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Reviewed by:
  • The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War ed. by Richard H. Immerman and Petra Goedde
  • Robert J. McMahon
Richard H. Immerman and Petra Goedde eds., The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013. 660 pp. $150.00.

Consisting of 34 essays by an equal number of scholarly experts from around the globe, The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War should prove an invaluable resource for [End Page 253] specialists and students alike. The essays explore a wide range of topics. Eschewing a standard chronological approach, editors Richard H. Immerman and Petra Goedde have organized the volume around geographical and thematic topics. Every major region of the world is covered, as is almost every conceivable topic—from the standard ones (geopolitics, economics, the nuclear revolution) to those that have become fashionable more recently (race, gender and women’s rights, the environment, transnationalism, globalization, and the religious Cold War, among them).

One of the book’s many strengths is that the contributors do not speak with a single voice. Rather, they represent a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives, including an opening essay by Akira Iriye that takes a contrarian stance, arguing for the relative unimportance of the Cold War compared to other global developments during the twentieth century’s second half—such as globalization and the emergence of a human rights regime. The authors have positioned the volume, in their words, “at the intersection of boundaries that divide many cold war histories and historians” (p. 3). Yet three guiding precepts run through the various chapters. First, many of the individual authors stress the global dimensions of the Cold War, emphasizing the agency of small states as well as non-state actors, thus moving well beyond the traditional concentration on superpower relations. Second, the essays taken together help overcome the tendency to separate the political, economic, ideological, and cultural spheres as distinct; the inextricable links between those spheres emerge clearly here. Third, many of the essayists highlight the tight connections between domestic and international developments, showing how the Cold War was influenced by and in turn influenced domestic forces.

As with any edited collection, some essays stand out for their freshness and analytical rigor. Naoko Shibusawa’s essay on “Ideology, Culture, and the Cold War,” for example, provides the most concise and sophisticated explication I have yet seen of that important subject. She regards ideologies of race, gender, and maturity as mutually reinforcing “notions of modernity” that shaped U.S. and Soviet attitudes and policies, and portrays the Cold War as a struggle between “competing exceptionalist claims” emanating from Moscow as well as Washington (pp. 39, 41). Cary Fraser, in his contribution on “Decolonization and the Cold War,” offers an equally provocative and persuasive explication of that critical historical phenomenon. “Decolonization,” he writes, “was thus project, process, and outcome of the search for a replacement for the quest for North Atlantic hegemony that had shaped the imperialism that preceded 1945 and the bipolar vision of the leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact that emerged after 1945” (pp. 471472). John Prados’s outstanding synthesis of “Cold War Intelligence History” and Vladislav Zubok’s explication of the intersection between power and culture in Soviet strategy also deserve to be singled out for commendation. Among the regional essays, the contributions on the Middle East, by Salim Yaqub; South Asia, by Andrew J. Rotter; and Japan, by Antony Best, are especially noteworthy. Campbell Craig’s masterful, succinct essay on the role of nuclear weapons in the Cold War also stands out. [End Page 254]

Other essays prove more descriptive than analytical, and a few border on the superficial, including the entries on geopolitics, on Africa, on international institutions, and on economics.

Yet the volume contains far more strong essays than weak ones. Overall, the collection stands as a magnificent achievement. Its breadth and its helpful bibliographical aids alone make this a must-have volume. The Oxford Handbook of the Cold War belongs on the bookshelf of every serious scholar of the Cold War.

Robert J. McMahon
Ohio State University


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