A pop-history chronicle of fear and distrust during the Cold War years.
In this sprawling, anecdote-laden account, journalist and Emmy Award–winning TV producer Brown (Ring Force, 2012, etc.) recalls the most outlandish moments of the years 1946 to 1989, when geopolitical tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union dominated world events. The period pitted “capitalism versus communism, the God-fearing versus the atheists, the force of light battling the forces of darkness,” writes the author, producing a paranoia reflected in the final warning of Hollywood’s The Thing From Another World (1951): “Keep watching the skies!” The resulting four-decade drama, spurred by the “overhyped menace of communism,” included the Truman loyalty program, the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, and the arms and space races, with an incendiary cast including Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Richard Nixon, and many others. All of this will be familiar to most readers. Writing with plenty of attitude (“The men in the Kremlin were running a bullshit factory”), Brown lumps together colorful, disparate moments of the period—e.g., UFO sightings, the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, FBI claims of a communist plot behind the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, and the Cuban missile crisis—in ways that seem more exploitive than illuminating. Quotes from serious historians offer some perspective, but Brown’s eye is on the sheer spectacle of noisy conflicts and controversies. He sometimes swerves off course to discuss violence (from Dirty Harry to Charles Manson), supernatural terror (The Exorcist), and magical thinking (the Bermuda Triangle) as well as air disasters, gas shortages, and other calamities of the period. These matters apparently popped up during his extensive online research, conducted while “wearing sweats, picking my nose [and] noshing on pretzels.”
Diverting but ultimately tiresome—not be confused with a true history of the Cold War.