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on 14 August 2006
Gaddis has succeeded in producing a concise history of the Cold War from its beginnings prior to WWII to its end in the early 1990s. The book's great strength is in how it subtly ties disparate events from across the world over several decades into a compelling narrative.

While many reviews of the Cold War deal with its geo-strategic and economic aspects, Gaddis describes the evolution of the Cold War through the actions of its major characters, from Stalin to Gorbachev, Eisenhower to Reagan. This focus makes the book a welcome complement to histories of the War with a more strategic or economic emphasis; it does, however, alao mean the book is lacking in discussion of those aspects of the conflict.

Those familiar with the period should know that the book's brevity means that peripheral events such as the United States' intervention in El Salvador or Nicaragua receive only a passing mention, while even more crucial episodes such as the Cuban Missile Crisis are covered in just a few pages. Nevertheless, the book achieves what it sets out to do. It would make an ideal introduction to the period for the undergraduate or for those with an interest in, but little prior knowledge of the Cold War.
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on 7 January 2012
I studied the Cold War at undergraduate level in the early 1990s. One of the difficult aspects of studying it at that time was that we were too close to the Cold War's end to step back and consider that period as a whole. Today, many undergraduates will not have been born when the Cold War ended, and there is more room and opportunity to interpret and analyse this period. And what Gaddis offers is a beautifully written interpretation of the Cold War. In 260 pages (excluding notes and bibliography) you should not expect this book to recount all of the events in the Cold War. Matters such as the Cuban missile crisis are dealt with in a few pages with an explanation of Soviet and US motivations but no detailed chronology of the development of the crisis. So don't buy this if you have a Gradgrindian view of history writing!

Readers may disagree with many of the judgements Gaddis makes about the Cold War. Certainly, the author writes from an American perspective and so, for example, sees the moral values espoused by the US in the Cold War as more enlightened than those of Britain and France: a view that takes account of European colonialism but neglects other issues. There are also one or two factual errors e.g. he states that Dresden was destroyed by the US. But personally, I found that he gives a generally illuminating account of how the Cold War developed, in particular, of how allies, domestic politicians, dissidents and others were increasingly able to exert influence and pressure on the superpower duo as the Cold War developed. I also generally found his judgements concerning US and Soviet leaders convincing. Reagan did play a huge role in bringing the Cold War to an end and Gaddis puts this down to his strategic vision and grasp of the essential nature of the Soviet Union. I suspect this is right but it would have been helpful for Gaddis to highlight the extent to which Reagan's increase in tension created risks as well as opportunities. Indeed, the book assumes that ending the Cold War was a "good thing". I am sure that is right but the book does not address the many downsides to the end of the Cold War.

In summary this is a well-written account that presents a particular interpretation of the broad sweep of the Cold War. Not everyone will agree with all of Gaddis's views but even where I did not agree I found Gaddis a credible guide. The book is also lucidly written and a pleasure to read. I would recommend it as an introduction to the Cold War. But I think it is more valuable for those with some background in this period who would like an overview and do not mind reading a historian with opinions, even if you might not agree with all of them.
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on 24 March 2006
In the books preface John Lewis Gaddis explains that The Cold War was written following requests by both his editor and his students for a short, comprehensive, and accessible book on the cold war, as an alternative to the authors more weighty efforts. He has succeeded in doing this, managing to restrict the book to only 266 pages whilst covering the entire span of the conflict, and this means of course that the book could only ever be a brief overview of the subject and is therefore only interesting as an introduction.
Whilst I enjoyed the book I couldnt help feeling that the author was more than a little one eyed when coming to many of his conclusions, and I do wonder about his seeming hero worship of Ronald Reagan. Was Reagan really, as Gaddis suggests, one of the most skilled politicians the US had had for many years, and one of its sharpest ever grand strategists? Was it really his great strength that he was possesed of an ability to see beyond complexity to simplicity? Im not so sure..
In short, worth a read as an introduction.
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on 14 December 2015
A good read, clearly setting out the history of the Cold War according to the American right. More perceptive than straight McCarthyism in that the author recognises that communism of the Stalin variety had nothing to do with Marx's theories: Marx believed that communism would arise spontaneously by the common will with change in the means of production, not through an oppressive State apparatus, and in theory at least a communist revolution might emancipate oppressed people. However, in none of the actions by the USA during the Cold War in support of regimes in 3rd world countries was any attempt made to emancipate oppressed people: each and every one was in support of authoritarian and/corrupt governments. The term "evil empire" fits the USA just as well as the Soviet Union during the Cold War period and historians should take a balanced approach.
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on 26 August 2008
Silly, jingoistic, pulp history shot through with half truths, unsupported and unsupportable claims and distortions. John Lewis Gaddis is a history professor at Yale University but how he can draw so many stupid conclusions from the Cold War is beyond me. Nobody in their right mind would say that Joe Stalin was a good guy, nor would they be likely to say his successors were freedom loving liberals either but the standard neo-con treatment these days is to score points with heavy handed jingoism rather than presenting history as it happened. I'm sorely tempted to call it propaganda.

The layout of the book is extremely poor and jumps from one thing to another without any real semblance of method. You will find yourself reading about Stalin one minute, then Kruschev the next and finally back to Stalin again. Very confusing and giving the appearance that he has something of an obsession with Stalin.

