Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America's Soviet Experts

In This Review

Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America's Soviet Experts
By David C. Engerman
Oxford University Press, 2009
480 pp. $34.95
Purchase

This is fascinating history, but of what? Engerman's chronicle of Sovietology in the United States focuses on the ties between the government and the academy -- the tension, as he says, between serving "both Mars and Minerva." The chapters on the field's formative postwar years and its tight links with the U.S. government are particularly valuable. The middle of the book is more a history of the development of the central disciplines that made up Soviet area studies (history, literature, economics, sociology, and political science) in the 1960s and early 1970s. The last part of the book -- on the Soviet Union's final decade -- largely abandons scholarly developments and shifts the focus to a handful of figures active in the public debates convulsing the U.S. political scene in the the 1980s. The more entertaining portion of the book for some will be its concluding survey of the intellectual food fight that erupted after the collapse of the Soviet Union over who had been more right all along. Engerman blames the "fall" of the experts on the fractious debate over the nature of the Soviet threat that erupted in the late 1970s and 1980s and the failure to predict the Soviet Union's demise -- not a verdict that does great justice to everything else that was happening in the diverse disciplines that make up the field.