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on 22 May 2017
In 6 months time the allies turned against each other. The book explains how the main characters contributed to the cold war and that a different relationship between the former allies had been possible. I grew up during the cold war and found it fascinating to read about the origins of the conflict that defined the political context of my youth.
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on 24 April 2017
Good present
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on 31 March 2017
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 October 2012
Author/historian Michael Dobbs has written "Six Months in 1945", the third volume in his Cold War trilogy. This book covers that historic six months period between the Yalta Conference to the end of WW2 in August, 1945. Beginning with the Allied leaders Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin at Yalta, and ending with first Winston Churchill and then Clement Atlee, Harry Truman, and Stalin at Potsdam, Dobbs fills in those five months between the two conferences, and the month following, which saw the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan and the unconditional surrender of Japan.

Dobbs does an excellent job in identifying the "major players" - Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, as well as their underlings and advisers. Not present, but certainly influential, was Adolf Hitler, who had begun the war in 1939. By February 1945, the Russians were pushing the German army westward from Russia back to Berlin, while in the west, the Allied troops were squeezing the German army eastward. Americans, British, and Soviet troops meant to meet up in Berlin and they did in March 1945. Michael Dobbs writes about their union in the bombed out city where the Russian troops - who had carried the fighting brunt against Germany - ran amok. And while the troops of the three allied countries met up on the battlefield, their leaders met to plan the post-war world. The "hot" war of WW2 evolved into the "cold" war of the next forty years. Stalin was certain of what HE wanted - control over the eastern European countries - Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the others which ended up behind Winston Churchill's "Iron Curtin".

Michael Dobbs handles the politics of personality when he looks at the participants at Yalta and Potsdam. He writes the biographies of the four major leaders - Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Truman and gives the reader a great look at what made them "tick". He examines the various alliances between the four men who decided the post-WW2 world. Dobbs has written an excellent book which will be eagerly read by the arm-chair historians. Oh, and the book has excellent pictures and maps.
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on 9 September 2013
This is a very detailed account of the interaction between the leaders of the USA, the USSR and the UK at the end of the second world war, and by using a more journalistic style it's highly readable. This does, however, bring some niggles with it.

By adopting a chatty style (with some painfully forced metaphors) it's not always easy to distinguish fact from fluff. The book contains endnotes instead of footnotes, and they are usually not directly associated with each statement on the page. When the author states that "the sun streamed through the window" or "Churchill's first thought was" without any attribution, are we supposed to assume this is fact or that it's fluff to make the book more readable? In these cases it probably doesn't matter, but without any clarity about where the facts end and the fancy begins, it's not always easy to trust what is being written.

It's an interesting read, but somewhat unsatisfying when one feels at the end that one would need to do some more fact-checking just to be sure ...
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on 9 May 2016
It's hard to know quite where to start on this book and equally, it's hard to get a feel for the author's basic thesis. At times he shows remarkable prescience; at other times he reverts to the conventional narrative we have been hearing for the past seventy years. At the end, I was left with the feeling that there was an unintended subtext to the whole story which underscores the failure of understanding and subsequent failure of dialogue by both sides, particularly the West.

The centrepiece of the book is the first part: the Yalta conference. This is both interesting and well described. The three major players get pretty even handed treatment and the colour is provided by the peculiar facilities and the antics of the odd support staff martinet. This section is a worthy story on its own and provided a good, engaging opening to the story. For me the best part of the book - and the bit with the lesson for what might have been - is the mix between Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta. Many people believe that this was simply Stalin taking advantage of Roosevelt's obvious ill-health and basic good nature to further his own interests. However, this is not the theme of Dobbs' narrative and I think he basically gives both men the benefit of the doubt.

The death of Roosevelt is the turning point and it is clear that Stalin did not have the same level of respect for Truman. Nor did Truman have the reciprocal level of respect for Stalin. We can only wonder what might have been.

After that, things become less a matter of understanding and more one of one side's explanation of why things went wrong. There are always going to be problems writing anything like this which attempts to explain the nature of the fall out between the three superpowers; one actual, another emerging, the third in serious decline. The trouble with so many attempts by western historians to describe these events is that the accounts are invariably sourced from the same material. This is a problem because in a good many cases, the original material was written by people who were every bit as paranoid about Stalin as they claim he was about the West. They may have been right but it tends to sweep a lot of things under the carpet.

