The best books about the Cold War 📚

Browse the best books on the Cold War as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety

By Eric Schlosser

Why this book?

More recent than Kaplan’s Wizards and more episodic but making it clear how close we came to destruction in the Cold War. With journalistic flair, he drives the narrative with real hair-raising episodes most notably a blow-by-blow account of an accident at a Titan II missile silo in Arkansas, in 1980. It’s a book that every student should read as the new generation needs to know how close to disaster we came in between 1947 and 1991 and the world could easily revert into a new Cold War. 

From the list:

The best books on the madness of the Cold War

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Book cover of The Cold War: A World History

The Cold War: A World History

By Odd Arne Westad

Why this book?

This is a thick history of the Cold War that breaks new ground in that it shifts the emphasis from Europe, where the Cold War started and ended, to the Third World where it was actually fought in a bloody manner through a series of proxy wars, large and small.
From the list:

The best books on the Cold War from a journalist who lived it

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Book cover of The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev's Adaptability, Reagan's Engagement, and the End of the Cold War

The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev's Adaptability, Reagan's Engagement, and the End of the Cold War

By James Graham Wilson

Why this book?

This book tells it like it is: The end of the Cold War was not the fulfillment of President Reagan’s grand plan to destroy communism, but neither was it the natural outcome of the decline of the Soviet Empire. In Wilson’s telling, based on an array of documents from both sides of the Iron Curtain, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism were, more than anything else, an accident. At crucial points, decision-makers on both sides made the right calls, but they had to respond to events that increasingly took on a dynamic of their own.…

From the list:

The best books on Russia in Western eyes

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Book cover of Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone

Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone

By Larry Devlin

Why this book?

There are different kinds of adventure. Safe to say the life of a CIA operative in raw, post-colonial Africa, who is charged with countering his Cold War rival the Soviet Union, must have been unique. Devlin portrays himself as a free-wheeling rogue playing fast and loose with the law (such as it was in 1960s Congo), and even with the life of murdered independence Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. It makes for exciting reading, even if not all of it is completely true.
From the list:

The best books about African adventures

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Book cover of Mao's Third Front: The Militarization of Cold War China

Mao's Third Front: The Militarization of Cold War China

By Covell F. Meyskens

Why this book?

Mao's Third Front is one of the first books on life and the economy in the PRC of the Cultural Revolution that marries archival research to memoirs and oral history. Largely unknown outside of China, the Third Front was a strategic relocation program of vital industries and whole cities to the country’s hinterland during the 2nd Vietnam War and the Cultural Revolution. It essentially amounted to the largest government investment program in the Mao period. Meyskens’s book manifestly shows how closely the global Cold War and local developments interacted with each other.

From the list:

The best books on Cold War history published recently

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Book cover of George F. Kennan: An American Life

George F. Kennan: An American Life

By John Lewis Gaddis

Why this book?

This is the comprehensive, definitive biography of the greatest Soviet area specialist whose strategy of containment was successfully employed by American presidents throughout the entire length of the Cold War. It is both compelling and highly readable. A great strategy is never obvious at the time it is adopted. It only looks great from hindsight.
From the list:

The best books on the Cold War from a journalist who lived it

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