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The Cold War: A New History Paperback – December 26, 2006
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Outstanding ... The most accessible distillation of that conflict yet written. (The Boston Globe)
Energetically written and lucid, it makes an ideal introduction to the subject. (The New York Times)
A fresh and admirably concise history . . . Gaddiss mastery of the material, his fluent style and eye for the telling anecdote make his new work a pleasure. (The Economist)
About the Author
John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of History of Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (1972); Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security (1982); The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War (1987); We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (1997); The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (2002); and Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (2004).
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Gaddis begins his journey through the Cold War by examining the relationship between the Anglo-Saxon powers and the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Gaddis argues that the roots of the Cold War can be traced to the Second World War and the apparent distrust that existed between the Anglo-Saxons and the Soviets. The Grand Alliance was an alliance between powers that did not trust one another, nor did they share the same postwar plans, that came together to defeat a common enemy. With such a major difference in ideology, the alliance was a matter of convenience and necessity. Gaddis supports this claim using the development of the atomic bomb. The Anglo-Americans neglected to tell Stalin they were developing the weapon because of the position it would give them in the postwar world, but Stalin knew about the bomb because of his use of spies.
Gaddis focuses on many of the important “actors” of the Cold War and he explains their significance to the escalation/de-escalation of the conflict. Gaddis argues that Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. The examination of Reagan’s relationship with Gorbachev illustrates the impact the U.S. President had on the Soviet leader.
The Cold War attempts to cover the entire Cold War era in a very short book which means that Gaddis was forced to pick and choose what information he included. The book does not have a continuously flowing narrative, but rather, it jumps from theme to theme as he progresses through the work. This is not necessarily a criticism, but it can be disorienting for some new to the Cold War. Gaddis covers a tremendous amount of information in a fairly short work. For someone looking for a good overview of the Cold War, this book provides a good starting point for further study.
John Lewis Gaddis is a well known and a renowned Cold War historian yet this work is sometimes a bit lacking and at times hard to follow. If you are looking for an in-depth study of the conflict that lasted for five decades and encompassed the globe this is not it. This is simply an overview of the most important events and personalities that shaped the course of the War, which sometimes got hot as in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan. The main issue I take with this book is not that it is too long or too short or that it brushes over certain historical occurrences in just a couple of paragraphs but its choice of how to approach the topic. All of those aforementioned issues are not really issues because as a historian you have the prerogative to prioritize how much importance you want to put on things/events/personalities as your research has indicated that those events perhaps were not that important. However, some issues, like the Vietnam War or Cuban Missile Crisis are oddly absent and the roots of those conflicts are left for the reader to research. Nevertheless, the main drawback is how different themes of the conflict are approached. Even though they generally follow a chronological and a geographical pattern, it is still difficult to discern what is happening and get the whole picture. The Cold War was a global conflict and the fact, that very abstract themes like "Hope" are chosen makes the topics harder to grasp.
However, when it comes to positives, this book has many. Firstly, a very interesting and in fact, funny, style of writing make the book much more enjoyable to read. Sometimes it reads like a good novel with metaphors and good biographies of the leaders. Additionally, the author covers all the major themes even if sometimes there are things you would like to know more about. The chapter about the non-aligned countries is particularly interesting to read for the new and unheard material is brought up, which we largely do not associate with this conflict. Fors instance, how smaller countries like Nationalist China (Taiwan), South Korea and even South Vietnam all had at one point or another threatened the US, that their governments might collapse if the US does not send aid. A similar role for the USSR played China, especially in the Taiwan crises of 1954 and 1958. Another interesting example is between China and France. Both of these states were thorns in the sides of their respective greater allies. France unnerved the US with its going alone stance and China continuously attacked the USSR and claimed it was not a truly socialist country. Finally, the number of details, citations, and variety of argument presented in most chapters allowed for a great visualization of this epic struggle between nations, states, ideallogies and ultimatelly, people.
One of the final chapters, which Lewis dubbed 'Actors' deals with those personalities who, whether intentionally or not, contributed to the Soviet Union's demise. These figures obviously include Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, but Gaddis provides wonderful insights into the roles of Pope John Paul II, Lech Wa''sa, Deng Xiaoping, and others whose actions helped to topple the "Dark and Evil Empire" of the USSR.
The virtue of this work, its brevity, is also its greatest weakness. Certain events are glossed over rather quickly leaving the reader not fully appreciating their effects upon the larger stage of the Cold War. Watergate, the Suez Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, and even the Cuban Missile Crisis to name a few, simply don't get the time and consideration that they require for a truly thorough history. Gaddis uses just under 270 pages of text to tell an international history of over 45 years.
That said, if you are new to studying this era you will find a good overview here. Also, serious students will still be amazed at Gaddis' analysis of key points in the conflict, and his take on the Cold War as whole. I enjoyed and learned a lot from this book, I only wish it had been longer.
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