Unlike most historians of the Cold War’s origins, who tend to concentrate on the dreadful bloodletting that marked the final stages of World War II, Dobbs begins with the conference at Yalta, where Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin met to plan the fate of postwar Europe. The occasion was touched with melancholy, as the visibly ailing Roosevelt attempted to show that he could still be the master of events and Churchill struggled to preserve the British Empire even though he knew its moment was passing. The book ends with Hiroshima. By that point, the Soviets’ behavior in the territories they had taken over from the Nazis had already alerted the Americans and the British to the likely emptiness of Stalin’s promises at Yalta. Of course, the United States would have used the atom bomb against Japan even had there not been a growing rift between the East and the West, but the rift added to the bomb’s significance. There are no startling revelations in this book, but Dobbs is a gifted writer. His characterizations of powerful men are well judged and rounded, as are his evaluations of the fateful choices they faced.
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