The Cold War

Understanding the global struggle that defined half a century.

Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Krushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth

By Frederick Kempe

The tension was palpable: American and Soviet troops stood poised to engage. A young President Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs debacle still fresh in his mind, dared a beleaguered Krushchev to blink. These were the perilous days of Berlin in 1961, when the world was poised on the brink of nuclear war. Kempe, a former Wall Street Journal Berlin bureau chief, paints nuanced portraits of both leaders, chronicles the events that led to the construction of the Berlin Wall, and comes to some surprising conclusions about who won this early Cold War skirmish.

Yalta: The Price of Peace

By S. M. Plokhy

In a resort town on the Black Sea in 1944, FDR, Churchill, and Stalin partitioned the globe and sowed the seeds of global struggle for decades to come. With the help of newly declassified Soviet documents, Harvard historian S. M. Plokhy examines the questions that continue to reverberate today: Did FDR give away too much? Did Churchill realize he was laying the foundation for a bipolar world where England was an afterthought? Most of all, did these three leaders realize how important the eight days they spent together would prove?

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

By John le Carre

Le Carre’s seminal work, hailed for its authenticity, dispenses with the glamor of James Bond and delivers a spy novel taut and troubling with its moral ambiguities and myriad betrayals. At the center is Alec Leamas, a stalwart servant of British intelligence who must sacrifice everything he holds dear and venture back into the East to discredit his Soviet counterpart. But is he a pawn in larger plans beyond his comprehension? Notable for one of the most devastating final scenes you’ll ever read, as the balance of Leamas’s fate teeters, literally, atop the Berlin Wall.

Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis

By Robert F. Kennedy

The Cuban Missile Crisis is understood as the height of Cold War hostility. Placing missiles less than 100 miles from America’s shores, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the competition to gain an edge in the nuclear arms race, with a move that threatened to overturn the delicate balance between the two nations’ rocket forces . Our only recourse was diplomacy of an unprecedented intensity. Here RFK offers a gripping first-person account of America’s behind-the-scenes negotiations that somehow averted catastrophe.


Down with Big Brother

By Michael Dobbs

Drawing on decades of experience as a Moscow-based Washington Post correspondent, Dobbs details the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Recounting first the popular uprisings that swept the Soviet bloc in the 80s–engulfing Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and East Germany–and then the disastrous invasion of Afghanistan, Dobbs examines a multitude of factors that contributed to the USSR’s implosion. But he concludes it was actually a broader malady — centered in the diseased Soviet bureaucracy —  that made collapse inevitable.