (“Why don’t you write something people are going to READ!!!” was what I recalled her saying) and because of the material made available in Russia and Soviet Republics not-to-mention China after the falling of the Iron Curtain. Professor Gaddis eminently succeeded on both counts: “A New History” brings in a wide range of new source material as well as makes learning about all of it fun. “A New History” provided the framework and outline for Professor Gaddis’s legendary Yale class. But it is much more. It is narrative history told by a brilliant and skilled narrator as well as its foremost scholar. As such, “A New History” provides a human depth absent so many accounts. Which led me to ask him a puzzling question before Thanksgiving that semester: “I noticed that you concluded with the interplay of three great personalities, who all had backgrounds in Theater: Reagan, Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II. Did your wife have anything to do with this and your interest in the dramatic?” His wife being, naturally, the Theater Professor Toni Dorfman. “Of course,” he smiled wryly. And as such, Professor Gaddis understands that which Shakespeare mastered: “All the world’s a stage.” And like Shakespeare, Gaddis wonderfully tells us what this Theatre of the Absurd across the Cold War could have, but fortunately did not, lead to. As he calls is: “The Triumph of Hope.” “The Cold War: A New History” is the greatest singular book on the Cold War, told by the greatest singular historian of it, one who is intimately familiar with his own humanity, wryly enough. It is more than worth your time to enjoy.

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Schroeder

    This is the definitive narrative on The Cold War. I was surprised about how much I knew yet Gaddis' approach of proper context and good storytelling was what made this book great. The Pulitzer Prize was evident. What makes him most helpful as a writer is that he teaches students on a regular basis and you feel as though you are receiving the grand lecture. Well worth the read to understand how we got here. As a "Cold War kid," I have always been fascinated by the topic and I'll grateful for the This is the definitive narrative on The Cold War. I was surprised about how much I knew yet Gaddis' approach of proper context and good storytelling was what made this book great. The Pulitzer Prize was evident. What makes him most helpful as a writer is that he teaches students on a regular basis and you feel as though you are receiving the grand lecture. Well worth the read to understand how we got here. As a "Cold War kid," I have always been fascinated by the topic and I'll grateful for the book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Blosser

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. As Gaddis notes, the students he now teaches at Yale were only five years old when the Berlin Wall came down. "Stalin and Truman, Reagan and Gorbachev, could as easily have been Napoleon or Caesar or Alexander the Great." I could relate in part as, being rather young myself, the significance of December 22, 1989 and other momentous events in that era failed to register. One of the best Cold-War memories I took from childhood was the incredible experience of watching a collective of As Gaddis notes, the students he now teaches at Yale were only five years old when the Berlin Wall came down. "Stalin and Truman, Reagan and Gorbachev, could as easily have been Napoleon or Caesar or Alexander the Great." I could relate in part as, being rather young myself, the significance of December 22, 1989 and other momentous events in that era failed to register. One of the best Cold-War memories I took from childhood was the incredible experience of watching a collective of high-schoolers fend off the Russian invasion of America in Red Dawn (1984) (a nostalgic cinematic pleasure which, incidentally, should never have re-made). At any rate, it was with the intent of repairing my personal ignorance of those decades that I set out to acquire greater knowledge, and Gaddis being "the dean of Cold War historians" seemed a good place to start as any. Gaddis' work is populated with some great insights -- for example how the Russian's anticipation of victory upon signing the Helsinki Accords (resolving postward boundaries) turned into dismay with the recognition that their signatures also committed them (if on paper) to certain standards of human rights: Helsinki became, in short, a legal and moral trap. Having pressed the United States and its allies to commit themselves in writing to recognizing existing boundaries in Eastern Europe, Brezhnev could hardly repudiate what he had agreed to in the same document - also in writing - with respect to human rights. Without realizing the implications, he thereby handed his critics a standard, based on the universal principles of justice, rooted in international law, independent of Marxist-Leninist ideology, against which they could evaluate the behavior of his and other communist regimes. What this meant was that the people who lived under these systems -- at least the more courageous -- could claim official permission to say what they thought. Or of the seldom-recognized role Ronald Reagan played to ending the arms race: "[Reagan] was the only nuclear abolitionist ever to have been President of the United States. He made no secret of this, but the possibility that a right-wing Republican anti-communist pro-military chief executive could also be an anti-nuclear activist defies so many stereotypes that hardly anyone noticed Reagan's repeated promises, as he put it in the "evil empire" speech, "to keep America strong and free, while we negotiate real and verifiable reductions in the world's nuclear arsenals and one day, with God's help, their total elimination." Or how the collapse of the Berlin Wall was instigated in part by a botched press conference: After returning from Moscow [Egon] Krenze consulted his colleagues, and on November 9th they decided to try and relieve the mounting tension in East Germany by relaxing -- NOT eliminating -- the rules restricting travel to the West. The hastily drafted decree was handed to Gunger Schabowski, a Politburo member who had not been at the meeting but was about to brief the press. Schabowski glanced at it, also hastily , and then announced that citizens of the G.D.R. were free to leave "through any of the border crossings." The surprised reporters asked when the new ruling went into effect. Shuffling through his papers, Schabowski replied: "[A]ccording ot my new information, immediately." Were the rules valid for travel to West Berlin? Schabowski frowned, shrugged his shoulders, shuffled some more papers, and then replied: "Permanent exist can take place via all border crossings from the G.D.R. to [West Germany] and West Berlin, respectively. The next question was: "What is going to happen to the Berlin Wall now?" Schabowski mumbled an incoherent response, and closed the press conference. Within minutes, the word went out that the wall was open. The final chapter, with the implosion of the Communist Empire under the weight of its own rule, the grudging recognition of its leaders of the hypocrisy and futility of the socialist dream in the face of one citizen uprising after another, and the cascading surrender of governments with a helpless shrug of from the party's leadership (Ceasescu complaining to Gorbachev about 'grave danger not just to socialism . . . but also the very existence of communist parties everywhere." Gorbachev: "You seem concerned about this.") makes for a thrilling and fast-paced conclusion after the plodding detente of the Nixon and Ford administrations. Gaddis eschews a strictly chronological linear approach to history, highlighting the major events to bolster his personal reflections on why events unfolded. So it's helpful to come to the book with a preliminary knowledge of the timeline, and be attentive to Gaddis' jumping around. He also indulges in some unique creative license, which took me by surprise: beginning chapter 2 with a straightforward account of the nuking of Korea . . . revealing in subsequent pages his indulgence in speculation of what MIGHT have happened had MacArthur actually gone forward with the President's promise to "employ every weapon we have" [including the atomic bomb] at a 1950 Presidential press conference. Which is entertaining perhaps, but not what I expected from a historian. Still, with the voluminous amount of writing on the subject I wanted a concise, readable introduction to the subject which I could digest on my commute to work, and Gaddis delivers.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Josh Derrick

    I was a bit disappointed with this history. It followed the standard narrative of communism==bad, inefficient and oppressive and democracy==good and kind of glossed over a lot of the conflicts in Africa and the Americas that I was very interested in learning more about. Gaddis however, does build a compelling narrative around themes and people, rather than just around facts.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    A concise, quite readable history of the Cold War that gives a decent overview of important events and persons, but is somewhat lacking in the analysis department and gives too much room to the author's ideological bias.

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