The Cold War

A World History


By Odd Arne Westad

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The definitive history of the Cold War and its impact around the world

We tend to think of the Cold War as a bounded conflict: a clash of two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, born out of the ashes of World War II and coming to a dramatic end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. But in this major new work, Bancroft Prize-winning scholar Odd Arne Westad argues that the Cold War must be understood as a global ideological confrontation, with early roots in the Industrial Revolution and ongoing repercussions around the world.

In The Cold War, Westad offers a new perspective on a century when great power rivalry and ideological battle transformed every corner of our globe. From Soweto to Hollywood, Hanoi, and Hamburg, young men and women felt they were fighting for the future of the world. The Cold War may have begun on the perimeters of Europe, but it had its deepest reverberations in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, where nearly every community had to choose sides. And these choices continue to define economies and regimes across the world.

Today, many regions are plagued with environmental threats, social divides, and ethnic conflicts that stem from this era. Its ideologies influence China, Russia, and the United States; Iraq and Afghanistan have been destroyed by the faith in purely military solutions that emerged from the Cold War.

Stunning in its breadth and revelatory in its perspective, this book expands our understanding of the Cold War both geographically and chronologically and offers an engaging new history of how today's world was created.


World Making

When I was a boy in Norway during the 1960s, the world I grew up in was delimited by the Cold War. It split families, towns, regions, and countries. It spread fear and not a little confusion: Could you be certain that the nuclear catastrophe would not happen tomorrow? What could set it off? The Communists—a tiny group in my hometown—suffered the suspicions of others for having different points of view, and perhaps—it was said often enough—different loyalties, not to our own country, but to the Soviet Union. In a place that had been occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, the latter was a serious matter: It implied betrayal, in a region that was wary of treason. My country bordered the Soviet Union in the north and at the slightest increase in the temperature of international affairs, tension also mounted along the mostly frozen river where the frontier was set. Even in tranquil Norway the world was divided, and it is sometimes hard to remember how intense its conflicts were.

The Cold War was a confrontation between capitalism and socialism that peaked in the years between 1945 and 1989, although its origins go much further back in time and its consequences can still be felt today. In its prime the Cold War constituted an international system, in the sense that the world's leading powers all based their foreign policies on some relationship to it. The contending thoughts and ideas contained in it dominated most domestic discourses. Even at the height of confrontation, however, the Cold War—although predominant—was not the only game in town; the late twentieth century saw many important historical developments that were neither created by the Cold War nor determined by it. The Cold War did not decide everything, but it influenced most things, and often for the worse: The confrontation helped cement a world dominated by Superpowers, a world in which might and violence—or the threat of violence—were the yardsticks of international relations, and where beliefs tended toward the absolute: Only one's own system was good. The other system was inherently evil.

Much of the legacy of the Cold War centers on these kinds of absolutes. At their worst they can be seen in the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: the moral certainties, the eschewal of dialog, the faith in purely military solutions. But they can also be found in the doctrinaire belief in free market messages or the top-down approach to social ills or generational problems. Some regimes still claim authoritarian forms of legitimacy that go back to the Cold War: China is the biggest example, of course, and North Korea the most dreadful one, but dozens of countries, from Vietnam and Cuba to Morocco and Malaysia, have significant elements of the Cold War built into their systems of government. Many regions of the world still live with environmental threats, social divides, or ethnic conflicts stimulated by the last great international system. Some critics claim that the concept of never-ending economic growth, which may in the longer run threaten human welfare or even the survival of humanity, was—in its modern form—a creation of Cold War competitions.

