The Cold War Book Summary - The Cold War Book explained in key points
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The Cold War summary

Robert J. McMahon

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4.6 (216 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

"The Cold War" by Robert J. McMahon is an in-depth analysis of the lengthy and complex 20th-century conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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    The Cold War
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    The Cold War arose from the ashes of World War Two.

    The year was 1945, and much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins. 

    After six years of global conflict, World War Two had finally ended. Sixty million people were dead. Another almost 60 million had been left homeless or uprooted. Large swaths of major cities had been reduced to rubble – including over 50 percent of Tokyo, 70 percent of Vienna, 80 percent of Manila, and 90 percent of Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Hamburg. 

    Meanwhile, the world’s international order was also in disarray. For 500 years, it had been dominated by Western European nations. In a historical blink of an eye, the war had knocked them off their pedestal. In their place had risen two rival, continent-spanning superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union. 

    The key message here is: The Cold War arose from the ashes of World War Two. 

    Tension and hostility ran between the US and the Soviet Union both before and during the second World War. As champions of capitalism, the US and its Western European allies viewed the Soviets’ communist ideology as a virus that needed to be contained. To that end, they had subjected the Soviet Union to nearly two decades of economic pressure and diplomatic isolation, starting right from the state’s inception in 1917. 

    World War Two brought the US, UK, and Soviet Union into an alliance against their common enemy: Nazi Germany. But the relationship between the US and the Soviets was more like a marriage of convenience than a genuine partnership. 

    The two nations couldn’t even agree on how to fight the war. The Soviet Union wanted the US and UK to open a front against Germany as soon as possible. Pushing back a massive German invasion of their territory, the Soviets were bearing the brunt of the Nazi war machine, and they wanted their allies to provide relief. 

    But much to the Soviets’ chagrin, the US and UK instead chose to focus first on North Africa and Italy in 1942 and ’43. By the time the US and UK finally invaded German-occupied Normandy in 1944, the Soviets alone were holding back over 80 percent of the Nazis’ military divisions. 

    Unable to see eye to eye when facing a common foe, the two sides became even more at odds with each other once that enemy was defeated – leaving a power vacuum to fill, a broken world to rebuild, and little agreement on how to proceed. 

    The Cold War was about to begin. 

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    What is The Cold War about?

    The Cold War (2003) provides an overview of the conflict that defined the second half of the twentieth century. Beginning in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, it traces the Cold War’s development through the rest of the century, laying out its underlying causes and overall contours.

    Who should read The Cold War?

    • History buffs
    • Students of military strategy and foreign relations 
    • Those who want to understand one of the twentieth century’s defining conflicts

    About the Author

    Robert J. McMahon is an American historian who is a distinguished scholar of the Cold War and US foreign relations. Currently a professor at Ohio State University, he is the author of a number of books, including The Cold War in the Third World, Colonialism and Cold War, and The Cold War on the Periphery.

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