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on 20 April 2013
Not really much point in repeating what the other reviews say, but I did want to agree with them that you will need to read more and from other historians.

Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis is a traditional though serious historian (certainly and infinitely more serious than the execrable Niall Ferguson) who used to make suggestions for George W. Bush's speech writers. He was also great mates with George Kennan, though Gaddis advocates the use of force even more freely than his old friend did. The fawning praise on the dust cover from people like Kissinger and Scowcroft should also set the alarm bells ringing. How can one ever trust a historian who is so close to power to tell the whole truth? Well, one can't, and Gaddis doesn't.

Talking of the unconvicted war criminal Kissinger, it's revealing he praises this book's "sweep", for that is something else it most certainly lacks. There are any number of Cold War events, some of them truly horrendous, that Gaddis opts to leave out. For example, what Gabriel Kolko called "the Final Solution in Indonesia" of 1965-66, which was "certainly one of the most barbaric acts of inhumanity in a century that has seen a great deal of it; it surely ranks as a war crime of the same type as those the Nazis perpetrated. No single American action in the period after 1945 was as bloodthirsty as its role in Indonesia, for it tried to initiate the massacre, and it did everything in its power to encourage Suharto, including equipping his killers, to see that the physical liquidation of the PKI [Communist Party of Indonesia] was carried through to its culmination. Not a single one of its officials in Washington or Djakarta questioned the policy on either ethical or political grounds; quite the contrary." 500,000+ dead, with full US and UK support. The word 'Indonesia' does not appear in the bibliography of this book.

Overall, if you're a complete newcomer to the Cold War, this book is perhaps the best gentle start, if for no other reason than its sheer readability. You'll also gain an appreciation of where the so-called post-revisionists are coming from. Yet you're simply going to need to head for the revisionists afterwards if you're interested in reality rather than obtaining a crude version of it that enables you to feel proud of 'the West' and its leaders, and you will revise, sometimes radically, virtually all of the interpretations Gaddis gives to events. This is quite apart from the need to uncover and learn about the Cold War events that Gaddis leaves out without so much as a mention - ask Google about GWU's National Security Archive, which is a fun place to start regarding the histories our Yale historian hides from his readers.

If you're looking for a more hardcore introduction, the CHCW 3-volume set cannot be beaten.
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on 5 April 2006
As the Berlin war was being torn down I was a few months past my 10th birthday. Do I remember anything about it? Do I hell. However, if I was to recall those momentous moments when East and West collides I might have asked myself how this fabled event came to pass - what caused its construction, more importantly what caused its destruction?
These, amongst many other questions, are the points that John Lewis Gaddis seeks to answer in his book on the Cold War. Looking at the names on the back cover - including a guardedly gushing Henry Kissinger, and the author of Gulag - a History Anne Applebaum - you can see what high esteem the author is held in amongst is peer group.
However, I am not one of his peer group - back to the point my knowledge of the cold war is sketchy at best. I have heard of the Bay of Pigs landing, I have heard of Richard Nixon and Watergate, I have even heard of the Cuban missile crisis but I have never seen them connected in such away as JLG manages in this book.
Most pointedly of all for me he highlights how differing regimes can work together and how manipulation of one by another rarely results in long term sustainable economies or every day lives. He doesn't shy away from highlighting America's faults during this conflict although he is more scathing of the Russians - to the victor the spoils and all that. It was thoroughly fascinating to see him write about regime change in Iran, Afghanistan and Chile - look how they turned out. You can draw real parallels from what happened between 1950 and 1990 with what is happening now in the Middle East - one day humanity just might learn.
For the novice to this subject - such as myself - I found this is a fascinating guide to a troubled time, the style of writing is not dry and very easy to read, unlike most historians he doesn't get bogged down in long flowery, overly academic language that is so tiresome on the eye. For the more advanced reader take this opportunity to do as Kissinger himself does on the back cover and debate the points raised. To all though I would suggest that this is an excellently written, fascinating narrative of the time.
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on 11 September 2015
Great read with a clear structure. Good book for newcomers to Cold War studies.
However the story seems to be the most important thing in this history book. The characters (the Pope, Reagan, Gorby) take a huge amount of space, and Reagan is glorified quite some.
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on 1 October 2013
This is not history - it reads like the Official White House version of events. Gaddis abandons all pretence of objectivity in his determination to put the best possible spin on postwar American foreign policy, and his constant sneering at everyone else soon becomes wearing. For convinced hardline US nationalists only.
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VINE VOICEon 12 May 2007
This book is analyses the cold War in great detail, striking just the right balance between depth and breadth. There is an extremely interesting opening chapter about the sharp differences in experiences of World War II that the USA and USSR had, and how this deeply influenced their attitude in the opening stages of the Cold War. There are also interesting points raised about how both sides had, at least for most of the conflict, a very strong interest in tolerating the other's existence.

The author also analyses how the early 1980s, with growing gulfs in military technology between the West and East, coupled with confrontational, confident Western leaders combined with internal problems and rebellions in Communist states to end the war, almost as quickly as it had started. There is also an interesting epilogue to draw together everything that has been covered. The only slight weakness with the book, and this seems to be common in books on the Cold War, is its very brief analysis of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, the book is the best in its price range for the subject matter, and is the most "user friendly" type of book for the general reader and for interested history readers, although professional historians may need to supplement their study of this book with a "heavier" text, especially ones which deal with the aforementioned weak points of analysis
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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 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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VINE VOICEon 4 July 2009
John Lewis Gaddis has produced a short, highly readable book on the Cold War that balances analysis with what happened - which these days is rare as most books weigh in at hundreds of pages. This is something more direct, more readable - and actually something that makes you think.

The biggest strength of the book is that it makes you think. I don't necessarily believe all of what Gaddis says about Reagan being a visionary US politician - but it's a point of view I'm willing to consider. I never thought of President Truman - who authorised the nuclear bombing to end World War 2 - as being the first politician in history to then change his mind and not believe in the use of weapons that had been created; seemingly going against the pattern of weaponry and the argument that once in existence, they should always be used.

Coming in at under 300 pages, the author proves that you can say new things about familiar subjects. You may not agree with his conclusions - but stimulating debate and seeing things through fresh eyes is the value of history when done well. Recommended.
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on 16 September 2012
This is an easy read and a good introduction to the cold war. However, Gaddis doesn't always explain all the events and there is a presumption you know about this already eg. Bay of Pigs event.

For academic reading, you need may want to explore his other books.
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on 7 December 2011
Gaddis book adopts a simplistic 'great men of history' reading of all social and historic events, there are more flaws to this approach than it would be possible to outline here without engaging in a significantly longer review.

To presumably provide an 'engaging' 'novel' of the cold war Gaddis relies upon dramatic simplication or outright distortion: in this reading it is all about the 'bad and power mad' not the wider social or economic forces which shape events. It makes for passable prose, but it is rather depressingly poor historiography.

In this reading the Russian revolution of 1917 was a putsch instigated by Lenin, while Reagen and Thatcher's "mass popularity" challenged a Social Democratic consensus around post-war politics... I could go on, there are examples of this kind on every page. The Russians were mad, the Americans were self-sacrificing and holy.

That academia can produce works of this level of analysis and pass them off as "authoritative accounts" says a great deal more than the book ever does in its 300 pages.
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