One basic assumption which is present in this book is that the two sides were essentially bargaining from similar positions of strength. This could not be further from the truth. Leaving Britain out of the equation for a moment, the USA had come out of the war far wealthier than it went in. The USSR, on the other hand had suffered incredible losses and privations. Not only that but if the USA could be considered a homogenous society, the USSR was anything but. Throughout the war, local conflict in the USSR was, in some parts, as much a matter of settling old scores between disparate ethnic groups as it was about the war itself. This is one reason why many people fought on the German side rather than with the Red Army. To write it off as being the result of dissatisfaction with Stalin or communism is facile. It may hold part of the explanation but it is a long way from complete.

As a result, it means that Stalin's side of the table was loaded with domestic issues which are never accounted for in conventional views of the Cold War. Long held assumptions about Stalin's motivations for doing things have been the bug bear not only of history books but even the decision making processes which set the course for the Cold War which followed. This level of presumption and lack of understanding could easily have led to a nuclear exchange and for that, this adherence to oversimplification of incredibly complex issues is to blame. We can count our luck that it never eventuated. Reliance on such panaceas is at best foolhardy.

One theme which comes through unmistakably is the lack of respect on both sides. Frank Howley might have been a good soldier but his lack of empathy for the average Red Army soldier makes him, in my opinion, a poor choice for the leader of the US forces in Berlin after the war. We only hear Howley's version of events but it's pretty clear from this how the other side would roll. The list of procedures for dealing with what he referred to as "Russians" (they were mostly from the Ukraine and Belarus and are necessarily different) could easily have been applied to his own people. People like Howley dealt with this naïveté by taking a tough stance at a time when a level of subtlety was necessary. You don't foster respect or endearment among your troops by telling them that the other guys are communist automatons who need to be beaten with a stick to help them understand because they are incapable of reason. Now, at a practical level, this might have been necessary on occasions. The Red Army wasn't about to let anyone forget what they had achieved or the price they had paid. It was only natural that there would be some level of friction and rivalry.

Other authors, such as Keith Lowe in Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II, have explained the extraordinarily complex situation in the charnel house that was Eastern Europe in the immediate pos-war period. One thesis Lowe highlights is that the ethnic boundaries for the Cold War were basically outlined by Hitler because of his racial/ethnic policy. You can see this echoed in so many places like Yugoslavia, Poland and Greece, where old scores were settled in what became a bloodbath. What is commonly forgotten is that this was all repeated in the Soviet Union among the disparate ethnic/national groups, many of whom were "resettled" by Stalin after the war as a matter of political expedience. Where this comes back to haunt us is in the passage where Dobbs points out that Churchill had supported the idea of expulsions as preferable to the ethnic mix in places like Alsace-Lorraine.

This is a reasonable attempt by Dobbs but a slight lack of clear direction makes it difficult for me to give it top marks. The reliance on traditional sources of information - which may or may not be reliable - means that the final outcome supports only the conventional view. I would like to believe that the West was right but the fact is that so many mistakes were made due to a lack of understanding that we might have wiped ourselves off the planet and to my way of thinking, it is these conventional views which are to blame. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes inane, it is not a bad book but it is short on the sort of information which makes in-depth understanding possible.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 October 2013
Michael Dobbs gives a very readable account of the key months in 1945 in the formation of the Cold War, from Yalta in February 1945 to Potsdam in August 1945. In February, the three allies were resolute in their determination to annihilate Nazi Germany but six months later, they were at loggerheads, locked into a confrontation that was to last another 44 years. That we all know was the Cold War. How does Dobbs account for those crucial six months? He does so by relating the principal characters involved, FDR, Churchill, Stalin and Truman and the issues over which they were to fall out. These were: honouring pledges to hold free elections in Poland, differences over Germany's future, and ideological differences which magnified the apprehensions and misunderstandings each side had of each other. Both sides came away from the Yalta summit with very different understandings of what had actually been agreed - especially the definition of what `free elections' in Poland actually meant. Yalta was a fudge, putting off the big issues in the interests of maintaining the alliance to destroy Nazi Germany (this surely is understandable as the Nazis were aware in 1945 that their one and only hope of salvation was for the alliance against them to fall apart). This it did. But it stored up trouble once their mutual adversary had been vanquished.