To be fair to an international system (for once), there were also less injurious aspects of the Cold War, or at least of the way the conflict ended. Very few western Europeans or southeast Asians would have preferred to live in the type of Communist states that were created in eastern parts of their continental neighborhoods. And although the legacy of US interventions in Asia is usually roundly condemned, a majority of Europeans were and are convinced that the US military presence within their own borders helped keep the peace and develop democracies. The very fact that the Cold War confrontation between the Superpowers ended peacefully was of course of supreme importance: With enough nuclear weapons in existence to destroy the world several times over, we all depended on moderation and wisdom to avoid an atomic Armageddon. The Cold War may not have been the long peace that some historians have seen it as being.1 But at the upper levels of the international system—between the United States and the Soviet Union—war was avoided long enough for change to take place. We all depended on that long postponement for survival.

HOW SPECIAL, THEN, was the Cold War as an international system compared with other such systems in history? Although most world orders tend to be multipolar—having many different powers contending—there are some possible comparisons. European politics between the 1550s and the early seventeenth century were, for instance, deeply influenced by a bipolar rivalry between Spain and England, which shared some of the characteristics of the Cold War. Its origins were deeply ideological, with Spain's monarchs believing they represented Catholicism, and the English, Protestantism. Each formed alliances consisting of its ideological brethren, and wars took place far from the imperial centers. Diplomacy and negotiations were limited—each power regarded the other as its natural and given enemy. The elites in both countries believed fervently in their cause, and that the course of the centuries to come would depend on who won the contest. The discovery of America and the advance of science in the century of Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and Giordano Bruno made the stakes very high; whoever came out on top would not only dominate the future, it was believed, but would take possession of it for their purposes.

But apart from sixteenth-century Europe, eleventh-century China (the conflict between the Song and Liao states), and, of course, the much-explored rivalry between Athens and Sparta in Greek antiquity, examples of bipolar systems are quite rare. Over time, most regions have tended toward the multipolar or, though somewhat less commonly, the unipolar. In Europe, for instance, multipolarity reigned in most epochs after the collapse of the Carolingian empire in the late ninth century. In eastern Asia, the Chinese empire was predominant from the Yuan dynasty in the thirteenth century to the Qing dynasty in the nineteenth. The relative lack of bipolar systems is probably not hard to explain. Requiring some form of balance, they were more difficult to maintain than either unipolar, empire-oriented systems or multipolar, broad-spectrum ones. Bipolar systems were also in most cases dependent on other states that were not immediately under the control of the Superpowers but still bought into the system in some form, usually through ideological identification. And in all cases except the Cold War, they ended in cataclysmic warfare: the Thirty Years War, the collapse of the Liao, the Peloponnesian War.

There is no doubt that the fervor of the confrontation of ideas contributed strongly to Cold War bipolarity. The predominant ideology in the United States, emphasizing markets, mobility, and mutability, was universalist and teleological, with the built-in belief that all societies of European extraction were necessarily moving in the same general direction as the United States. From the very beginning, Communism—the special form of socialism developed in the Soviet Union—was created as the antithesis of the capitalist ideology that the United States represented: an alternative future, so to say, that people everywhere could obtain for themselves. Like many Americans, the Soviet leaders believed that "old" societies, based on local identifications, social deference, and justification of the past, were dead. The competition was for the society of the future, and there were only two fully modern versions of it: the market, with all its imperfections and injustices, and the plan, which was rational and integrated. Soviet ideology made the state a machine acting for the betterment of mankind, while most Americans resented centralized state power and feared its consequences. The stage was set for an intense competition, in which the stakes were seen to be no less than the survival of the world.

THIS BOOK ATTEMPTS to place the Cold War as a global phenomenon within a hundred-year perspective. It begins in the 1890s, with the first global capitalist crisis, the radicalization of the European labor movement, and the expansion of the United States and Russia as transcontinental empires. It ends around 1990, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the United States finally emerging as a true global hegemon.

In taking a hundred-year perspective on the Cold War my purpose is not to subsume other seminal events—world wars, colonial collapse, economic and technological change, environmental degradation—into one neat framework. It is rather to understand how the conflict between socialism and capitalism influenced and were influenced by global developments on a grand scale. But it is also to make sense of why one set of conflicts was repeated over and over again throughout the century and why all other contestants for power—material or ideological—had to relate to it. The Cold War grew along the fault-lines of conflict, starting out in the late nineteenth century, just as European modernity seemed to be reaching its peak.

