The Cold War: A New History

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Overview

In 1950, when Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il-Sung met in Moscow to discuss the future, they had reason to feel optimistic. International communism seemed everywhere on the offensive: Stalin was at the height of his power; all of Eastern Europe was securely in the Soviet camp; America's monopoly on nuclear weapons was a thing of the past; and Mao's forces had assumed control over the world's most populous country. Everywhere on the globe, colonialism left the West morally compromised. The story of the previous five decades, which saw severe economic depression, two world wars, a nearly successful attempt to wipe out the Jews, and the invention of weapons capable of wiping out everyone, was one of worst fears confirmed, and there seemed as of 1950 little sign, at least to the West, that the next fifty years would be any less dark.

In fact, of course, the century's end brought the widespread triumph of political and economic freedom over its ideological enemies. How did this happen? How did fear become hope? In The Cold War, John Lewis Gaddis makes a major contribution to our understanding of this epochal story. Beginning with World War II and ending with the collapse of the Soviet Union, he provides a thrilling account of the strategic dynamics that drove the age, rich with illuminating portraits of its major personalities and much fresh insight into its most crucial events. The first significant distillation of cold war scholarship for a general readership, The Cold War contains much new and often startling information drawn from newly opened Soviet, East European, and Chinese archives. Now, as America once again finds itself in a global confrontation with an implacable ideological enemy, The Cold War tells a story whose lessons it is vitally necessary to understand.

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Editorial Reviews

James Mann
Gaddis's latest book boils down the history of the entire Cold War to a sometimes brilliant 266 pages of text, in trenchant, lucid prose intended not for historians and specialists but for ordinary readers. He has not done much new archival field work to produce this new synthesis, and, at times, he relies heavily on his previous work. Yet to Gaddis's credit, he does not merely rewrite himself or retrace the main events from 1946 to 1991. Instead, he stretches to find new ways … to cover the subject, stepping back and looking at the entire period with distance and perspective.
— The Washington Post
William Grimes
In The Cold War: A New History, he offers a succinct, crisply argued account of the Soviet-American conflict that draws on his previous work and synthesizes the mountain of archival material that began appearing in the 1990's. Energetically written and lucid, it makes an ideal introduction to the subject.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Gregory and Sklar, reading Yale history professor Gaddis's study of the American-Soviet standoff, give voice to their inner television announcer, their twin brands of masculine sonorousness verging on virile parody before settling comfortably on the side of familiar voice-over solidity. Gaddis's work unravels the tangled threads of the Cold War, from the tense Allied conferences at the end of WWII to the Korean War and onward, and his book's readers give it the sensation of every word being carefully cultivated and primped before being spoken. If this leads to some of the immediacy, the heart-in-throat sensation, of the events described being diluted, so be it, for Gregory and Sklar give Gaddis's book the grandeur its subject matter so richly deserves. Sounding more professorial, in the I-play-an-Ivy-League-professor-on-television sort of way, than the good professor himself, Gregory and Sklar do an admirable job of making Gaddis's learned words their own. Simultaneous release with the Penguin Press hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 14). (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
In this beautifully written panoramic view of the Cold War, full of illuminations and shrewd judgments, the distinguished diplomatic historian Gaddis brings the half-century U.S.-Soviet struggle to life for a general audience. Seen in retrospect, the Cold War — from the Truman Doctrine and the Korean War to the Cuban missile crisis, détente, and the fall of the Berlin Wall — appears to lead inexorably to a Western triumph. Gaddis seeks to show otherwise: the contingencies of individuals, ideas, critical decisions, narrow escapes, lost opportunities, and lurking dangers all intervened to give the great contest its character and trajectory. Drawing on his own earlier work and a synthesis of post-Cold War scholarship, Gaddis sees the conflict less as an inherent element in the bipolar postwar world than as a result of Soviet impulses toward domination, driven by ideology and dictatorship. He is best in depicting the ethical and strategic dilemmas that faced American presidents: the Cold War may have been a global struggle, but leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon struggled at home to square foreign policy with principles of morality, law, and democratic accountability. Gaddis gives credit for the end of the Cold War to visionaries and "saboteurs of the status quo" such as Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, and Deng Xiaoping, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. That Gaddis is now able to see this fifty-year conflict in its totality as a positive, progressive, and necessary struggle is a sign of how far into the past the Cold War era has receded.
Library Journal
Yale University historian Gaddis brings a depth of knowledge-six previous books on the subject-and lucidity of language to a sweeping overview of the Cold War, mostly from the end of World War II to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Personalities are among the dominant features here: Mikhail Gorbachev, for example, was "the most deserving recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize." This is because Gorbachev did not unleash the might of the Soviet military machine even as the Communist government crumbled around him. In this highly significant way, the Cold War can be considered as much for what did not happen as for what did. Among the other notables due praise, many but not all primarily in the realm of ideas, are Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, George Orwell, and Pope John Paul II. Totalitarian systems flourished in the early postwar stages of the Cold War, but curiously they began to fade. By the time of the Soviet collapse, authoritarian regimes worldwide were losing control. Narrators Jay Gregory and Alan Sklar are lucid, but they sound much the same. There is no doubt that the book is a classic, sure to be heavily used by students of recent history.-Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Cold War scholar Gaddis fashions a short but comprehensive account of what JFK called our "long twilight struggle."Following the defeat of the Axis powers in WWII, the western democracies faced off against their former ally, the totalitarian Soviet Union, in a global contest to determine the shape of the future. Each side's nuclear arsenal made total war unthinkable, but neither could afford to back down. Gaddis (History/Yale; The Landscape of History, 2002, etc.) condenses this sprawling story for a new generation of readers. He resuscitates such almost-forgotten acronyms as SALT, START, SEATO, NATO and MAD, and he places the wars in Korea and Vietnam within the context of the larger struggle and reminds us how lesser tussles over the Chinese offshore islands Quemoy and Matsu, the African nation of Angola, Cuba's Bay of Pigs and Afghanistan before al-Qaeda also affected superpower relations. He discusses the impact of the Berlin Wall, the Cultural Revolution and the Marshall Plan, as well as the Berlin airlift, the Cuban missile crisis, the downing of Gary Powers's U-2 spy plane, Solidarity's Gdansk shipyard strike and Nixon's trip to China. The Cold War's surprisingly peaceful outcome was by no means assured. The democracies forged many an unseemly compromise, suffering frequent setbacks and not a few outright defeats before prevailing. In the end, however, as Gaddis demonstrates, Marxism, which failed to ensure economic success even as it stifled political and social justice, proved no match for the vision of George Kennan or the stirring rhetoric of Kennedy and Reagan in Berlin, Churchill at Westminster College and John Paul II in Krakow. A superb introduction to a complex period inworld history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594200625
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 12/29/2005
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet 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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Table of Contents

