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

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (October 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520271416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520271418
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #938,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting and informative--and clearly written--trip to a lot of different museums and historical sites that I didn't know about. The chapters are short, which makes it very easy to work through the book slowly and still get something out of each day's reading, or to be highly selective and only read about certain places/monuments of interest. The only weakness of the book was that it got rather repetitive. Wiener is trying to show that we seem to be deliberately choosing to minimize our public memory of the Cold War. Reading about an argument for an absence can get tedious after a while, and I found myself skimming the last third of the book. It's a good book, but for a limited audience of historical site/museum and monument fans.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a guidebook, it's excellent. Wiener visited every American site that had anything at all to do with the Cold War and finds that few are popular tourist spots. I suppose that's true because it's history older Americans lived and younger Americans have seemed to forgotten most history. Perhaps we don't know what to make of The Cold War because it's really not over yet. Russia and China are still not our best of friends. Without going into a political discussion, I'd say Wiener's book is worth a read, especially if you're taking a trip and looking for unique places to visit. If you want to know about the Cold War read John Gaddis or John LeCarre.
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Format: Paperback
I recall, as a child living in Corpus Christie TX in the 1960s, being hard-up against a fence during a Civil Defense drill to practice for a surprise nuclear attack. I also recall the shock to learn that the reason I decided to study a certain engineering to mine manganese nodules from the ocean floor was predicated upon a fraud perpetuated by the Federal government as cover to a secret operation to recover a lost Soviet submarine. Both of the experiences occurred because of the Cold War, its hype, its use and abuse by politicians as well as policy makers. Until Jon Wiener’s book it was difficult to get the long view of the Cold War, to understand the relation of events sometimes three decades in time apart — or even to find where the Cold War has been remembered in a museum or even an historical marker.

Curious.

Why — considering the floods of money spent on the military and foreign aid, proxy war casualties, not to mention additional lives lost on Air Force reconnaissance missions — are there not grand monuments or international caliber museums?

This is the foil used by Wiener throughout is book written in with wry and wizened style. A book which is marked by the history it contains as well as by its unbiased analysis and strategic overview of the events of the Cold War. For example, I was surprised to see a map showing a few dozen sites across the United States devoted to an event or interest of the Cold War. Quite a lot! But no grand museum or encompassing remembrances, even at presidential libraries. Odd that the huge cost and effort of the Cold War be treated apparently in a dismissive fashion, perhaps?

Not only are the chapters enjoyable but the captions are more than informative, not merely descriptive, and often wryly observant.
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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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