The best books about the Cold War

29 authors have picked their favorite books about the Cold War and why they recommend each book.

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Command and Control

By Eric Schlosser,

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

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. 

Command and Control

By Eric Schlosser,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Command and Control as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Oscar-shortlisted documentary Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner, finds its origins in Eric Schlosser's book and continues to explore the little-known history of the management and safety concerns of America's nuclear aresenal.

"A devastatingly lucid and detailed new history of nuclear weapons in the U.S. Fascinating." -Lev Grossman, TIME Magazine

"Perilous and gripping . . . Schlosser skillfully weaves together an engrossing account of both the science and the politics of nuclear weapons safety." -San Francisco Chronicle

A myth-shattering expose of America's nuclear weapons

Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of…

Who am I?

I started researching the way the West’s intelligence services manipulated the public when I was a student in the mid-1970s. I then became an investigative journalist and often returned to the subject in different ways, especially as a national security correspondent. I fully acknowledge the massive manipulation by the Communist Bloc during the Cold War but believe that it is important the public is aware of the manipulation that the West’s Cold Warriors utilized is fully known and recognized as it has left a legacy that has allowed for the rise of ‘fake news’.



I wrote...

Britain's Secret Propaganda War

By Paul Lashmar, James Oliver,

Book cover of Britain's Secret Propaganda War

What is my book about?

Dr. Paul Lashmar has been researching the secret world of the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD) for some five decades and James Oliver (now BBC) for thirty. Although the book was published over twenty years ago it is still considered a groundbreaking account of IRD which was the Cold War cultural war department that worked with MI6. IRD was set up in 1948 and our book includes evidence of IRD's hidden hand in domestic politics, overthrowing left-wing governments and assisting Britain's entry into the Common Market.

The opening chapter reveals IRD’s secret hand in inciting the genocide of over 500,000 Indonesians in 1965, those suspected of being communists, an under-recognized historical event that the authors are still researching. The book discusses the impact of IRD both domestically and internationally. The authors have accumulated a substantial archive of material on IRD and cultural warfare.

The Cold War

By Odd Arne Westad,

Book cover of The Cold War: A World History

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.

The Cold War

By Odd Arne Westad,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Odd Arne Westad's daring ambition, supra-nationalist intellect, polyglot sources, masterly scholarship and trenchant analysis make The Cold War a book ofresounding importance for appraising our global future as well as understanding our past' Richard Davenport-Hines, TLS, Books of the Year

As Germany and then Japan surrendered in 1945 there was a tremendous hope that a new and much better world could be created from the moral and physical ruins of the conflict. Instead, the combination of the huge power of the USA and USSR and the near-total collapse of most of their rivals created a unique, grim new environment: the…


Who am I?

I began my career as a foreign correspondent in Cold War Eastern Europe, under communist domination. I lived in Greece, a Cold War battleground, in the 1980s, from where I made regular forays into the Balkans and Central Europe. Those journeys left a vivid, lifelong impression on me.


I wrote...

In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond

By Robert D. Kaplan,

Book cover of In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond

What is my book about?

Robert Kaplan first visited Romania in the 1970s, when he was a young journalist and the country was a bleak Communist backwater. It was one of the darkest corners of Europe, but few Westerners were paying attention. What ensued was a lifelong obsession with a critical, often overlooked country—a country that, today, is key to understanding the current threat that Russia poses to Europe.

In Europe’s Shadow is a vivid blend of memoir, travelogue, journalism, and history, a masterly work thirty years in the making—the story of a journalist coming of age, and a country struggling to do the same. Through the lens of one country, Kaplan examines larger questions of geography, imperialism, the role of fate in international relations, the Cold War, the Holocaust, and more.

Chief of Station, Congo

By Larry Devlin,

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

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.

Chief of Station, Congo

By Larry Devlin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Larry Devlin arrived as the new chief of station for the CIA in the Congo five days after the country had declared its independence, the army had mutinied, and governmental authority had collapsed. As he crossed the Congo River in an almost empty ferry boat, all he could see were lines of people trying to travel the other way,out of the Congo. Within his first two weeks he found himself on the wrong end of a revolver as militiamen played Russian-roulette, Congo style, with him. During his first year, the charismatic and reckless political leader, Patrice Lumumba, was murdered and…

Who am I?

