The Wednesday Review: The Cold War

I watch a lot of movies and attempt to read a lot of books. Perhaps you’ve noticed the current items in my various queues in the sidebar to your right. You can see what I’m watching or reading, but not what I thought of it. Thus henceforth, Wednesday’s shall be dedicated to the review of such materials. I don’t promise a new one every week, but I will endeavor to do just that. I hope you will find them informative and helpful and occasionally amusing.

For most people from my generation, the backend of Generation X or the frontend of Generation Y, depending on how you look at it, the Cold War lurks in a foggy part of our brain as something that we hazily remember as having happened during our life time, but we were too young to really understand it. As an elementary school kid in the 80’s, I can remember hearing names like Reagan and Gorbachev, and have a vauge recollection of things like SDI, Chernobyl, and the Berlin Wall. Of course, everyone remembers the nukes. It is percisely because of these hazy Gen X/Y memories that John Lewis Gaddis wrote The Cold War. In the foreward Gaddis, a professor of Cold War studies at Yale and author of numerous previous books on the subject, says that he began to realize that many of his students were only four years old when the Berlin Wall came donwn. They needed a concise aerial view of the history that “didn’t have so many words.” Gaddis has achieved that goal and then some.

The Cold War begins with it’s roots in the waning weeks of World War II. The alliance of necessity between rival ideologies had reached it’s terminus. Gaddis deftly takes the reader through the events that followed as Stalin played the gambler to take what he thought he was owed as reperations for holding off and then driving back the Germans for four years: Eastern Europe. From these opening “shots” Gaddis guides us through the next four decades of the freezes, flashpoints, crises, thaws, detente’s, and finally crumblings of the Cold War. From the well known events and conflagrations of the Berlin Airlift, Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Nixon’s opening of China to the lesser known like the Brehznev Doctrine, Charter 77, and events in the Middle East, Gaddis brings the drama and it’s players to life in vivid fashion. The accounts of smaller nations bending their superpower sponsers to their will, the “tail wagging the dog”, by insinuating the threat of their sponser-friendly regeimes being overturned, are fascinating.

As it is a high-level view of nearly half a century of tension, no subject is given too deep an investigation, but as a primer on the era, another work would be hard-pressed to displace it from the top. It is not a long book, 275 pages, and the prose moves quickly across the page. Anyone interested in studying this complex and intriguing period in modern history would be wise to start with Gaddis’ excellent volume.

20 thoughts on “The Wednesday Review: The Cold War

  1. SJ

    I don’t know much about the book, but found it interesting to read your post. The town I grew up in/lived in in Missouri is where Winson Churchill gave the Iron Curtain Speech – one of the markings of the Cold War.

  2. Call Me June...

    Does it dispell any of the knowledge we have garnered from such greats as “War Games” and “Red Dawn?” Actually, those were my teenage years, so I remember a bit more… in the words of someone great, “I remember, I remember it all!”

  3. Ando

    No June, “Red Dawn” and “War Games” are well documented facts. Because as we all know, “It’s hard being brothers.”

  4. kludge


    Certainly a huge part of our recent history that was absoultly amazing to have witnessed!

    I clear memories of a debate in junior high with a fellow that swore that the USSR would fall in the ninties. I lost the debate, and the fellow was even correct on top of it. jerk…

    Thanks for the review and I now have a new reason to look forward to Wednesdays!

  5. Michael Chiklis

    It’s when the Earth battled the Solar System because it wasn’t warm enough… Ted Turner is making a movie to come out on TNT later this year… Starring daring and lovable Michael Chiklis!

  6. jenylu

    Thanks for the review Ando. The era we’re currently studying is a couple hundred years older, but I will keep it in mind for days to come.

  7. SJ

    As I mentioned before, the town I lived in was where Winston Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech. I was then there to hear Gorbachev speak in the same town when our town received a part of the Berlin wall – it was really cool to say I was there. The town was given a piece of the wall because of the history with the Iron Curtain. I will post some pics on my blog soon – of the wall and where the speech was given.

  8. Ando

    That is so cool that you got to hear Gorbachev speak in person. That’s not something a lot of people can say. Gaddis speaks pretty highly of him in his book. He refused to use force when the events started to unravel and probably saved thousands of lives by doing so. The chapter on him, Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul is fascinating.

  9. SJ

    Yes, it was neat to hear him speak. Because of Churchill’s speech there – we got to hear several important people speak there. I heard Reagan speak there, Gorbachev and President Bush – actually both of them :) Gorbachev was the coolest to me because in Churchill’s speech he was talking about the Iron Curtain descending and to hear Gorbachev when the wall came down – and then having part of the wall there with him – very cool thing.

  10. SJ

    I’m not laughing – I was simply impressed that there was something in History I was excited about – – – way to squelch my enthusiasm. I will try to comment less.

  11. Ando

    I don’t think there was anything malicious behind that comment Stephanie. Actually, I know there wasn’t. The commenter was just trying to be funny, not demeaning.

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