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How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America Hardcover – October 15, 2012

ISBN-13: 000-0520271416 ISBN-10: 0520271416

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (October 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520271416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520271418
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Simultaneously hilarious and the best thing ever written on public history and its contestation." --Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz.

"A fascinating and entertaining book." --Eric Foner, author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.

"Combines the author's splendid skills as a reporter with the eye of a scholar. Lively and fun, yes, but also analytically and scholarly grounded. . . a rare and remarkable achievement." -- Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland.

"trenchant . . . and uncommonly frisky.Tom Carson, The American Prospect.

"As popular reading, it's got the humor and wit of Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation and James Loewen's Sundown Towns and DJ Waldie's Holy Land. By which I mean it's witty and kinda mean, and exhilarating bad fun."--O.C. Weekly: Orange County News, Arts & Ent

"Wiener's wit and deft grasp of geopolitics make for one of the season's most intriguing historical books."--Philadelphia City Paper

"Who knew the Cold War was funny? Wiener's adventures in American historical memory are surprisingly lively."--Zocalo Public Square

"A provocative and fascinating new book."--Los Angeles Review of Books

From the Inside Flap

“Here’s a book that would've split the sides of Thucydides. Wiener’s magical mystery tour of Cold War museums is simultaneously hilarious and the best thing ever written on public history and its contestation.“ —Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz

“Jon Wiener, an astute observer of how history is perceived by the general public, shows us how official efforts to shape popular memory of the Cold War have failed. His journey across America to visit exhibits, monuments, and other historical sites, demonstrates how quickly the Cold War has faded from popular consciousness. A fascinating and entertaining book.” —Eric Foner, author of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877

"In How We Forgot the Cold War, Jon Wiener shows how conservatives tried—and failed—to commemorate the Cold War as a noble victory over the global forces of tyranny, a 'good war' akin to World War II. Displaying splendid skills as a reporter in addition to his discerning eye as a scholar, this historian's travelogue convincingly shows how the right sought to extend its preferred policy of 'rollback' to the arena of public memory. In a country where historical memory has become an obsession, Wiener’s ability to document the ambiguities and absences in these commemorations is an unusual accomplishment.” —Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

“In this terrific piece of scholarly journalism, Jon Wiener imaginatively combines scholarship on the Cold War, contemporary journalism, and his own observations of various sites commemorating the era to describe both what they contain and, just as importantly, what they do not. By interrogating the standard conservative brand of American triumphalism, Wiener offers an interpretation of the Cold War that emphasizes just how unnecessary the conflict was and how deleterious its aftereffects have really been.”—Ellen Schrecker, author of Many Are The Crimes: McCarthyism in America

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By The Ginger Man VINE VOICE on December 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a mixture of travelogue, history and polemic. Jon Weiner conducts the reader on a visit to virtually all US Cold War related monuments, museums and memorials. In doing so, he argues that those sites reflect political attempts to assure that some interpretations of the Cold War take precedence.

The primary battle is between conservatives who see the struggle between the US and USSR as an unavoidable final clash between good and evil, in which the men in white hats prevailed thanks to the leadership of Ronald Reagan. Interpretations from the center and left see a more nuanced struggle between nation states that, if it could not have been avoided, certainly could have been reduced in length and impact. Mainstream policymakers pursued goals of "containment" and deterrence" while conservatives argued for "rollback" and victory. Overall, suggests Weiner, "the Republican right lost all the big policy battles of the Cold War" as presidents from both parties rejected their arguments. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he argues, conservatives in congress began to make plans to establish their interpretation as the official memory of the Cold War.

Weiner crosses the country to find many of the 30 locations where parts of the dismantled Berlin Wall are displayed. He tells the story of the Victims of Communism Museum, authorized by Congress in 1993, but never constructed. He visits the Churchill Museum in Missouri and the blacklist exhibit at the Motion Picture Academy in Beverly Hills. Along the way, Weiner recounts events that were memorialized at each site and comments upon visitors and their reactions. One of his most unusual trips is to the Whitaker Chambers pumpkin patch National Historic Landmark in Maryland.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Vanessa R. Schwartz on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Jon Wiener, one of the foremost historians of post-war American culture at work today, has undertaken a journey across the American landscape to ask how and whether the triumphalist conservative narrative of American victory in the Cold War is being celebrated or even remembered at all. He finds pieces of the Berlin Wall in Vegas bathrooms, the site in Fulton Missouri where Churchill coined the term "Iron Curtain" devoted more to the Prime Minister's wartime heroics than to his Cold War rhetorical flair; he can't even reach the Whitaker Chambers farm where the "Pumpkin Papers," key items in the Alger Hiss case were hidden because of its overgrown state. Its condition suggests it is more ready to play the role of Halloween spooky farm than national commemorative site. What, he asks, does this tell us about what people think of the story we tell about the Cold War today?

Written with wit, an easy style and a provocative set of questions about the important role public landmarks, museums, movies and television play in history and memory, this book will intrigue amateur historians to set off across the country, will engender criticism from the protectors of the political Right's version of who won the Cold War and will stand as testament to how quickly attitudes about the past can outpace the memorials designed to preserve them.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Wasserstrom on January 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Many of the best works of history and of journalism are driven by an effort by an author to figure out why something happened. But there are also excellent books in these fields that focus on trying to make sense of why something did not happen, even when it seems like it should have, that focus on Holmesian dogs that didn't bark in the night. That's the case with this latest impressive book by Jon Wiener, a specialist in American history who writes regularly for newspapers and is a contributing editor of The Nation.

In How We Forgot the Cold War, Wiener is fascinated by a conundrum: even though a lot of Americans seem to think that we "won" the Cold War and that Ronald Reagan deserves much of the credit for that imagined triumph, very few commemorative sites in the United States celebrate the "success" in question. Why, he asks, is there such a deep-rooted ambivalence about the Cold War? Why is it downplayed even at sites where you might expect it to loom large (even the Reagan Library doesn't pay it the attention you would assume it would)? Why do Americans seem so much more interested in revisiting other wars--even ones we clearly lost?

The reader is offered answers to these questions, but this is much more than just a rumination on remembering and forgetting and the politics of public history. Reading it also provides the pleasure that comes from being immersed in a work of high quality travel literature by a witty and informed person who has gone to and is skilled at describing intriguing places. Wiener criss-crossed the country, stopping in at a variety of sites, some of which you will wish you had been able to accompany him to, but others of which you're very happy just to be told about (places known for their ties to plutonium, for example).
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Patrik Widrig on January 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Jon Wiener combines the meticulous and far-reaching research of hard, horrific, historic facts with the feel of a fun-filled travelogue and - if they weren't so awful - hilarious twists of confounding current spin of events, and in most cases uncovers just plain whitewashing and deliberate falseness.

What was, for a time, the centerpiece of American Greatness has fallen victim to American Amnesia to the point of denial.

If you wonder how it is possible to write an entertaining book about some of the most atrocious political machinations perpetrated by the government of this country during the Cold War from the 1950's to the 80's, and the efforts of distorting and concealing their effects - mostly, of course, by right-wingers - read this book!
If you want to know what has become of the ill begotten triumphalist exaggerations of American heroism by conservative pols in the years since that time - read this book!

It's all so outrageous, senseless, and ridiculous that I had to put the book down in between readings to recover from the horror. Yet it is ever so satisfying to witness how Wiener's travels lead him to brilliantly, systematically, relentlessly take off the Emperor's Clothes on so-called Cold War Memorial site after so-called Cold War Memorial site, page after page.
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