My only expertise is my enthusiasm for African travel. I’ve visited twenty countries, Morocco to Madagascar, the Great Lakes to the Skeleton Coast, for (I hope) my next book. You can read about a few of my African adventures, like crossing Lake Malawi, hurrying through Namibia, sailing to St. Helena Island, and witnessing the mass wildebeest migration, in my other books. Experiencing African culture, nature and wildlife is the most fun I’ve ever had, anytime, anywhere. By all means, if you can, go!


I wrote...

Out There: Thirty Essays on Travel

By Bill Murray,

Book cover of Out There: Thirty Essays on Travel

What is my book about?

Out There is a collection of essays from my monthly travel column at 3QuarksDaily, a survey of the world in easily digestible bits. With reporting from Anguilla, Ascension Island, Borneo, Côte d’Ivoire, East Africa, Estonia, Greenland, Iowa, Karelia, Lapland, Latvia, Masaai Mara, Medieval Europe, the Mekong Delta, Namibia, Nazi Europe, Nepal, Pandemic America, Papua New Guinea, Pass Control, Rapa Nui, Russia, St. Helena Island, Svalbard, Tanzania, Tibet, Ukraine, and Zambia.

It is “as remarkable for its gentle wit as for the quiet sharpness of its commentary. Romps, revelations, and ride-it-out gut-checks, come hell or high water. Vivid, enlightening, worthwhile. Un-put-downable armchair travel.”

George F. Kennan

By John Lewis Gaddis,

Book cover of George F. Kennan: An American Life

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.

George F. Kennan

By John Lewis Gaddis,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I began my career as a foreign correspondent in Cold War Eastern Europe, under communist domination. I lived in Greece, a Cold War battleground, in the 1980s, from where I made regular forays into the Balkans and Central Europe. Those journeys left a vivid, lifelong impression on me.


I wrote...

In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond

By Robert D. Kaplan,

Book cover of In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond

What is my book about?

Robert Kaplan first visited Romania in the 1970s, when he was a young journalist and the country was a bleak Communist backwater. It was one of the darkest corners of Europe, but few Westerners were paying attention. What ensued was a lifelong obsession with a critical, often overlooked country—a country that, today, is key to understanding the current threat that Russia poses to Europe.

In Europe’s Shadow is a vivid blend of memoir, travelogue, journalism, and history, a masterly work thirty years in the making—the story of a journalist coming of age, and a country struggling to do the same. Through the lens of one country, Kaplan examines larger questions of geography, imperialism, the role of fate in international relations, the Cold War, the Holocaust, and more.

Armed Truce

By Hugh Thomas,

Book cover of Armed Truce: The Beginnings of the Cold War 1945-1946

This is a somewhat obscure work, a massive book that apparently did not sell well. But it offers a blow-by-blow description by a great British historian about how the Cold War started, and demonstrates how it was principally Stalin's actions that led to World War II morphing into a cold war.

Armed Truce

By Hugh Thomas,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I began my career as a foreign correspondent in Cold War Eastern Europe, under communist domination. I lived in Greece, a Cold War battleground, in the 1980s, from where I made regular forays into the Balkans and Central Europe. Those journeys left a vivid, lifelong impression on me.


I wrote...

In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond

By Robert D. Kaplan,

Book cover of In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond

What is my book about?

Robert Kaplan first visited Romania in the 1970s, when he was a young journalist and the country was a bleak Communist backwater. It was one of the darkest corners of Europe, but few Westerners were paying attention. What ensued was a lifelong obsession with a critical, often overlooked country—a country that, today, is key to understanding the current threat that Russia poses to Europe.

In Europe’s Shadow is a vivid blend of memoir, travelogue, journalism, and history, a masterly work thirty years in the making—the story of a journalist coming of age, and a country struggling to do the same. Through the lens of one country, Kaplan examines larger questions of geography, imperialism, the role of fate in international relations, the Cold War, the Holocaust, and more.

Generation X

By Douglas Coupland,

Book cover of Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture

This work of fiction arrived at the tail end of the Reagan Era. Read without context, it’s an enjoyable romp through the life of “Gen X’ers” and their pre-professional lives. However, much as psychologists of the 1950s ascribed one root cause of the growing problem of “Juvenile Delinquency” to fears of atomic war, Coupland’s characters are similarly disaffected from growing up during a period of similar fears—fears confirmed when one character dreams of dying in an atomic explosion. In tracing the lives of three fictional characters of this last Cold War generation, Coupland shows the emotional impact of growing up knowing that they could die any day. Seen in this light, Generation X captures the disaffection, disillusion, and dissatisfaction of a generation.