His assertion that the US achieved its amazing industrial power due to a lack of Government intervention is a neo-con line which is not supported in fact. Most US Government war contracts were designed to fulfil Government specifications. His claim that Americans in 1945 lived in the freest society on the planet is unsupportable. Obviously he has never been to Australia, New Zealand or Eire. When he said nobody knows how the Berlin Blockade started, I couldn't believe my eyes! Both Hilton and Taylor explain it in their respective books on the Berlin Wall.

He spends barely a page on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and scarcely bothers to explain that the missiles were installed because of fears that the US would invade after the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion the year before. Asserting that this information has only just been released from Soviet archives does nothing for the argument. Blind Freddy could have seen that.

When the Soviets or the Chinese cracked down on insurgencies in their own territories or those of a client state, Gaddis digs deep for another triumphant assertion that the US never did this but does not concede that the states they supported most certainly did, especially the dictatorships they cheerfully installed in Central and South America. Later in the book he does point out the activities undertaken by the CIA in South America but by then it's scarcely relevant.

Another example of his oversimplified a polarised view is that all the US leaders were great and all the Communist leaders were murderers. Nobody would deny the issues but a better explanation of their reasons goes begging for the duration of the book. I am most decidedly a Kennedy fan but he oversimplifies the margins between western and communist leaders to the point that it is no longer representative of reality. A decided point of view can be a strong point of a book but when there is no clear, clinical analysis (devoid of political agendas), the real issues go missing from a book where they should be paramount and people simply end up misinformed. How he could write a book like this and barely mention the UK and especially the role of MI6, is truly a wonder of the world.

This is junk. How it got such rave reviews I haven't the faintest idea. His oversimplified, polarised points of view do nothing to give the reader any insight into what really happened. Both Christopher Hilton and Frederick Taylor wrote better Cold War history in their books on the Berlin Wall. So did David Stafford in his book "Spies Beneath Berlin". All these authors point out the shortcomings of the Eastern Bloc system, Stalinism and the murderous repression of democratic principles. If this book is where history is going then I lament the passing of truth and objectivity. This is rubbish. Avoid it like the plague.
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on 10 April 2015
As I am currently studying the cold war for my a2 exam, I was advised to read this book to further my knowledge. Though it was very thorough and provided some detailed explanations of key events that were previously skimmed over, I found it very confusing at parts as the events were not discussed chronologically. This proved to be confusing when discussing events such as the Vietnam and Korean wars as I was unsure who was involved and who the key leaders were at the time, as we kept jumping back and forth through presidencies. Having said that, I'm sure a much cleverer person than me would find this book much more useful and maybe perhaps I lack the capability to fully understand what is being said. I'm sure the book took a long time to write so for that I congratulate Gaddis on his thorough research. A good read but not for weak minds!
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on 10 March 2006
A very good general introduction to the history of the Cold War. Lewis-Gaddis is one of the most accomplished historians of the Cold War and this book is an excellently written synergy of all his previous work.
For the general reader this is an excellent introduction to the period, however Gaddis does seem to place a great deal of emphasis on the actions of individual actors and social groups. While these were undoubltedly of enormous significance Gaddis neglects the economic factors that helped determine the Cold War's outcome, especially the failures of the Soviet command economy and the increasing impact of globalisation.
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on 6 January 2016
Splendid account. For those of us old enough to remember the Cold War this serves as a brilliant, evocative explanation for the mass insanity that appeared to have so many countries in its grip after World War II. It also serves as a timely and worrying reminder that we may well be sliding back into the same xenophobic paranoid mindsets right now, what with the horrifying events in the Middle East, the posturing and aggression of the opportunistic neo-Soviet/Czarist Putin in Russia and that appalling dictator in N. Korea. We must read such books and learn the lessons of history, lest we be doomed to repeat it!
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on 21 January 2008
As a read, the book is good (why it gets 2 stars.) As an objective book of the Cold War it is not. For a proffessional critique of this book see David Painter's review 'A Partial History of the Cold War.' in Cold War History, 6:4, 527 - 534.
It ignores a lot of recent work on the Cold War and presents as 'fact' things that are not universally agreed on. If your view of the Cold War is based solely on this book then you will struggle to objectively analyse the Cold War. It is a shame for an academic as renowned as Gaddis to completely ignore other sides of the argument, he may not agree with them but it is right to acknowledge their existence. If you are looking for something more objective try Zubok & Pleshakov's 'Inside the Kremlin's Cold War' or anything by Len Scott.

A Cold War Student
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on 24 May 2007
I bought this book when happened to see it at airport as something to read. I was hooked reading it for whole of my holliday. It is really fascinating for anyone wanting to learn about The Cold War. My partner is from Hungary and so I took an interest in learning a bit more about Eastern Europe's history post WW2 and the cold War in general. I read this book after earlier watching another good Cold War resource, the CNN Cold War series by Jeremy Issacs on BBC (which I would also reccomend although is hard to get hold of as is no longer on sale).

The book goes into details of all aspects of cold war through the world and the major events and people who shaped it. It gives reasoned arguments and discusses the motives of both US allies and Soviet/socialist leaders throughout the period. It is a really fascinating read that is hard to put down! Reading it was like having just had a booster injection of historical knowledge! It was a great read and I wish history could have been taught like this at school! highly recommended read.

Colin Sinclaire (NHS doctor)
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