In a period heralded as ""Cold War II,"" this look at the causes of cold war heating and cooling could not be more timely. Wolfe (Sociology, Queens College, CUNY) argues that it is the perception of increasing Soviet strength that is a constant in post-WW II America, and that it is only in certain periods that this perception turns into consensus. (He identifies two ""peaks"" and two ""valleys"" of cold war consensus. The first peak--a period in which cold war rhetoric is turned into actual policies--came after World War II and lasted into the early 1950s; the first valley--conversely, a period in which the translation of rhetoric into policy does not occur--came with the Eisenhower Administration. The second peak occurred in the late 1950s and lasted until around 1963, the second valley coincided with the period of dÃ‰tente.) In looking at these ups and downs, Wolfe concludes that fears of Soviet aggression that actually produce policy consensus have little to do with the actuality of the threat--which Wolfe sees as overstated--but much to do with domestic political patterns. He argues that peaks coincide with relatively weak, or threatened, Democratic presidents who, unable to keep their campaign pledges of social reform, fall victim to the persistent attacks of the right, and utilize cold war hysteria as an escape valve. Republican presidents, on the contrary, are not open to serious attack from the right and are able to relax cold war tensions. A second, related occurrence is interservice military rivalry; whenever one service branch sees its share of the military budget shrinking, the Soviet threat is hyped--whether on land or in the air depends on which branch is complaining. The result is an effort to expand the whole military budget. If all this sounds too familiar it's probably because you read this morning's newspaper. Written before the Afghan ""crisis,"" Wolfe's predictions have all come true. The only way to break out of this cycle, he thinks, is to build a left movement which can counterbalance the persistent right and possibly allow the Democrats to make good their election promises. At this moment, one could hardly want a more relevant book.