cover image The Cold War: A New History

The Cold War: A New History

John Lewis Gaddis, . . Penguin Press, $27.95 (333pp) ISBN 978-1-59420-062-5

If it's difficult to imagine a history of the Cold War that can be described as thrilling, that should add more luster to Yale historian Gaddis's crown. Gaddis, who's written some half-dozen studies of the Cold War, delivers an utterly engrossing account of Soviet-U.S. relations from WWII to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. The ideological clash between democratic capitalism and communism predated the war, of course, but the emergence of nuclear weapons created a new political situation. Suddenly, it was easy to imagine total war that might destroy not only the enemy but also the victor. Gaddis assesses what he sees as the positive contributions Thatcher, Reagan and Pope John Paul II made to furthering the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. and concludes with a sympathetic portrait of Gorbachev; his refusal to use force ultimately cost him both communism and his country, but, says Gaddis, it also made him "the most deserving recipient ever of the Nobel Peace Prize." The interpretations on offer are not startlingly original—we've read this before, mostly in other books by Gaddis himself—but a new, concise narration was Gaddis's aim here, and he succeeds royally. His synthesis is sure to reign with general history readers and in undergraduate classrooms. 8 maps not seen by PW . (Dec. 29)