Susan's Reviews > The Cold War: A New History

The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis
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's review
Dec 30, 10

Read in December, 2010

I listened to this one and I think I need to listen to it twice. I found it extremely engaging, but it's not your typical "narrative" history. He organizes his materials more or less chronologically, but focuses on idea and concepts and people more than chronology. Most fascinating was the chapter called "Actors" which he means both literally and figuratively, i.e., the world personalities involved whom he saw as capable actors on the world stage, with a clearly articulated and easily understandable message about the rivalry that dominated the last half of the 20th century. And of course he notes that there was a professional among them, (i.e., Reagan). This is a very conservative view of the world--not my usual fare, but a very interesting thesis nonetheless. The actors were Reagan, Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping, Lech Walęsa, Pope John Paul II ( whom he refers to as Karol Wojtyla throughout) Vąclav Havel, "even Boris Yeltsin" (whom Gaddis doesn't exactly like) who cut through policies and procedures and spoke directly to the people about change. But not Mikhail Gorbachev (my own hero) who did so much to change the USSR but had no vision of what would replace it.

Interesting that those of us who hated Reagan and Thatcher focus on domestic affairs mostly. Both seemed to me way too simplistic in foreign affairs, but that's what Gaddis liked, that they HAD a vision and spoke it clearly so that everyone--the people--at home and abroad could hear it: as in."Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". Still he had a fit tribute to Gorbie, "And so, in the end, he gave up an ideology, an empire and his own country, in preference to using force. He chose love over fear, violating Machiavelli's advice for princes and thereby ensuring that he ceased to be one. It made little sense in traditional geopolitical terms. But it did make him the most deserving recipient of the Novel Peace Prize." I suspect there's more cynicism in that statement which I tend to take seriously.

You'll see from that quote, too, that Gaddis is an excellent writer and stylist.

I give it 8/10. If I were more of a conservative, I think I'd give it a 10
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