Top Books on the Cold War

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Reference Books

Frankel, Benjamin, ed. The Cold War, 1945-1991 (Detroit: Gale Research, 1992), 3 volumes; v. 1 Leaders and Other Important Figures in the United States and Western Europe; v. 2 Leaders and Other Important Figures in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, and the Third World; v. 3 Resources: Chronology, History, Concepts, Events, Organizations, Bibliography, Archives. This is a highly useful set of references books, which will serve both student and scholar alike.

Hill, Kenneth L., ed. Cold War Chronology : Soviet-American Relations, 1945-1991 (Washington, D.C. : Congressional Quarterly, 1993) 362 pp., index. This book presents a straightforward, annotated chronology of U.S.-Soviet relations from the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War.

Political and Diplomatic History

Brands, H.W. The Devil We Knew: Americans and the Cold War (New York: Oxford, 1993) 243 pp. An easy to read, thought-provoking interpretative essay on the American role and experience in the Cold War. Brands calls this conflict "no war at all, but simply the management of national interests in a world of competing powers."(222) Deliberately ignoring or downplaying Soviet contributions, the author sees the American conduct of the Cold War as largely unnecessary, tragic, and even counterproductive. The reason why Americans acted the way they did, Brands believes, is that the battle with the clearly identifiable outside enemy that was the Soviet Union served a myriad of psychological, economic, strategic, and political interests, both in foreign and domestic affairs. In their conduct during the Cold War, Americans subverted their country's best principles, the author argues, thereby making their victory over the Soviet Union an ambiguous one.

Bundy, McGeorge. Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (New York: Random House, 1988), 735 pp., index. A history of nuclear weapons policy from WWII through the Reagan administration. A former advisor to presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Bundy argues that the threat of mutual destruction has successfully deterred political leaders on both sides of the "iron curtain" from using nuclear weapons. Given the relative parity of the nuclear arsenals of both countries, he argues, continued weapons build-up is unnecessary.

Levering, Ralph B. The Cold War: A Post-Cold War History (Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, 1994), 217 pp., bibliographical essay, index. Part of the publisher's American History Series edited by John Hope Franklin and A. S. Eisenstadt, this compact, highly readable book provides a balanced diplomatic history of the Cold War. Levering's interpretation especially stresses domestic politics, political ideology, and public opinion and their role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.

May, Ernest R., ed. American Cold War Strategy: Interpreting NSC-68 (New York: St. Martin's, 1993), 228 pp., index, bibliographic essay. NSC 68 established the basic pattern of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War by advocating the immediate and large-scale build-up of military power in opposition to the Soviet Union. In addition to an elegant summary of the politics of the early Cold War, this slim volume comprises selections of writings by historians and policy-makers of different political persuasions, offering students and teachers the opportunity to compare a wide variety of interpretative positions.

Walker, Martin. The Cold War: A History (New York: Henry Holt and Co, 1993), 392 pp., index. Walker's narrative account focuses on the political and diplomatic highlights of the Cold War, from the later years of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Walker, a longtime correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, presents a lively, clearly written acount of the major events of the Cold War and is particularly strong in detailing the various European perspectives on and participation in the Cold War that many of the more America-centered works do not offer.

History of Science, Technology, and Society

Burrows, William E. Deep Black: Space Espionage and National Security (New York: Random House, 1986), 401 pp., illustrations, index. A journalist specializing in aviation and space, Burrows uncloaks in this readable book what he terms "an unofficial secret society composed of 'black hats' from the varioius contractors, military services, and the intelligence agenicies and divisions" who operate the "black" science, technology, and intelligence programs of space espionage. This book is an early triumph in the history of highly secretive Cold War programs.

Divine, Robert A. Blowing on the Wind: The Nuclear Test Ban Debate, 1954-1960 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 393 pp., index. The creation during the 1950s of thermonuclear weapons by the United States (1951) and the Soviet Union (1953) resulted in a decade-long attempt by both nations to place a moratorium on above ground testing. This work ably chronicles the complex dynamics of the "Fallout Debate" within the United States which involved scientific, medical, political, military, and national security questions. The book shows that such questions ultimately delayed United States's treaty ratification until 1963.

Divine, Robert A. The Sputnik Challenge (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 245 pp., index. The successful launch by the Soviet Union of the world's first artificial satellite on 4 October 1957 was one of the galvanizing moments in the history of the Cold War. The Eisenhower administration's various responses to "Sputnik," including a fear of a growing "missile gap," an increased interest in US scientific and engineering capabilities, and a reevaluation of the national education system, are well covered in this dynamic Cold War political history.

