Reconstructing the Cold War: The Early Years, 1945-1958

In This Review

Reconstructing the Cold War: The Early Years, 1945-1958
by Ted Hopf
Oxford University Press, USA, 2012
320 pp. $39.95

Three things make this book unusual. First is the impressive scale of the undertaking: it is the first volume in a planned trilogy dealing with the Cold War from beginning to end. Second, it treats theory as seriously as history. Finally, although Hopf’s historical research is extensive and original, he is not out to explain the Cold War’s sequence, dynamics, or turning points. Instead, he has plumbed Soviet political and cultural sources to reveal something more original: how the official reading of political realities during and immediately after Stalin’s rule, together with alternative readings that were subtly cultivated in cultural and academic institutions, accounted for the way in which the Soviet Union played its role in the early years of the Cold War. Hopf is a leading exponent of constructivist theory, and his trim, modified version of that approach brings a fresh perspective to why Stalin and his successors acted as they did in Eastern Europe and the developing world. However, as Hopf acknowledges, the theory contributes less to understanding the interplay with the United States and other major powers.