A sharp, highly opinionated chronicle of the Cold War.
Veteran British historian Stone (International Relations/Bilkent Univ.; World War One: A Short History, 2009, etc.) makes no secret of his politics. However, like equally conservative countryman Paul Johnson, who covered the same period in Modern Times (1984), Stone combines passion and erudition into an entertaining experience. The book begins with the bitter 1947–48 winter when thousands of Europeans starved. Stalin consolidated his rule over Eastern Europe, and a bankrupt Britain announced it could no longer afford to support friendly governments against communist pressure. Belatedly but efficiently, the United States took notice, organizing military resistance with NATO and economic aid with the Marshall Plan. This strategy worked brilliantly; by the mid ’50s, Western Europe and North America were prospering. Bumps occurred along the way, especially the oil shocks and inflation of the 1970s, but it was only a matter of time before Iron Curtain nations imploded as both citizens and leaders grew increasingly frustrated, cynical and corrupt in the face of the inability of their hopelessly inept command economies to provide the comforts enjoyed by capitalist nations. Stone agrees with scholars who feel that the yearning for freedom took second place to economics in the collapse of communism, and he devotes as much space to trade, budgets and finances as to politics. In addition to the author’s countless probing insights, he also produces sections in which his conservative anger distracts him into denunciations of deficit spending, student radicals, government social programs, feminism and the liberal media.
Readers who can tolerate Stone’s often-irate editorializing will find a quirky but perceptive history.