Generation X

By Douglas Coupland,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

My interest in the decade and in the Cold War came during graduate school. This was where I discovered Carl Sagan’s theory of a nuclear winter: that after a nuclear war, the debris and smoke from nuclear bombs would cover the earth and make it inhabitable for life on earth. Tracing debates between this celebrity scientist and U.S. policymakers revealed a hesitancy on either side to even consider each other’s point of view. This research made me reconsider the pop culture of my youth—films like The Day After and Wargames, music like “Shout” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and books from Don DeLillo’s White Noise to Dr. Seuss’ Butter Battle Book—and ultimately see them as part of a political contest in which lives—our lives—were in the balance.  


I wrote...

Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War: The Reagan Administration, Cultural Activism, and the End of the Arms Race

By William Knoblauch,

Book cover of Nuclear Freeze in a Cold War: The Reagan Administration, Cultural Activism, and the End of the Arms Race

What is my book about?

The early 1980s were a tense time. The nuclear arms race was escalating, Reagan administration officials bragged about winning a nuclear war, and superpower diplomatic relations were at a new low. Nuclear war was a real possibility and antinuclear activism surged. By 1982 the Nuclear Freeze campaign had become the largest peace movement in American history. Alarmed, the Reagan administration worked to co-opt the rhetoric of the nuclear freeze and contain antinuclear activism. Recently declassified White House memoranda reveal a concerted campaign to defeat activists' efforts.

In this book, William M. Knoblauch examines these new sources, as well as the influence of notable personalities like Carl Sagan and popular culture such as the film The Day After, to demonstrate how cultural activism ultimately influenced the administration's shift in rhetoric and, in time, its stance on the arms race.

Empowering Revolution

By Gregory F. Domber,

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

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.

Empowering Revolution

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…

Who am I?

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. 

Book cover of The Wizards of Armageddon

Kaplan’s book captured the mindset of the Cold Warriors and how the concept of a nuclear holocaust became accepted. Brilliantly researched and written with a dispassionate eye, it remains one of the most insightful accounts of the nuclear weapons race and how it was exploited by the military to build their own empires. It was a great influence on my film Baiting the Bear about General Curtis 'Bomb them back to the Stone Age’ Lemay that I made for BBC's Timewatch in 1996. I haven’t yet read Kaplan’s latest book, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War, which looks like a development of Wizards with new declassified material. 

The Wizards of Armageddon

By Fred Kaplan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is the untold story of the small group of men who have devised the plans and shaped the policies on how to use the Bomb. The book (first published in 1983) explores the secret world of these strategists of the nuclear age and brings to light a chapter in American political and military history never before revealed.


Who am I?

I started researching the way the West’s intelligence services manipulated the public when I was a student in the mid-1970s. I then became an investigative journalist and often returned to the subject in different ways, especially as a national security correspondent. I fully acknowledge the massive manipulation by the Communist Bloc during the Cold War but believe that it is important the public is aware of the manipulation that the West’s Cold Warriors utilized is fully known and recognized as it has left a legacy that has allowed for the rise of ‘fake news’.



I wrote...

Britain's Secret Propaganda War

By Paul Lashmar, James Oliver,

Book cover of Britain's Secret Propaganda War

What is my book about?

Dr. Paul Lashmar has been researching the secret world of the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD) for some five decades and James Oliver (now BBC) for thirty. Although the book was published over twenty years ago it is still considered a groundbreaking account of IRD which was the Cold War cultural war department that worked with MI6. IRD was set up in 1948 and our book includes evidence of IRD's hidden hand in domestic politics, overthrowing left-wing governments and assisting Britain's entry into the Common Market.

The opening chapter reveals IRD’s secret hand in inciting the genocide of over 500,000 Indonesians in 1965, those suspected of being communists, an under-recognized historical event that the authors are still researching. The book discusses the impact of IRD both domestically and internationally. The authors have accumulated a substantial archive of material on IRD and cultural warfare.