Dobbs tells all this with great narrative skill - vivid portraits of the personalities involved, with a novelist's ability to evoke both character and place. His narrative skills are very engaging indeed - they are superb. His historical analysis is somewhat weaker. He notes at the end that neither side wanted a renewed confrontation. This is probably true. But despite these good intentions, all sides got one. How did they end up like this? He attributes this to ideology: each side interpreted the actions of the other through ideological blinkers. These made conflicts of interest - like whether Germany should be revived or kept prostrate - impossible to resolve. Both sides had universal ideologies, the universal application of which would be for the benefit of all humanity.

Dobbs seems to content to draw symmetry in the ideological predictions of both sides in pursuit of even-handedness. But this historical analysis is weak. His analysis hints at the deeper reason for the intractability of the conflict, even if he does expand on it. He notes Stalin's inveterate suspiciousness and the nature of Marxist-Leninist doctrine, which taught that no matter how well-intentioned individual capitalists were, like FDR, the two systems were incompatible at a systemic level. There had to a showdown sometime. This was not what FDR or Truman thought but Stalin did. The logical implication of Stalin's world view is obvious: the Soviet Union could only be truly secure in a world in which capitalism had ceased to exist. Security for the Soviet Union could only be obtained at someone else's expense. Therefore, expansionism in the quest for security was hard-wired into the Stalinist system. What does come across in this book is how clear-eyed Stalin was in pursuit of what he thought was his country's interest, and how muddled FDR and Churchill were in pursuit of theirs.

Later the Soviets were to relent and proclaim `peaceful coexistence' but this was never a phrase Stalin would have uttered, as he would never have believed it possible. This being the case, nothing the Americans could have said or done in 1945, save pulling out of Europe altogether in 1945, would have assuaged Stalin. Both sides had universal ideological pretensions and the Americans were not blameless. But one side's view of the world that was far less tolerant of opposition, and of alternative understandings of the world. Stalin was a man after all who would murder Communists if he thought that they had any objective reason to betray him. It didn't matter if there was no evidence of betrayal. It was enough that they might conceivably betray him. And `capitalists' of course could do nothing else but betray him. They could not do any different, even if they tried.

Dobbs seems prefers to treat the beginnings of the Cold War as all a terrible misunderstanding. No it was not. It was, in large part, the logical outcome of Stalin's system and his ideology. Of the four leaders in 1945, FDR was the most prone to wishful thinking, especially in relation to Stalin and the system he constructed. Dobbs shares FDR's flaws in this respect.
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on 18 March 2016
In 'Six Months in 1945', Michael Dobbs has delivered an exciting and easy to read analysis of how the world moved rapidly from World War to Cold War. Its content is summarised well by the author when he writes in the final chapter: "virtually all of the watershed moments of the early Cold War can be traced back to the six-month period between February and August 1945 that spanned the death of FDR, the end of World War II, the disintegration of the anti-Hitler alliance, and the division of Europe into rival political blocs". I particularly enjoyed Mr Dobbs' summary of the Yalta conference, at which the ailing Roosevelt was no match for Stalin - and whose diplomatic triumph was no doubt helped by the fact that the Soviets had bugged the rooms of the British and American representatives.
The rapid pace at which events moved during these momentous times, with the re-drawing of national borders and major changes to the political map of Europe, must have felt astonishing to the people who lived through them. Ironically, some 40 years later, the Soviet empire collapsed almost as rapidly - and that too, felt astonishing at the time. That's the topic of another instalment of Michael Dobbs' Cold War trilogy, which I look froward to reading soon.
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on 14 March 2014
easy to read pop history. generally it's fascinating and hugely enjoyable - all the old cliches about the truth is stranger than fiction apply here. occasionally there seems to be a bit too mich of an effort to inject 'thrill' into the duller aspects of the story. but that's a quibble. yiouy could see any number of dramas being made form these characters and these events
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on 2 February 2013
From page 308 of the UK hardback edition of "Six Months in 1945" by Michael Dobbs, concerning the battle of Stalingrad,"...the epic scale of the fighting, involving millions of men, tens of thousands of tanks, and fleets of fighter jets." I do not believe there were "tens of thousands" of tanks at Stalingrad and am certain there were no fighter jets at all. A blunder like this is a flaw in an otherwise reasonably good book about a fascinating subject. Hopefully this will be corrected in the future paperback edition. Certainly worth reading, but overall not as good as the same author's book on the Cuban Missile Crisis "One Minute to Midnight".
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