For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War

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For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War

By Melvyn P. Leffler
Hill and Wang, 2007
608 pp. $35.00

This is a masterful account of the Cold War by a distinguished historian in full stride. Leffler focuses on critical turning points when crises, leadership changes, and shifting diplomatic landscapes provided opportunities for reducing hostilities. In each episode, he draws vivid portraits of U.S. and Soviet leaders -- Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin, Dwight Eisenhower and Georgi Malenkov, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev -- as they defined threats and opportunities, navigated politics on the home front, and made strategic choices. Drawing on recently released Soviet documents and a long career as a scholar, Leffler moves beyond the old revisionist and traditionalist debates by offering a more synthetic interpretation that stresses both the imperatives of power politics and the legacies of ideas and history. In explaining the origins of the Cold War, he stresses the overriding importance of Germany; in explaining its persistence, he stresses competition in the developing world. What is most innovative is the attention Leffler pays to ideology and memory as they shaped assessments of international society and shifting power realities. In his view, each side was driven by security fears but also by worldviews and historical lessons that shaped how interests and strategy were perceived. This account goes beyond Leffler's award-winning A Preponderance of Power, which left unanswered many questions about why the United States chose to build the sort of international system it did. The Cold War lasted as long as it did, Leffler concludes, because leaders were trapped in their ideas -- until Reagan and Gorbachev were able to break out of these ideological cages. This important book will enlighten and sophisticate the debate on the Cold War, even if it will not end the discussion.

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