The History Thieves

By Ian Cobain,

Book cover of The History Thieves: Secrets, Lies and the Shaping of a Modern Nation

Ian Cobain is an exceptional British investigative journalist and was on the staff of The Guardian and is now with Middle East Eye. This book is broader than the Cold War but is a brilliant analysis of how the state uses secrecy to hide the truth of how the public is governed. He has done some groundbreaking work on how Foreign Office’s Information Research Department methods have been incorporated into modern anti-terrorism techniques.

The History Thieves

By Ian Cobain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1889, the first Official Secrets Act was passed, creating offences of 'disclosure of information' and 'breach of official trust'. It limited and monitored what the public could, and should, be told. Since then a culture of secrecy has flourished. As successive governments have been selective about what they choose to share with the public, we have been left with a distorted and incomplete understanding not only of the workings of the state but of our nation's culture and its past.

In this important book, Ian Cobain offers a fresh appraisal of some of the key moments in British history…

Who am I?

I started researching the way the West’s intelligence services manipulated the public when I was a student in the mid-1970s. I then became an investigative journalist and often returned to the subject in different ways, especially as a national security correspondent. I fully acknowledge the massive manipulation by the Communist Bloc during the Cold War but believe that it is important the public is aware of the manipulation that the West’s Cold Warriors utilized is fully known and recognized as it has left a legacy that has allowed for the rise of ‘fake news’.



I wrote...

Britain's Secret Propaganda War

By Paul Lashmar, James Oliver,

Book cover of Britain's Secret Propaganda War

What is my book about?

Dr. Paul Lashmar has been researching the secret world of the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD) for some five decades and James Oliver (now BBC) for thirty. Although the book was published over twenty years ago it is still considered a groundbreaking account of IRD which was the Cold War cultural war department that worked with MI6. IRD was set up in 1948 and our book includes evidence of IRD's hidden hand in domestic politics, overthrowing left-wing governments and assisting Britain's entry into the Common Market.

The opening chapter reveals IRD’s secret hand in inciting the genocide of over 500,000 Indonesians in 1965, those suspected of being communists, an under-recognized historical event that the authors are still researching. The book discusses the impact of IRD both domestically and internationally. The authors have accumulated a substantial archive of material on IRD and cultural warfare.

Red Alert

By Peter Bryant,

Book cover of Red Alert: The Novel that Inspired Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Red Alert is a 1958 novel by a former RAF pilot called Peter George about nuclear war and was the inspiration for Stanley Kubrick in the concept of his 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. George’s book is a great read and pretty grim but it is not comedic in any way. After playing around with storyboards for a film based on the book, Kubrick realised the only way to deal with the nuclear mindset was through satire. Inspired by Peter George Kubrick somehow got to the nub of the lunacy of the nuclear gamble.

This was three decades before I was able – using then declassified documents and interviews with the generals and policymakers only then just prepared to speak about Mutual Assured Destruction and the Doomsday machine for my documentaries and book in the mid-1990s. They revealed Kubrick,…

Red Alert

By Peter Bryant,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I started researching the way the West’s intelligence services manipulated the public when I was a student in the mid-1970s. I then became an investigative journalist and often returned to the subject in different ways, especially as a national security correspondent. I fully acknowledge the massive manipulation by the Communist Bloc during the Cold War but believe that it is important the public is aware of the manipulation that the West’s Cold Warriors utilized is fully known and recognized as it has left a legacy that has allowed for the rise of ‘fake news’.



I wrote...

Britain's Secret Propaganda War

By Paul Lashmar, James Oliver,

Book cover of Britain's Secret Propaganda War

What is my book about?

Dr. Paul Lashmar has been researching the secret world of the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD) for some five decades and James Oliver (now BBC) for thirty. Although the book was published over twenty years ago it is still considered a groundbreaking account of IRD which was the Cold War cultural war department that worked with MI6. IRD was set up in 1948 and our book includes evidence of IRD's hidden hand in domestic politics, overthrowing left-wing governments and assisting Britain's entry into the Common Market.

The opening chapter reveals IRD’s secret hand in inciting the genocide of over 500,000 Indonesians in 1965, those suspected of being communists, an under-recognized historical event that the authors are still researching. The book discusses the impact of IRD both domestically and internationally. The authors have accumulated a substantial archive of material on IRD and cultural warfare.

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