cover image The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War Mind

The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War Mind

Martin Sixsmith. Pegasus, $35 (592p) ISBN 978-1-63936-181-6

Novelist and reporter Sixsmith (Russia) deconstructs the psychology of the Cold War in this revelatory history. Detailing the Berlin Airlift, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other showdowns, Sixsmith masterfully juxtaposes high-level gamesmanship between U.S. and Soviet leaders—Stalin had an edge over the declining Roosevelt; Khrushchev underestimated a cautious John F. Kennedy—with the psychological warfare directed at civilians. The space race, which saw the U.S.S.R. put animals and humans in orbit around the Earth and U.S. astronauts set foot on the moon, captivated the two countries while stoking fears of nuclear armageddon. To prevent panic, American leaders “downplayed the physical and psychological threat of the bomb” and fostered the illusion that citizens could survive a surprise attack in build-it-yourself shelters. In the Soviet Union, the government insisted on a “monolithic artistic style”; artists who veered away from social realism or criticized the state were persecuted. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Sixsmith contends, ordinary Russians had cultivated a “learned helplessness,” while U.S. elites prematurely celebrated the triumph of “American values” and failed to soothe Russian fears that NATO posed an existential threat. Fluid prose and astute, timely analysis into the history behind Vladimir Putin’s “restorative nostalgia” make this a vital study of world affairs. (July)