Prologue : the view forward 1
I The return of fear 5
II Deathboats and lifeboats 48
III Command versus spontaneity 83
IV The emergence of autonomy 119
V The recovery of equity 156
VI Actors 195
VII The triumph of hope 237
Epilogue : the view back 259
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 26 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 27, 2010

    Great Comprehensive Read

    I really love the thematic layout of the book. Rather than trying to explain the cold war chronologically, Gaddis does a wonderful job in separating each aspect of the cold war so that the big picture, along with each aspect of events, is easier to understand. He really captures the mood and thoughts of both sides of the war. I particularly liked his "alternate ending" of the conflict in Korea that put into perspective how close we really were to a third World War. Great read, great cold war "crash course". Also, great citations in the back for further study. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Cold War

    The graetest asset of this work by Professor Gaddis is in that it does not limit itself to a simple narrative of events but it seeks, and reveals causal relationships across the time horizon. I find it, however, misleading to maintain that the Cold War was purely a struggle between two competing ideologies, authoritative regime against democracy, command economy against free markets. I believe that the underlying cause was Russian grab for power, the classic Russian imperialism that remains the same whether wearing a White coat, a Red coat, or, at present, a Putin-coat. After all, the Red Tzars in Kremlin enjoyed a large popular support only because no other Tzars before achieved Russian superpower status. As for China, the underlying causes were similar. Thus, the ideology was a convenient tool, an effective weapon, but not the cause itself.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2010

    Cliff Notes for the Cold War

    The Cold War is a great book for those who have no memory of the Cold War, and for those who do, it is a well written and engaging synopsis. Although it is a "history" book, it is a fast read. Bring along a pencil and paper however; the book is not written in chronological order. A great introduction to post World War II history for High Schoolers or a 100-200 level college history class.

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  • Posted December 12, 2009

    The Cold War Is Too Short

    When you try to cover the entire Cold War in 352 pages, the author has to make choices what to include and what to omit. I found some of the choices strange, e.g., little on the Cuban Missile Crisis and more on Watergate. That said, there was a considerable amount of new information included in the book. The organization is more theme-based than chronological which sometimes makes it more difficult to parse out the sequence of events.

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  • Posted August 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Great overview - good for those with a history background

    Bought for my six-yr-old, who has some history background but had some gaps in his education. He loved the book, and when he recognized gaps he looked various items up. The book worked well for him. (I personally haven't gotten to it yet ...). Other books and DVDs recommended by the Man are listed below.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    Enlightening look at the full breadth of the Cold War.

