The Best Cold War History Books for Adults
2021 will mark the 30th anniversary of the end of the Cold War, which was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, marked by spying, McCarthyism, and looming nuclear war for over four decades.
Because of the length of the Cold War, and the many countries and organizations involved, there have been a ton of excellent, informative Cold War history books published over the years. From the Cuban Missile Crisis and the CIA, KBG, and MI6 and their network of spies, to submarines, nuclear missiles, and the “Star Wars” defense program, there are many different facets of the Cold War to explore in the pages of books.
Here are eight of the best Cold War history books for adults, whether you are looking to learn a general overview of the decades-long rivalry or explore deep dives into particular events. Both history buffs and readers looking to start learning about the Cold War will find these fascinating.
This book details the true story of Vasili Mitrokhin, a secret dissident who worked in the KGB archive, who smuggled out copies of its most highly classified files every day for twelve years. The possession of these KGB documents by the FBI was the largest, most extensive look the United States has ever had inside the organization.
Journalist Christian Caryl examines the many important events that transpired in 1979 that led to the beginnings of the end of the Cold War. These events include changes in the international economy, the start of revolutionary Islam as a global political force, and the beginning of the resistance movements in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan.
Mikhail Gorbachev's rise to power in 1985 was the start of the last years of the Cold War. Prize-winning historian Serhii Plokhy examines Gorbachev's resignation as Soviet prime minister in 1991 and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, using recently declassified documents and original interviews with key participants.
Potsdam is considered the definitive account of the 1945 Potsdam Conference, where Truman, Stalin, and Churchill discussed the fate of post-World War II Europe, marking the beginning of the Cold War.
Homeward Bound is an in-depth examination of the Cold War on citizens in the United States, and how the threat of nuclear war affected the men, women, and children of America. From the fear of Communists to the rise in fallout shelters and the practice of bomb drills in school, the Cold War had a lasting impact on the people who lived through it, especially in the two decades following World War II.
An extensively researched recent overview of the Cold War, this book benefits from many recent revelations and unsealed documents. Westad provides a thorough look at the factors that contributed to the start of the Cold War, the numerous countries that were affected by it besides the United States and Russia, and the events that led to its end.
While discussions of the Cold War tend to focus on the United States and Russia, it had a large presence in Europe, too. For decades, East and West Germany were separated not just politically, but physically by the Berlin Wall. The fall of the Wall was seen as a step towards the end of the Cold War, but Sarotte explains how the first opening of the gates was actually brought about by a mix of daring revolutionaries and disgruntled Stasi officers.
Award-winning historian Serhii Plokhy covers the worst nuclear disaster in history from a first-hand account as a survivor of the tragedy. Plokhky details how crucial mistakes at the plant, and failure by government leaders to act in a swift and transparent manner led to the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine in 1986 that killed dozens and contaminated half the country.
What to Read Next
Liberty Hardy is a Book Riot senior contributing editor and velocireader in the great state of Maine, where she reads 500-600 books a year and lives with her three cats, who are probably spies.