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Robert J. McMahon: The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction

Discussion in 'Non-Fiction Books' started by sparkchaser, Sep 25, 2012.

  1. sparkchaser

    sparkchaser Administrator and Stuntman Staff Member

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    As a child of the Cold War, I spent the early-mid '80s convinced that we were going to die in a nuclear war. Well, that didn't happen. I was in high school during the years the Cold War came to an end and my mind was focused on other things -- softer, curvier things, to be precise -- so I wasn't exactly paying attention to what was going on. It seems like one day we were all going to die and the next day The Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed.

    Spurred by recent trips to Eastern Europe and beyond, I have found myself wanting to educate myself on what exactly happened during those years. McMahon's book The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction seemed to be as good a starting point as any, and for the most part that is true.

    McMahon begins the Cold War story with the end of WWII and lays down the foundation for the next 55 years. He takes quite a bit of time explaining how and why the Cold War began, which I greatly appreciated. The 50's and 60's enjoy a lion's share of the book as he gives what is essentially a executive summary of the chess game between the U.S. and Soviet Union over control of Third World nations. The detente of the 70's is given more story time than the Vietnam War. The final chapter on the 1980s and the end of the Cold War ended rather anti-climatically.

    McMahon's rendition of the events of the 1980's can be reduced to these five points:

    • Reagan terrified the shit out of not only Warsaw Pact nations but all of the U.S.'s allies in NATO as well when he implied that a limited nuclear war in Europe was an acceptable scenario.
    • Peace protests everywhere.
    • When Gorbachev came into power, he immediately sought out to reduce the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal.
    • The implementation of glastnost and perestroika by Gorbachev was the catalyst that caused the Soviet Union to collapse seemingly overnight.
    • The Soviets were unwilling to let East & West Germany reunite but changed their minds once they saw that Western Europe was going to keep Germany in line and make sure they didn't go full retard (again).

    Yes, it is a "very short introduction" but I can't help but feel that ten pages or so giving more detail into the final years of the Cold War would have been nice.

    I found it interesting that China was portrayed as a threat to the Soviet Union. I mean, it does make sense when you think about it, but I grew up being told and thinking that they were best buds.

    At the end of the book he gives a list of suggested reading. I guess it's time for my shopping cart to grow a bit more.

    All in all, I think that it was a good enough introduction to a long and complex subject and factoring in the suggested reading, I give it :star3:.
  2. Hugh

    Hugh Member

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    I always thought of China and Russia as allies as well, although I remember a documentary that claimed Mao did not like the high-handedness of the Soviets. Did the book specify whether it thought Mao or Chiang Kai-Shek was a threat?
  3. sparkchaser

    sparkchaser Administrator and Stuntman Staff Member

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    Mao. Definitely Mao.

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