My argument, if there is one argument in such a lengthy book, is that the Cold War was born from the global transformations of the late nineteenth century and was buried as a result of tremendously rapid changes a hundred years later. Both as an ideological conflict and as an international system it can therefore only be grasped in terms of economic, social, and political change that is much broader and deeper than the events created by the Cold War itself. Its main significance may be understood in different ways. I have in an earlier book argued that profound and often violent change in postcolonial Asia, Africa, and Latin America was a main result of the Cold War.2 But the conflict also had other meanings. It can be constituted as a stage in the advent of US global hegemony. It can be seen as the (slow) defeat of the socialist Left, especially in the form espoused by Lenin. And it can be portrayed as an acute and dangerous phase in international rivalries, which grew on the disasters of two world wars and then was overtaken by new global divides in the 1970s and '80s.

Whichever aspect of the Cold War one wants to emphasize, it is essential to recognize the intensity of the economic, social, and technological transformations within which the conflict took place. The hundred years from the 1890s to the 1990s saw global markets being created (and destroyed) at a dizzying pace. They witnessed the birth of technologies that previous generations could only dream about, some of which were used to increase mankind's capacity for the dominance and exploitation of others. And they experienced a singularly quick change in global patterns of living, with mobility and urbanization on the rise almost everywhere. All forms of political thinking, Left and Right, were influenced by the rapidity and voraciousness of these changes.

In addition to the importance of ideologies, technology was a main reason for the durability of the Cold War as an international system. The decades after 1945 saw the buildup of such large arsenals of nuclear weapons that—the irony is of course not lost on the reader—in order to secure the world's future, both Superpowers were preparing to destroy it. Nuclear arms were, as Soviet leader Joseph Stalin liked to put it, "weapons of a new type": not battlefield weapons, but weapons to obliterate whole cities, like the United States had done with the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. But only the two Superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, possessed enough nuclear weapons to threaten the globe with total annihilation.

As always in history, the twentieth century saw a multitude of important stories developing more or less in parallel. The conflict between capitalism and socialism influenced almost all of these, including the two world wars and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Toward the end of the century, some of these developments contributed to making the Cold War obsolete both as an international system and as a predominant ideological conflict. It is therefore quite possible that the Cold War will be reduced in significance by future historians, who from their vantage point will attach more significance to the origins of Asian economic power, or the beginning of space exploration, or the eradication of smallpox. History is always an intricate web of meaning and significance, in which the perspective of the historian writing it is paramount. I am preoccupied with the part the Cold War played in creating the world we know today. But this is of course not the same as privileging the Cold War story over all other stories. It is simply to say that for a long period of time the conflict between socialism and capitalism profoundly influenced how people lived their lives and how they thought about politics, both at a local and a global scale.

Broadly speaking, the Cold War happened within the context of two processes of deep change in international politics. One was the emergence of new states, created more or less on the pattern of European states of the nineteenth century. In 1900 there were fewer than fifty independent states in the world, about half of them in Latin America. Now there are close to two hundred, which mostly share a remarkable degree of similarity in governance and administration. The other fundamental change was the emergence of the United States as the dominant global power. In 1900 the US defense budget stood, converted to 2010 US dollars, at around $10 billion, an extraordinary increase over previous years, thanks to the Spanish-American War and counterinsurgency operations in the Philippines and Cuba. Today that expenditure has expanded 100 times, to $1,000 billion. In 1870 US GDP was 9 percent of the world total; at the height of the Cold War, in 1955, it was around 28 percent. Even today, after years of reported US decline, it is around 22 percent. The Cold War was therefore shaped in an era of state proliferation and rising US power, both of which would help create the direction that the conflict took.

