The Buzz

10 Terrific Histories of the Cold War

Sunday marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For those of us who grew up during the Cold War it was an unforgettable moment—one we hoped for but didn’t necessarily expect to see. The fact that the wall fell, and did so with a simple announcement rather than at the barrel of gun, remains one of the most consequential events of the twentieth century.

To mark the anniversary of the fall of the wall, I will be posting my favorite books, memoirs, novels, films, and quotes about the Cold War, much as I did with this year’s centennial of the start of World War I. To kick things off, here are ten terrific histories of the Cold War:

- Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (2012). Applebaum’s tour-de-force describes how the Iron Curtain descended on Eastern Europe. What distinguishes her writing is that she goes beyond describing how Josef Stalin succeeded in imposing his domination over Eastern Europe to describe the lives of ordinary people suddenly forced to live under Soviet rule.

-Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, Khrushchev’s Cold War: The Inside Story of an American Adversary (2006). Fursenko and Naftali plumbed previously secret Soviet archives to pull together the story of Nikita Khrushchev’s foreign policy. Not surprisingly, Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy figure prominently in Khrushchev’s Cold War, which provides a different perspective on U.S. foreign policy than most Americans are used to. (Fursenko and Naftali also wrote One Hell of a Gamble, a terrific book on the Cuban missile crisis).

- John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy During the Cold War (1982). Gaddis is America’s foremost Cold War historian, and when I was in graduate school, Strategies of Containment was required reading for its crisp assessment of how successive presidents shaped their approach to the Soviet Union. We have learned a lot more about U.S.-Soviet relations since the Cold War ended and the Soviet archives opened up. Gaddis has revised and extended some of his analysis as a result, in books such as We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (1997) and The Cold War: A New History (2006). Nonetheless, the original Strategies of Containment is worth reading to understand what we knew—or thought we knew—before the wall fell.