7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Highly readable interpretation,
This review is from: The Cold War (Paperback)
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.