These international changes also ensured that the Cold War operated within a framework in which nationalism was an enduring force. Although believers in socialism or capitalism as social and economic systems always seemed to deplore it, appeals to some form of national identity could sometimes defeat the best-laid ideological plans for human progress. Time and again grand schemes for modernization, alliances, or transnational movements stumbled at the first hurdle laid by nationalism or other forms of identity politics. Though nationalism—by definition—also had its clear limitations as a global framework (witness the defeat of the hypernationalistic states of Germany, Italy, and Japan in World War II), it was always a challenge to those who thought the future belonged to universalist ideologies.

Even at the height of the Cold War, from 1945 to 1989, bipolarity therefore always had its limitations. In spite of their attractiveness on a global scale, neither the Soviet nor the US system was ever fully replicated elsewhere. Such cloning was probably not possible, even in the minds of the most fervent ideologues. What resulted in terms of societal development were either capitalist or socialist economies with strong local influences. In some cases these blends were much resented by political leaders, who wanted an unsullied form of their political ideals put in place. But—fortunately for most, it could be claimed—compromises had to be made. Countries like Poland or Vietnam both subscribed to a Soviet ideal for development, but remained in fact very different from the Soviet Union, just as Japan or West Germany—in spite of profound US influence—stayed different from the United States. A country like India, with its unique blend of parliamentary democracy and detailed economic planning, was even further from any kind of Cold War ideal type. In the eyes of their own leaders, and of their strongest supporters elsewhere, only the two Superpowers remained pure, as models to be emulated elsewhere.

In a way this is not surprising. Concepts of modernity in the United States and the Soviet Union had a common starting point in the late nineteenth century and retained much in common throughout the Cold War. Both originated in the expansion of Europe, and of European modes of thinking, on a global scale over the past three centuries. For the first time in human history, one center—Europe and its offshoots—had dominated the world. The Europeans had built empires that gradually took possession of most of the globe, and settled three continents with their own people. This was a unique development, which led some Europeans, and people with European ancestry, to believe that they could take control of the whole world's future through the ideas and technologies they had developed.

Even though this form of thinking had much deeper roots in history, its apogee was in the nineteenth century. Again, this should be no surprise: The nineteenth century was without doubt the era in which the Europeans' advantage over all others culminated in terms of technology, production, and military power. The confidence in and dedication to what some historians have called "Enlightenment values"—reason, science, progress, development, and civilization as a system—obviously sprang from the European preponderance of power, as did the colonization of Africa and of southeast Asia and the subjugation of China and most of the Arab world. By the late nineteenth century Europe and its offshoots, including Russia and the United States, ruled supreme, in spite of their internal divisions, and so did the ideas they projected.

Within the epoch of European predominance, its ideas gradually germinated elsewhere. Modernity took on different shapes in different parts of the world, but the hopes of local elites for the creation of industrial civilizations of their own extended from China and Japan to Iran and Brazil. Key to the modern transformation that they hoped to emulate were the primacy of human willpower over nature, the ability to mechanize production through new forms of energy, and the creation of a nation-state with mass public participation. Ironically, this spread of ideas that were European in origin signaled the beginning of the end of the epoch of European predominance; peoples elsewhere wanted modernity for themselves in order to better resist the empires that lorded over them.

Even within the heart of European modernity ideological contests were developing in the nineteenth century that, in the end, would blow the whole artificial concept of one modernity apart. As industrial society took hold, a number of critiques developed that questioned not so much modernity itself, but rather its endpoint. There had to be more, some claimed, to the remarkable transformation of production and society that was going on than making a few people rich and a few European empires expand in Africa and Asia. There had to be an aim that made up—at least in historical terms—for the human misery created by the processes of industrialization. Some of these critics linked up with others who claimed to deplore industrialization altogether and sometimes idealized pre-industrial societies. The dissenters demanded new political and economic systems, based on the support of ordinary men and women who were being thrown into capitalism's centrifuge.

