This book has been written as an accompaniment to the TV series for the layman who has a general interest in the key developments of the Cold War - that frightening geopolitical and military scenario that dominated the planet, principally between 1946-1991. There's no heavy academic investigation here into Marxism or capitalism, instead we have a part-historical and part-analytical summary of the main aspects of the Cold War. Beginning with the embers of World War 2, this book then takes you through how the Warsaw Pact gradually developed and onto a host of USSR v USA proxy battles such as Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Chile, Angola, Nicaragua and Afghanistan. Other topics include details on missile developments and even the socio-cultural backgrounds within the Western and Eastern blocks.
The book's structure is very useful as everything is offered in reasonably sized chunks and occasional pit stops are made to provide more detailed insights into a variety of supplementary elements such as the Manhattan Project, short biographies e.g. of Stalin and J. Edgar Hoover, the Tonkin Gulf Incident, the most powerful bomb ever exploded at Novaia Zemlya in 1961, China's Cultural Revolution, the Prague Spring of 1968, the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, the Moscow Olympics in 1980, the shooting down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Soviet airspace in 1983, the Star Wars idea, Chernobyl in 1986 and glasnost.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. Of course, producing such a broad sweeping text means that depth has been sacrificed for breadth of coverage. So, if you're looking for a more specific and detailed look into any of the topics discussed here e.g. the Berlin Wall, McCarthy's trials, Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh, the SALT talks, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then you would really need to look elsewhere. Having said that, I was also intrigued by many of the anecdotes, such as the bear that climbed over the fence of a US military base during the Cuban Missile Crisis and almost started World War 3 when the wrong alarm sounded off, the diplomatic couple who almost started a war in Berlin when they were refused entry to the Eastern side for a trip to the theatre, the schoolchildren in the USSR who were taught to assemble a Kalashnikov AK47 assault rifle within 20 seconds, Reagan requesting his briefings to be double spaced and no more than one and a half pages long, Gorbachev's unlikely crew of disparate flatmates while living in scarce social housing, and the one about Brezhnev being drunk at the Politburo meeting when the Soviets decided to invade Afghanistan.
What you are getting here is 536 well written pages divided into 20 chapters within a broadly chronological framework. The breakdown is as follows:
*Iron Curtain 1945-1947
*Marshall Plan 1947-1952
*After Stalin 1953-1956
*Sputnik and the Bomb 1949-1961
*The Wall 1958-1963
*Back Yard: Guatemala and Cuba 1954-1962
*Culture Wars 1960-1968
*People Power 1989
There's also an Introduction, an Afterword, appendices covering Cold War literature and Cold War spies, and a variety of maps e.g. Europe in 1946, the division of Berlin, the Korean War and Vietnam. Likewise, the use of dozens of pictures (in black and white) adds to the reading experience. These cover a tremendous variety of news e.g. the ExComm meeting during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) to President Nixon at the Great Wall of China (1972), and from Mao Zedong proclaiming the People's Republic of China in Tiananmen Square (1949) to the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).
The legacy of the Cold War remains with us today. I believe that Winston Churchill once said something along the lines of 'the further back you look, the further forward you can see.' That being the case, this text is an excellent overview of the 20th century battlefields (literal and proverbial) between Communism and Capitalism. The remnants of which are still around us today e.g. in Cuba, the Middle East, North Korea, the Communist Party of China, Afghanistan and, of course, perhaps most importantly in the massive amounts of nuclear weapons that remain locked away in military silos.