The best books about the Cold War in the Third World, or how we got into this mess

Why am I passionate about this?

At first glance, the Cold War in the Third World can seem like a mess of disjointed, misbegotten tragedies. My goal, though, is to understand the systemic conditions that not only link seemingly disparate cases together, but also help explain why they happened and what legacies they have left behind. The trick is to do that without privileging perspectives from the Global North, flattening historical complexities, and overlooking the unique nature of individual conflicts. This type of work, hard and imperfect as it may be, is essential to understanding the world we have inherited, and might just help us fix it. Making the effort makes me feel like a better human.


I wrote...

Remaking the World: Decolonization and the Cold War

By Jessica M. Chapman,

Book cover of Remaking the World: Decolonization and the Cold War

What is my book about?

Between 1945 and 1965, more than fifty nations declared their independence from colonial rule. At the height of the Cold War, the global process of decolonization complicated US-Soviet relations, while Soviet and American interventionism transformed the decolonizing process. Remaking the World examines the connections between the Cold War and decolonization, through six carefully selected case studies—India, Egypt, the Congo, Vietnam, Angola, and Iran. Each case study analyzes at least one geopolitical turning point, demonstrating that the Cold War and decolonization were mutually constitutive processes in which local, national, and regional developments altered the superpower competition, often thwarting Soviet, American, and Chinese designs. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times

Jessica M. Chapman Why did I love this book?

This book, published in 2005, was a game changer for students of the Cold War, myself included.

Westad delivers a damning blow to the notion—still held by many—that the Cold War was, at its core, a conflict between Soviet and American superpowers over the fate of Europe, with tangential dalliances on the periphery. The Global Cold War instead places the Third World at the heart of the conflict, inspiring a generation of scholars to follow suit.

This book, which I first read as a wide-eyed graduate student, provoked me to understand the Cold War in the Third World as a multi-sided competition over the future of the world, a competition that superpower involvement infused with violence and political distortions that remain with us to this day.

By Odd Arne Westad,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Global Cold War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Cold War shaped the world we live in today - its politics, economics, and military affairs. This book shows how the globalization of the Cold War during the last century created the foundations for most of the key conflicts we see today, including the War on Terror. It focuses on how the Third World policies of the two twentieth-century superpowers - the United States and the Soviet Union - gave rise to resentments and resistance that in the end helped topple one superpower and still seriously challenge the other. Ranging from China to Indonesia, Iran, Ethiopia, Angola, Cuba, and…


Book cover of Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam

Jessica M. Chapman Why did I love this book?

Countless books have been written about America’s war in Vietnam, but I suggest you start with Fredrik Logevall’s Embers of War.

This Pulitzer Prize winner reads like an epic novel, winding the reader through the years leading up to Washington’s fateful military commitment to Vietnam with remarkable empathy for all involved. Logevall is a talented historian, whose mastery of the field and extensive use of untapped sources keeps pace with his beautiful writing style. You won’t want to put this one down.

By Fredrik Logevall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Embers of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE
 
Written with the style of a great novelist and the intrigue of a Cold War thriller, Embers of War is a landmark work that will forever change your understanding of how and why America went to war in Vietnam. Tapping newly accessible diplomatic archives in several nations, Fredrik Logevall traces the path that led two Western nations to tragically lose their way in the jungles of Southeast Asia. He brings to life the bloodiest battles of France’s final years in Indochina—and shows how, from an early point, a succession of American leaders made disastrous policy…


Book cover of The Cold War's Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace

Jessica M. Chapman Why did I love this book?

Easy to read, but sometimes hard to swallow, Chamberlin’s global military history of the Cold War argues that a conflict once known as the “Long Peace” actually resulted in the slaughter of millions across the postcolonial world.

The Cold War’s Killing Fields forces readers to grapple with the violence unleashed on the Global South, bringing to life the experiences of those who suffered most.

By Paul Thomas Chamberlin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cold War's Killing Fields as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant young historian offers a vital, comprehensive international military history of the Cold War in which he views the decade-long superpower struggles as one of the three great conflicts of the twentieth century alongside the two World Wars, and reveals how bloody the "Long Peace" actually was.

In this sweeping, deeply researched book, Paul Thomas Chamberlin boldly argues that the Cold War, long viewed as a mostly peaceful, if tense, diplomatic standoff between democracy and communism, was actually a part of a vast, deadly conflict that killed millions on battlegrounds across the postcolonial world. For half a century, as…


Book cover of The Wretched of the Earth

Jessica M. Chapman Why did I love this book?

How better to understand the motivations of decolonizing peoples than to go to one of the most influential sources of anticolonial philosophy?

Frantz Fanon’s Marxist critiques of nationalism and imperialism, his psychoanalytic discussion of the dehumanizing effects of colonization on individuals and societies, and his framing of decolonization as an inherently violent process all pull the reader into the perspective of a liberation seeker, forcing them to question narratives of anticolonial violence that have emerged from Western archives.

Fanon’s writing is essential reading for today’s students of decolonization.

By Frantz Fanon, Richard Philcox (translator),

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Wretched of the Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1961, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth is a masterful and timeless interrogation of race, colonialism, psychological trauma, and revolutionary struggle. In 2020, it found a new readership in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and the centering of narratives interrogating race by Black writers. Bearing singular insight into the rage and frustration of colonized peoples, and the role of violence in spurring historical change, the book incisively attacks the twin perils of post-independence colonial politics: the disenfranchisement of the masses by the elites on the one hand, and intertribal and interfaith animosities on…


Book cover of Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World

Jessica M. Chapman Why did I love this book?

At long last, Jeremy Friedman has given us a cogent, succinct book about Sino-Soviet competition for the Third World.

Readers need not have any deep background in the topic to make sense of Friedman’s work, which lays out a clear explanation of how the Soviet Union’s quest for anti-capitalist revolution butted up against China’s pursuit of anti-imperialism. Shadow Cold War argues that the Sino-Soviet rivalry was rooted in ideological competition, adding another “revolutionary paradigm” to those detailed in Odd Arne Westad’s Total Cold War.

By Jeremy Friedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shadow Cold War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War has long been understood in a global context, but Jeremy Friedman's Shadow Cold War delves deeper into the era to examine the competition between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China for the leadership of the world revolution. When a world of newly independent states emerged from decolonization desperately poor and politically disorganized, Moscow and Beijing turned their focus to attracting these new entities, setting the stage for Sino-Soviet competition.

Based on archival research from ten countries, including new materials from Russia and China,…


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Book cover of Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of What Leora Never Knew: A Granddaughter's Quest for Answers

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm the oldest granddaughter of Leora, who lost three sons during WWII. To learn what happened to them, I studied casualty and missing aircraft reports, missions reports, and read unit histories. I’ve corresponded with veterans who knew one of the brothers, who witnessed the bomber hit the water off New Guinea, and who accompanied one brother’s body home. I’m still in contact with the family members of two crew members on the bomber. The companion book, Leora’s Letters, is the family story of the five Wilson brothers who served, but only two came home.

Joy's book list on research of World War II casualties

What is my book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one; all five sons were serving their country in the military–two in the Navy and three as Army Air Force pilots.

Only two sons came home.

Leora’s Letters is the compelling true account of a woman whose most tender hopes were disrupted by great losses. Yet she lived out four more decades with hope and resilience.

By Joy Neal Kidney, Robin Grunder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leora's Letters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one, all five sons were serving their country in the military. The oldest son re-enlisted in the Navy. The younger three became U.S. Army Air Force pilots. As the family optimist, Leora wrote hundreds of letters, among all her regular chores, dispensing news and keeping up the morale of the…


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