The most fundamental of these critiques was socialism, a term that came into popular use in the 1830s but has roots back to the French Revolution. Its central ideas are public rather than private ownership of property and resources and the expansion of mass democracy. To begin with, quite a few socialists were looking back as much as forward. They celebrated the egalitarianism of peasant communities or, in some cases, the religious critique of capitalism, often connected with Christ's Sermon on the Mount: "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."

But by the 1860s early socialist thought was coming under pressure from the thinking of Karl Marx and his followers. Marx, a German who wanted to organize socialist principles into a fundamental critique of capitalism, was more preoccupied with the future than the past. He postulated that socialism would grow naturally out of the chaos of economic and social change in the mid-nineteenth century. Neither the feudal order of old nor the capitalist order of the present could handle the challenges of modern society, Marx thought. They would have to be replaced by a socialist order based on scientific principles for running the economy. Such an order would come into being through a revolution by the proletariat, the industrial workers who had no property of their own. "The proletariat," Marx said in his Communist Manifesto, "will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible."3

Marx's adherents, who called themselves Communists after his Manifesto, in the nineteenth century never constituted more than small groups, but they had an influence far greater than their numbers. What characterized them were to a large extent the intensity of their beliefs and their fundamental internationalism. Where other working class movements sought out gradual progress and stressed the economic demands of the underprivileged they represented, Marx's followers stressed the need for relentless class-struggle and for conquering political power through revolution. They saw the workers as having no homeland and no king. They saw the struggle for a new world as having no borders, while most of their rivals were nationalist and, in some cases, imperialist.

Their internationalism and antidemocratic dogmatism were the main reasons why Marxists often lost out to other working class movements toward the end of the nineteenth century. In Marx's Germany, for instance, the setting up of a new strong unitary state under Bismarck in the 1870s was welcomed by many workers, who saw nation building as preferable to class-struggle. But Marx himself, interviewed from his comfortable exile in London's Haverstock Hill, condemned the new German state as "the establishment of military despotism and the ruthless oppression of the productive masses."4 When the German Social Democrats in their 1891 program stressed the struggle for democracy as the main political aim, they were also roundly condemned by the Marxists. They had demanded "universal, equal, and direct suffrage with secret ballot in all elections, for all citizens."5 Friedrich Engels, Marx's collaborator and successor, saw this as "removing the fig-leaf from absolutism and becoming oneself a screen for its nakedness." "This sacrifice of the future of the movement for its present may be 'honestly' meant," Engels said, "but it is and remains opportunism, and 'honest' opportunism is perhaps the most dangerous of all."6

By the 1890s Social Democratic parties had been established all over Europe and the Americas. Though sometimes inspired by Marxism in their critique of the capitalist system, most of them emphasized reform over revolution, and campaigned for the extension of democracy, workers' rights, and social services accessible to all. Quite a few had already developed into mass parties, linked to the trade union movements in their countries. In Germany, the Social Democratic Party received one and a half million votes in the 1890 elections, almost 20 percent of the total (though it got only a small number of parliamentary seats due to unfair election laws). In the Nordic countries the figures were similar. In France the Federation of Socialist Workers had already started gaining control of municipal governments in the 1880s. In spite of the critique by Engels and others, most Social Democratic parties were advancing democracy, while beginning to benefit from its fruits.

The global economic crisis of the 1890s changed all of that. Like the crisis of 2007–08, it started with the near insolvency in 1890 of a major bank, in this case the British Baring's, caused by excessive risk-taking in foreign markets. The City of London had known worse crises, but the difference this time was that the problem spread rapidly because of increased economic interdependence and came to infect economies throughout the world. The early 1890s therefore saw the first global economic crisis, with high unemployment (nearing 20 percent at one stage in the United States) and massive labor unrest. Many workers and even young professionals—who for the first time faced unemployment in high numbers—asked themselves whether capitalism was finished. Even many members of the establishment began asking the same question, as unrest spread. Parts of the extreme Left—anarchists mainly—began terrorist campaigns against the state. There were eleven large-scale bombings in France in 1892–94, including one in the National Assembly. Across Europe and the United States political leaders were assassinated: the president of France in 1894, the Spanish prime minister in 1897, the empress of Austria in 1898, and the Italian king in 1900. The following year US president William McKinley was assassinated at the Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York. Rulers the world over were outraged and fearful.

