Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall finally came down. The Wall had divided the city into East and West for nearly three decades, but it did more than just keep people apart. A symbol of the “iron curtain,” as well as the Cold War itself, was made out of it. As far as I know, the fall of the Berlin Wall may not have marked the end of the Cold War. However, it is likely to be the most important event in the end of that long-running conflict.
Almost 30 years after the Cold War, the ghosts of that time still haunt us. They have an impact on our politics and our daily lives in ways that we may not even know about, even though they have an impact. Images of the Wall keep popping up in our media, most recently in movies like Atomic Blonde and Suspiria, where they play a big role. When the Berlin Wall came down 30 years ago, what better time to learn about the Cold War and how it still affects us today? Start by reading these 10 books…
Michael Beschloss on the Cold War By Michael Beschloss
Three books by the man who has been called the “nation’s top presidential historian” show us some of the most important parts of the Cold War, from the complicated relationship between Kennedy and Khrushchev to the talks between Bush and Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The New York Times called it “intimate and completely absorbing.” It covers the Cold War from its beginnings to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and everything in between.
The Falcon and the Snowman By Robert Lindsey
Cold War books wouldn’t be complete without at least one or two books about spies. This “absolutely smashing real-life spy story” (The New York Times Book Review) is one of the best. As a 1985 movie, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn played a hard-partying genius who became an unlikely spy by selling classified CIA secrets to the Russian embassy in Mexico City. This jaw-dropping story will keep you reading long after your bedtime.
Into Tibet By Thomas Laird
Because of the Cold War, we think of it as a conflict that took place between USSR (the Soviet Union), Britain, and the United States. It had a big impact on people in all parts of the world, though. In the winter of 1949, an American undercover expedition slipped into Tibet without anyone noticing. They wanted to arm the Tibetans and help them become more independent before the Chinese invaded. Now, thanks to an American journalist who lives in Nepal, we can finally read a story that “fills a blank space in the hidden history of the Cold War.”
Empire of Secrets By Calder Walton
In the Daily Telegraph, they called it a “gripping account of British intelligence during the last days of the Empire.” This is what they said. Calder Walton tells the story of the secrets, sources, and methods of British Intelligence during the Cold War with the help of newly declassified documents and personal documents. This book is so good that you can’t put it down. It talks about things like unofficial combat in Kenya’s jungles and the streets of Palestine.
Science of Coercion By Christopher Simpson’
This is how it worked: The Cold War had an effect on everyday life in ways that most people probably didn’t even know about. Think-provoking book: Christopher Simpson looks at how national security agencies helped push modern mass communication into existence through everything from marketing and public relations to interrogation and propaganda. This book is a good read.
The Cold War By John Lewis Gaddis
Gaddis has been called “the dean of Cold War historians” by the New York Times, so it makes sense to include his insightful and wide-ranging summary of this dangerous time in history. He writes a clear and easy-to-follow account of how and why the Cold War came to be, starting in 1945 when the US and the Soviet Union became adversaries. This includes everything from Nixon to Mao and the Cuban Missile Crisis to its effects in the modern world.
Command and Control By Eric Shlosser
spies and nuclear weapons are what most people think of when they think of the Cold War. We already talked about spies. In Eric Schlosser’s book, we learn about the history of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and we can look at the history of the Cold War through the lens of the weapons that defined the era and made the conflict possible.
The Cold War: A World History By Odd Arne Westad
People often think of the Cold War as a fight between the United States and the USSR. It was still true, however, that the conflict’s effects were felt around the world, because every country was forced to choose one side or the other. In this world-wide account, he talks about how those decisions shaped society and how they still have an impact on global politics today.
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 By Anne Applebaum
Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, talks about how the Iron Curtain came down over Eastern Europe and what life was like on the other side. She relies on stories from people who were there. Among other things, this National Book Award finalist talks about how ordinary people lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
One Minute to Midnight By Michael Dobbs
If there is one moment that sums up the Cold War, it might be the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it could also be something else. This happened in October of 1962 when the US and the Soviet Union were at odds over the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The world was on the brink of nuclear war at the time. During this nail-biting book, Michael Dobbs, a reporter for the Washington Post, tells the story of perhaps the tensest days of the Cold War and how close the world has come to nuclear annihilation. Dobbs goes through the story hour by hour.