The best books on the end of the Cold War

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated by Russian history and American-Soviet relations since high school. Now at American University’s School of International Service, I teach courses on the history of U.S. foreign relations, the Cold War, as well as human rights and U.S. foreign policy. I have written two books on the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, including Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network and From Selma to Moscow: How U.S. Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy. When I’m not working, I love a good Cold War TV series (Deutschland 83 or The Americans).


I wrote...

Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

By Sarah B. Snyder,

Book cover of Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network

What is my book about?

Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War helps us understand how decades of international conflict ended peacefully.  My book demonstrates the significance of collective and individual human rights advocacy in ending the Cold War, offering important lessons in affecting nonviolent political change and resolving seemingly intractable international struggles. It reveals how a range of individuals and groups committed to human rights in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe fundamentally reshaped East-West diplomacy.  

My book shows how diplomats and human rights activists involved in a series of international conferences directly and indirectly influenced both Western and Eastern governments to pursue policies that facilitated the rise of organized dissent in Eastern Europe, freedom of movement for East Germans, and improved human rights practices in the Soviet Union – all factors in the end of the Cold War. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of How We Survived Communism & Even Laughed

Sarah B. Snyder Why did I love this book?

In How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, Slavenka Drakulić details the everyday indignities of living under communist Yugoslavia, including thin toilet paper and no access to luxuries such as strawberries or fruit juice. Her essays show the impact of high politics on everyday living but also how communism failed – to produce washing machines, manufacture tampons, or meet the needs of its citizens.

By Slavenka Drakulić,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How We Survived Communism & Even Laughed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is an account of what life is like for women in communist Europe - from the lack of toys for their children to their own lack of privacy. This book charts the tentative strings of feminist movements from the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Slavenka Drakulic is the co-founder of the first feminist group in Yugoslavia and she holds teaching Fellowships in several European and American universities.


Book cover of Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War

Sarah B. Snyder Why did I love this book?

Domber details how Americans aided and supported the Polish trade union movement Solidarity in the 1980s and the ways U.S. assistance was effective in aiding Poland’s democratic transition. Importantly, in Domber’s account, it was the Polish opposition, leading by moral example, who became heroes to Americans inside and outside the government, and American officials in Washington and Warsaw who looked to Solidarity for guidance on U.S. policy rather than the reverse.

By Gregory F. Domber,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As the most populous country in Eastern Europe as well as the birthplace of the largest anticommunist dissident movement, Poland is crucial in understanding the end of the Cold War. During the 1980s, both the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence over Poland's politically tumultuous steps toward democratic revolution. In this groundbreaking history, Gregory F. Domber examines American policy toward Poland and its promotion of moderate voices within the opposition, while simultaneously addressing the Soviet and European influences on Poland's revolution in 1989. With a cast including Reagan, Gorbachev, and Pope John Paul II, Domber charts American…


Book cover of The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy: Mikhail Gorbachev and the Collapse of the USSR

Sarah B. Snyder Why did I love this book?

In The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy, Chris Miller compares the political and economic reforms undertaken in the Soviet Union and China in the 1980s. His account portrays Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as weak and unable to make difficult choices, and Miller reveals the dire consequences of Gorbachev's policies for the cohesion of his country. Miller argues effectively that Gorbachev did not have the option to follow the “authoritarian path” of China’s Deng Xiaoping.

By Chris Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For half a century the Soviet economy was 'inefficient' but stable. In the late 1980s, to the surprise of nearly everyone, it suddenly collapsed. Why did this happen? And what role did Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's economic reforms play in the country's dissolution? In this groundbreaking study, Chris Miller shows that Gorbachev and his allies tried to learn from the great success story of transitions from socialism to capitalism, Deng Xiaoping's China. Why, then, were efforts to revitalize Soviet socialism so much less successful than in China?

Making use of never-before-studied documents from the Soviet politburo and other archives, Miller…


Book cover of 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe

Sarah B. Snyder Why did I love this book?

Writing about the end of the Cold War, Mary Sarotte argues the fall of the Berlin Wall was not inevitable and that the United States was not the dominant player. She focuses instead on the West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s drive for German reunification and a new architecture for post-Cold War Europe. More significantly, her book was one of the first to treat 1989 not as an endpoint in international relations but as a beginning.

By Mary Elise Sarotte,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1989 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1989 explores the momentous events following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the effects they have had on our world ever since. Based on documents, interviews, and television broadcasts from Washington, London, Paris, Bonn, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, and a dozen other locations, 1989 describes how Germany unified, NATO expansion began, and Russia got left on the periphery of the new Europe. This updated edition contains a new afterword with the most recent evidence on the 1990 origins of NATO's post-Cold War expansion.


Book cover of Unwanted Visionaries: The Soviet Failure in Asia at the End of the Cold War

Sarah B. Snyder Why did I love this book?

In Unwanted Visionaries Radchenko reveals the very different ways the Cold War ended in Asia, not with the jubilant breaching of the Berlin Wall and largely peaceful transitions of power, but with the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Vietnamese departure from Cambodia. 

By Sergey Radchenko,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The European and American dimensions of Mikhail Gorbachev's foreign policy captured the imagination of contemporary observers and, later, historians. The collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall were the grand events that marked the European finale of the Cold War. The Cold War ended differently in Asia, where there was no easy closure, no great fanfare, and little credit awarded for changing the world. Yet Gorbachev was fascinated
by Asia and in his early years in power, he addressed the subject of Asia's rise and the importance of Soviet engagement with the region. He…


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Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

Book cover of Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

What is my book about?

A magisterial history of Indigenous North America that places the power of Native nations at its center, telling their story from the rise of ancient cities more than a thousand years ago to fights for sovereignty that continue today

Native Nations: A Millennium in North America

By Kathleen DuVal,

What is this book about?

Long before the colonization of North America, Indigenous Americans built diverse civilizations and adapted to a changing world in ways that reverberated globally. And, as award-winning historian Kathleen DuVal vividly recounts, when Europeans did arrive, no civilization came to a halt because of a few wandering explorers, even when the strangers came well armed.

A millennium ago, North American cities rivaled urban centers around the world in size. Then, following a period of climate change and instability, numerous smaller nations emerged, moving away from rather than toward urbanization. From this urban past, egalitarian government structures, diplomacy, and complex economies spread…


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Interested in the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and Russia?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Soviet Union, the Cold War, and Russia.

The Soviet Union Explore 329 books about the Soviet Union
The Cold War Explore 233 books about the Cold War
Russia Explore 352 books about Russia