The unrest of the 1890s split the Social Democratic movements, just as they were facing unprecedented attacks from employers and governments. Strikes were crushed, often violently. Socialists and trade unionists were imprisoned. The fallout from the first global economic crisis set back the democratic developments of previous decades. It also produced a revitalized extreme Left among socialists, who saw democracy as nothing but window-dressing for the bourgeoisie. The young Vladimir Illich Ulianov, who came to call himself Lenin, had this background, as did many of the others who would drive the socialist and worker's movements in Europe to the Left in the first part of the twentieth century.

Different people within the workers' organizations drew different lessons from the crisis. Quite a few had expected capitalism itself to collapse as a result of the chaos created by the financial traumas of the early 1890s. When this did not happen, and—at least in some regions—the economy was again on the up in the latter part of the decade, mainstream Social Democrats were pushed further toward trade union organizing and processes of collective bargaining. They could draw on the lessons workers had learned from the crisis: that only an effective union could resist casual dismissals and worsening working conditions when an economic downturn struck. Union membership skyrocketed in Germany, France, Italy, and Britain. In Denmark the central board of trade unions in 1899 agreed to a system of annual negotiations over wages and working conditions with the employers' union. This long-term agreement, the first anywhere in the world, was the beginning of a model that would gradually spread elsewhere. It made Denmark one of the least polarized countries in the world during the Cold War.

The radical Left in Europe hated nothing more than the "class-treason" shown by the Danish Social Democrats in their September Agreement. Having been given a new lease on life by the crisis, the radicals were more convinced than ever that capitalism was coming to an end soon, as Marx had predicted. Some of them believed that the workers themselves, through their political organizations, could help nudge history toward its logical destination: Strikes, boycotts, and other forms of collective protest were not only means for improving the lot of the working class. They could help overthrow the bourgeois state. The 1890s therefore saw the final split between mainstream reformist Social Democrats and revolutionary socialists—soon again to call themselves Communists—which would last up to the end of the Cold War. The confrontation between the two would become an important part of the history of the twentieth century.