Edwards, Paul. The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), 440 pp., index. This is an impressive and ambitious history of a dual development of the Cold War period: the employment of computers as a major technology in the arms race, and the computer as a metaphor for intelligence, perception, and communication in the cognitive sciences. In addition to providing a history of the major research problems and innovations in the fields of computer science and cognitive psychology of the Cold War, Edwards offers a careful cultural analysis of how the components of these twin developments employ the culturally significant metaphors of the "closed-world" of containing communism and of the mind as a computer.

Final Report of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996; also available from the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, PO Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954, or call (202) 512-1800, fax (202) 512-2250. On January 15, 1994, President William J. Clinton created an Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments to investigate the possibility that American citizens had been used as human subjects in clandestine experiments conducted and funded by various governmental agencies during the Cold War. This volume presents the committee's findings. At more than 620 pages, this book is a complex but readable account of the of the most disturbing and anti-democratic episodes in the history of the United States. It is well annotated and contains a useful guide to federal archives for those seeking further information.

Freedman, Lawrence. The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, 2nd edition (London: Macmillan Press, 1989), 473 pp., index. Written by the venerable Professor of War Studies at King's College, London, this book is regarded as the basic text on the evolution of principles of nuclear strategy from Hiroshima to the Reagan administration. The text is written with extreme care: the prose is lucid, jargon-free, and comprehensive. His explanations of important points are detailed but never capsize into trivialities.

Geiger, Roger L. Research and Relevant Knowledge: American Research Universities since World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 411 pp., index. This work provides a general overview of the American university in the context of the Cold War and a more detailed examination of several individual institutions (MIT, Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Yale, Stanford, UCLA, and Arizona). Adopting a very different interpretation than Stuart W. Leslie in The Cold War and American Science, Geiger argues that academic scientists retained control over their disciplines, despite attempts by the military to wrest away that control.

Gerber, Michelle S. On the Home Front: The Cold War Legacy of the Hanford Nuclear Site (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 312 pp., index. Easily the best published history of any single nuclear production site, Gerber's work examines the development of Hanford in terms of its impact on surrounding areas and populations. Although it contains some technical errors, the book is required reading for those interested in the relationships between production sites and their surrounding communities.

Herken, Gregg. Counsels of War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), 425 pp., index. This book reviews the intellectual history of nuclear strategy as produced by "scientific analysts" at the RAND Corporation. Covering the same material as Fred Kaplan's work, and written and researched during the same period, much of Herken's book is based on primary archival documents and sixty interviews with principal military and civilian actors involved with policy-formulation throughout the cold war period. While it does not offer the gossip and personality description of Kaplan's book, its effort is lively and readable and suitable for undergraduates.

Herken, Gregg. The Winning Weapon: The Atomic Bomb in the Cold War, 1945-1950 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988) 425 pp., index. In commanding detail, Herken describes the powerful, often-perverse influence the atomic bomb played in international relations between the end of World War II and the Korean War. This book is especially good in interpreting the debate over the internationalization of the atom and the domestic context in which that debate was conducted.

Hewlett, Richard G. and Oscar E. Anderson, Jr. The New World, 1939-1946: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, vol. 1 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962), 766 pp., index; Hewlett and Francis Duncan. Atomic Shield. 1947-1952: A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, vol. 2 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1962), 718 pp., index; Hewlett and Jack M. Holl, Atoms for Peace and War, 1953-1961: Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission vol. 3 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 696 pp., index. This three-volume history of the Atomic Energy Commission is an indispensible resource for scholars interested in the development of atomic weapons, atomic energy, or the numerous AEC-sponsored scientific and technical research programs. This is detailed, institutional history, based on extensive research in what at the time were primarily classified documents. For readers with more general interest, Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb will cover much of the same material as the first volume in a more readable fashion, but the second and third volumes still stand as the preeminent works in the field.

Holloway, David. Stalin & the Bomb (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 464 pp., index, illustrations. This magnificent history documents the Soviet development of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Holloway argues that Soviet physicists were fully capable of independently developing atomic weapons but that espionage shaped the nature of the Soviets' crash development after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear weapons, suggests the author, saved Soviet physics from the fate that befell Soviet biology.

Kaplan, Fred. The Wizards of Armageddon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 452 pp., illustrations, index. This book is a lively, well-documented account of the evolution of the principles of nuclear strategy formulated by the civilian analysts of the RAND Corporation. A defense journalist for the Boston Globe, Kaplan wittily portrays the personalities of the principal civilian and military actors involved in strategic policy-analysis and formation. He also traces the influence of RAND-originated ideas about nuclear strategy in successive Presidencies from the Kennedy administration to the Reagan era.

