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The Cold War

John Lamberton Harper

Publication Date - 21 July 2011

ISBN: 9780199237012

352 pages
8.5 x 5.4 inches


The East-West struggle for supremacy from 1945 to 1989 shaped the lives of hundreds of millions and brought the world to the brink of disaster on several occasions. More than two decades on, the debate over its causes and dynamics is far from over. Drawing on the latest archival evidence and scholarly research, prize-winning historian John Lamberton Harper provides a concise, briskly-written assessment of the Cold War.

Why did it start, and eventually envelope nearly every corner of the planet? Why did it stay "cold," at least in its original, European theatre? Why did it end, and who should take the credit? Harper illuminates the deep-seated behavioural patterns within both the Soviet Union and the United States: the search for security through expansion and military might, the belief in a "messianic" mission to uplift humanity, but also a readiness to live and let live based on membership in a common state system and a shared interest in survival. He stresses ways in which internal competitions for political power tilted both the U.S. and Soviet systems towards bellicosity and obsessive preparation for a hot war that no one seriously intended to begin.

It is a story of delusions of omnipotence and rash behavior, punctuated by moments of redeeming statesmanship and self-restraint. Harper concludes that, rather than triumphalism, a clear look back at the Cold War's close calls with catastrophe and enormous cost in lives and treasure ought to evoke a sense of regret and humility, as well as relief.


  • Concise and briskly written overview of Cold War history, two decades from its end
  • Includes an introductory primary documents section to orient the reader
  • Looks both at international and domestic factors driving the policies of the two superpowers

About the Author(s)

John Lamberton Harper is Professor of American Foreign Policy and European Studies at the Bologna Center of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is the author of America and the Reconstruction of Italy (1986), winner of the Marraro prize from the Society for Italian Historical Studies, American Visions of Europe: Franklin D. Roosevelt, George F. Kennan, and Dean G. Acheson (1994), winner of the Ferrell prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and American Machiavelli: Alexander Hamilton and the Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy (2004). He is a contributing editor of Survival, and a member of the Istituto Affari Internazionali in Rome.

Table of Contents

    Documentary Traces
    1. Russia and the West: Destined to Collide?
    2. The End of Illusions, 1945-1946
    3. The Consolidation of the Blocs, 1947-1949
    4. The Globalization and Militarization of the Contest, 1949-1953
    5. The Age of Brinkmanship, 1953-1963
    6. The Struggle in the Third World, 1950-1968
    7. The Rise and Decline of Detente, 1969-1977
    8. To the Panic of '79
    9. Stirrings of Change, 1980-1985
    10. Putting an End to the Cold War, 1986-1990
    Select Bibliography

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