    I came of age during the late 70's and early 80's. I studied the Cold War during that time in college, so it was wonderful (and a bit alarming!) to read about it as "history". It was very insightful to go back to the "start" of the Cold War- the end of WW II. I recommend this book to anyone who has read about WW II. It enlightens one on the continuation of that conflict, and how exhausted politicians and nations can inadvertantly precipatate further problems once they've "won" a war.

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  • Posted February 17, 2009

    Good reading

    I bought this book for my 15 year old daughter who loves History and specifically asked for it for Christmas. She plans to major in History and loved this book. Highly recommend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2008

    Well worth the time

    You can tell that the author is an expert in cold war history, and one appreciates being able to get such a masterful telling of the history in such a condensed way. Even though it is relatively short, you do not feel as if you are missing anything important.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2006

    Scholarly, but Flawed

    OVERVIEW. A fascinating and scholarly narrative of that traumatic period¿fascinating in what it discerns about individual ¿actors¿ on the precarious world stage, and scholarly in its inclusion of relevant historical factors. Yet, being fascinating and scholarly¿rather than comprehensive and analytical¿poses enough systematic flaws to make it only one of many books, now or yet to be, about the Cold War. The book is a cornucopia of useful information about excruciating events during nearly a half-century of near worldwide disaster. _____ ATOMIC BOMBINGS. Professor Gaddis sets the scene rightfully with the conditions that led to, evolved with, and ended World War II, including the atomic bombings of Japan. (Gaddis, though, does not demonstrate that war might have been ended just as quickly without the bombings.) _____ COLD WAR. For nearly the half-century that followed, much of humanity was indeed impacted with struggles over national boundaries, ideological politicization, grand scheming, and simple survival. Gaddis tracks the Cold War evolution by focusing on key personalities, such as Stalin, Churchill, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. He recalls the influence of Marx, Lenin, Roosevelt, and Wilson. Khrushchev and Gorbachev both had major roles on the big stage, as did Chang and Mao, Johnson and Nixon, Kennan and Kissinger. Lesser appearances were by Castro, De Gaulle, Sadat, Walesa, Thatcher, and Havel. In fact, roles for many leaders are highlighted. _____ THE POPE AND REAGAN. One reservation would be about disproportional credit given to Pope John Paul II and President Reagan in terms of reversing Cold War trends. As pictured by Gaddis, the Pope¿s appearances are likely to be gratifying to Catholics, and Reagan¿s role will satisfy neoconservatives. _____ REAGAN¿S BELLICOSITY. While some of Reagan¿s recitals and visions as President were conciliatory, his words were more than offset by bellicose and risky governmental directives. He brandished weapons and threats, along with unfounded accusations that the Soviets were violating international treaties. Reagan decided to store neutron weapons in Europe and repeated his controversial opinion that tactical nuclear weapons could be used in Europe without igniting an all-out nuclear war. He pushed for Pershing-II and nuclear-armed cruise-missile deployment in Western Europe. Although he resumed START-I negotiations, no appreciable progress was made during his eight years in office. Early in his presidency, Reagan publicly labeled the Soviet Union an ¿evil empire,¿ and exhibited a righteous contempt of the antiauthoritarian nuclear ¿Freeze¿ movement. He was sold on unilateral ballistic missile defense (SDI), a nearly impossible dream. In 1983, he asked Congress to support the destabilizing MX multiple-warhead missile program. Reagan rejected an opportunity for a nuclear-test moratorium, and he presided over a massive increase in U.S. military expenditures. _____ THE ILLUSIONIST. It is very difficult to reconcile those Presidential actions (in contrast to facile words or divined intentions) with Gaddis¿s position that Reagan ¿was the only nuclear abolitionist ever to have been president of the United States,¿ and that Reagan was ¿one of the sharpest grand strategists ever.¿ Perhaps it would be better to describe Reagan as `one of the sharpest grand illusionists ever.¿ Therein lies an analytical flaw in ¿A New History.¿ Despite the book¿s constructive contributions, it seems more like a general¿s view, not one from the trenches and battlegrounds. The massive public and intellectual protests against Reaganite policies and self-indulgences are kept in the distant background. _____ TOP-CENTRIC. As you might also observe, Gaddis¿s treatment of Cold War history is top-centric (which, for me, was frankly the most interesting and insightful aspect of his book). But such emphasis on the cult of leadership results in little or no attention to sociological and in

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2006

    twisted period

    Thought provocating, nice work, though one should look beyond. Our world is fast changing,both opportunities and challenges. I just read a new book China's global reach by george zhibin gu, which gives a powerful view on current global affairs. A must read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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