Krementsov, Nikolai. Stalinist Science (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 371 pp., index. This work, written by a Soviet historian of science affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences, provides a well researched and well argued history of postwar Soviet genetics under the rule of Stalinist politico Troflin Lysenko. Using previously unavailable archival materials, the author argues that rather than being the "great exception" to "Stalinist science," the totalitarianism of Lysenkoism was in fact an exemplar. An important work on Cold War scientific practice.

Leslie, Stuart W. The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at M.I.T. and Stanford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 332 pp., index. Leslie extends the "distortionist hypothesis" of Paul Forman by interpreting the Cold War histories of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford Universities. He argues that these institutions grew impressively in the Cold War because of their alliance with "the military-industrial complex." In the process, both the American university and science itself were degraded.

MacKenzie, Donald. Inventing Accuracy: A Historical Sociology of Nuclear Missile Guidance (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 464 pp., index. MacKenzie's work is an engaging, insightful look into the world of strategic missile guidance system development. Using the tools of the social construction of technology, Inventing Accuracy demonstrates that these weapons systems are neither natural nor inevitable; rather, they are the products of contested social and political processes involving scientific, technological, corporate, bureaucratic, and military actors and organizations. MacKenzie does an excellent job of demystifying this complex process, allowing outsiders to understand and evaluate a traditionally inscrutable and secretive system.

Markusen, Ann, Peter Hall, Scott Campbell, and Sabina Deitrick. The Rise of the Gunbelt: The Military Remapping of Industrial America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) 341 pp., index. A comprehensive analysis of the impact of the Cold War on the industrial geography of the United States. Markusen et al. implicate Cold War military spending in the decline of the nation's "industrial heartland" and the rise of the "gunbelt," a select group of prosperous regions and metropolitan areas on the nation"s perimeter.

May, Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 284 pp., illustrations, index. May explores the complex historical reasons why Americans chose to live in suburbanized nuclear families and retain traditional gender roles in the two decades following the Second World War. By combining statistical, economic, and psychological studies with cultural analyses of the period's television, film, and popular science, May argues that the new American family order did two things during the Cold War: first, it defused the potentially revolutionary effects of the vast changes wrought in the very nature of work by the Depression, World War II, and the United States' strong post-war economy; and second, it served to allay the anxieties about personal and national security that characterized Cold War American culture.

McDougall, Walter A. The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age (New York: Basic Books, 1985), 555 pp., index. Space exploration had powerful political and economic implications during the Cold War. This volume primarily analyzes U.S. political responses to the Soviet launching of the "Sputnik" satellite in 1957. Lengthy and richly detailed, this work provides the best overview to date on the complex intersections of the space program and politics (both international and domestic), as well as the larger issue of the relationship between the state and technological development.

Participant-Observer Works

Broad, William J. Star Warriors: A Penetrating Look into the Lives of the Young Scientists Behind our Space Age Weaponry (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 245 pp, index. This thoroughly enjoyable book studies the contemporary culture of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, one of two nuclear weapons design laboratories in the United States. Focusing on the "Star Wars" weapon system of the 1980s, the book analyzes the personalities and politics (both at Livermore and in the public sector) which shaped the technology of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

Killian, James R. Sputnik, Scientists, and Eisenhower: A Memoir of the First Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1977) 315 pp., illustrations, index. This book provides an engrossing account of the Sputnik crisis and the U.S.'s response at the level of White House policy. See also George B. Kistiakowsky's A Scientist at the White House: The Private Diary of President Eisenhower's Special Assistant for Science and Technology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976). Several recent histories of the President's Office of Science and Technology have been written, including those of Gregg Herken, Cardinal Choices: Presidential Science Advising from the Atomic Bomb to SDI (New York : Oxford University Press, 1992) and Bruce L. R. Smith, The Advisers: Scientists in the Policy Process (Washington, D.C. : Brookings Institution, 1992).

Matlock, Jack F. Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador's Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union (New York: Random House, 1995), 836 pp. Reflective memoir of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. A Soviet expert and U.S. diplomat, Matlock was a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan (1983-1986) and ambassador in Moscow (1987-1991). He recounts the formulation of the Reagan administration's negotiating strategy toward the Soviet Union and the U.S. response to the policies of Michail Gorbachev. Matlock chronicles and analyzes the disintegration of the Soviet Union as a communist state, an antagonist of the West, and an empire. The book recaptures the excitement and uncertainty of the time, as well as the magnitude of the events of the late 1980s as seen by those living through them, and not knowing their outcome--particularly those at the top in Moscow and Washington.

Rich, Ben R. and Leo Janos. Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 1994), 370 pp., index, illustrations. A highly readable personal memoir from the former head of Lockheed's Skunk Works, the makers of the U-2 spy plane and the Stealth fighter. Rich offers an insider's account of military procurement practices and the weapons development process in one of the nation's most secretive aerospace operations.

York, Herbert. Making Weapons; Talking Peace,


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