  • "[An] epic account...One reason Mr. Westad's narrative is so strong is its use of fresh archival sources from across the globe...How Big Was the Cold War? is easy to answer: It was huge, as this book demonstrates, not only because of the perilous stakes but also because of the size of the two main actors. How Deep Was the Cold War? is also easy to answer, and Mr. Westad does that so very well, showing how it reached into so many places in the world that were a long way from the Berlin Wall."—Wall Street Journal
  • "[A] big, serious, and thoroughly intelligent stud[y] of the cold war."—New York Review of Books
  • "An account of the Cold War that is truly global in its scope... a wise and observant history... It also arrives at a moment when we must grasp the dynamics of the Cold War if we want to understand some of today's most urgent developments, from North Korea's acquisition of long-range nuclear missiles to the rise of socialist movements in Western democracies."—New Republic
  • "Rich with details drawn from archival research and interviews with politicians, soldiers, scientists and others who lived through the cold war.... Westad, a specialist on China as well as on the cold war, adds a valuable dimension with chapters on Asian countries and Latin America.... [An] ambitious study, perspicacious and panoramic in scope."—Financial Times, Best Books of 2017
  • "Today, western attempts to contain radical Islamism continue an us-and-them mentality. Angry Muslims decry the perceived depredations of US imperialism and the infidel free market; the threat posed by suicide bombers makes the old east-west rivalries look almost manageable by comparison. Westad's huge, single-volume history is the beginning of wisdom in these things."—Guardian
  • "[A] riveting historical compendium."—Independent
  • "A sweeping study.... In astute, thematic chapters, Bancroft Award-winning historian Westad offers an excellent sense of the ideological conflicts fulminating since the late 19th century that formed the crux of the Cold War.... This is an enormous story, and the author tackles it with admirable clarity and elegance.... A tremendous and timely history lesson for our age."—Kirkus, starred review
  • "The Cold War evinces a lifetime of research and thought on the subject. Compelling ideas and valuable insights appear frequently."—National Interest
  • "In many ways, Westad has long argued, the Cold War made the world what it is today. His latest book is an eloquent and enjoyable defense of that proposition."
    Foreign Policy
  • "A clear and well-written summary of a global conflict... an impressive book."—The Times
  • "Westad argues that the Cold War made the world what it is today. Reading this fine history, it's difficult to disagree with him. This is one of the best histories ever written on the Cold War."—Omnivoracious
  • "This significant history is told with verve and spirit... An essential book for all collections and one of the best written so far on the Cold War."
    Library Journal
  • "[Westad] ably synthesizes contemporary scholarship to produce an accessible narrative that provides a fresh perspective on the conflict's pervasive global influence... an impressive feat that will be appreciated by scholars, students, and general readers."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Westad balances the grim nature of his study with sometimes thrilling insights and constantly lively, almost conversational prose. Even in a book-market glutted with Russia-centered histories, this one stands out."—Open Letters Monthly
  • "Rather than offering a straightforward historical overview, The Cold War delves much deeper, examining the philosophies underpinning the conflicting ideologies and the influence the systems had on their societies and economies. These complex ideas are written with great clarity and confidence, giving readers an exciting prose that only occasionally feels turgid through detail.... The book is a sobering opportunity to allow the recent history to give perspective to our own times and the dangerous ideas that persist."—Entertainment Focus
  • "[A] fast-paced narrative peppered with delightful snippets from a broad range of sources... this volume should sit on the bookshelf of every home as a constant reminder of how stupidity, ignorance and arrogance almost brought the world to annihilation. With the personification of all three traits now squatting in the White House, this book has real and current value."—SouthChina Morning Post
  • "Arne Westad has produced a grand narrative of the Cold War. Defining it as a struggle between capitalism and socialism as well as a bipolar international system, he brilliantly illustrates its ideological, geopolitical, technological, and economic dimensions. Westad, the world's foremost scholar of the Cold War, once again dazzles readers with the scope and depth of his analysis."—Melvyn P. Leffler, Professor of American History, University of Virginia
  • "Thanks to Arne Westad, we can no longer think of the Cold War as a two-player game. Westad gives us a new history of the rivalry between capitalism and communism, tracing its origins back to the 1890s and showing that it had a kind of afterlife beyond the 1990s. No one can match his ability to illuminate the linkages between the Washington-Moscow rivalry that was the Cold War's fissile core and the multiple "hot" wars that, on the periphery, constituted the Third World's War."—Niall Ferguson, Hoover Institution, Stanford, and author of Kissinger, 1923-1968
  • "Arne Westad provides a powerful analysis of why the Cold War occurred, what it meant, and why it still matters. He is especially strong in elucidating the ideas of perfection that drove very imperfect, often brutal, leaders. Westad's book links the Cold War to globalization, recent wars in the Middle East, and American rivalries with Russia and China. This is a book that everyone interested in politics and foreign policy should read. It is a riveting story, told by one of the foremost world historians."—Jeremi Suri, author of The Impossible Presidency
  • "For generations, the Cold War was context, the inescapable setting of political life. This history sets the Cold War itself in context, within the greater landscape of world history, deeply understood, and masterfully presented. It is a powerful synthesis by one of our great historians."—Timothy Snyder, author of Bloodlands

On Sale
Oct 15, 2019
Page Count
720 pages
Basic Books

Odd Arne Westad

About the Author

Odd Arne Westad is the Elihu Professor of History and Global Affairs at Yale University and author and editor of fifteen books, including The Global Cold War, recipient of the Bancroft Prize, and Restless Empire, recipient of the Asia Society book award. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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