In This Review

The Cold War: A New History
The Cold War: A New History
By John Lewis Gaddis
Penguin Press, 2005, 400 pp

In this beautifully written panoramic view of the Cold War, full of illuminations and shrewd judgments, the distinguished diplomatic historian Gaddis brings the half-century U.S.-Soviet struggle to life for a general audience. Seen in retrospect, the Cold War -- from the Truman Doctrine and the Korean War to the Cuban missile crisis, détente, and the fall of the Berlin Wall -- appears to lead inexorably to a Western triumph. Gaddis seeks to show otherwise: the contingencies of individuals, ideas, critical decisions, narrow escapes, lost opportunities, and lurking dangers all intervened to give the great contest its character and trajectory. Drawing on his own earlier work and a synthesis of post-Cold War scholarship, Gaddis sees the conflict less as an inherent element in the bipolar postwar world than as a result of Soviet impulses toward domination, driven by ideology and dictatorship. He is best in depicting the ethical and strategic dilemmas that faced American presidents: the Cold War may have been a global struggle, but leaders such as Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon struggled at home to square foreign policy with principles of morality, law, and democratic accountability. Gaddis gives credit for the end of the Cold War to visionaries and "saboteurs of the status quo" such as Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, and Deng Xiaoping, as well as Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. That Gaddis is now able to see this fifty-year conflict in its totality as a positive, progressive, and necessary struggle is a sign of how far into the past the Cold War era has receded.