Blogs > HNN > Ron Weinberg: Review of Gordon S. Barrass's The Great Cold War: A Journey Through the Hall of Mirrors (Stanford University Press, 2009)

Jul 13, 2009 1:06 am

Ron Weinberg: Review of Gordon S. Barrass's The Great Cold War: A Journey Through the Hall of Mirrors (Stanford University Press, 2009)

Ron Weinberg is a retired biophysicist from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The story of the Cold War has been told countless times in countless publications including the electronic media and cyberspace. Generally, it is a saga of nuclear arms, betrayal of trust and paranoia mixed with innocent (or not so innocent) human fears and misjudgments by a set of players that on several occasions led the world to the brink of nuclear destruction from the end of World War II to the early 90’s. With that in mind, and with that much out there already repeating the same story, one wonders aloud (or in a book review) why someone would add still more to an already chokingly overcrowded field.

Didn’t somebody already get it right by now? Collectively, yes.

But one could argue that there are always missing pieces to fill in, great new revelations to reveal, and a better way to demystify an interesting piece of recent history that has barely had time to settle in history’s boiling cauldron. If that is the reason Gordon Barrass has chosen to write this book, his intentions were, unfortunately, not realized.

The text is dry and scholarly. It reads like a Doctoral dissertation draft, the kind that’s half written and still at the typists’ office, available as the pages come one by one out of the laser printer. With each page comes the new hope that something truly unique or previously unreported will emerge, leading only to further disappointments. There are few, if any revelations here that haven’t already come to light – many times over and already in books that would fill the shelves of some very large libraries.

If there is good news here, and there is some, it rests in the fact that Barrass was an insider in the British Government, and has apparently had access to many primary sources of information. This helps establish the credibility of the long narrative text, which is heavily footnoted and logically ordered.

For readers who are unfamiliar with twentieth century world history, this is book an excellent place to begin. The reader learns about Stalin and Churchill and Roosevelt and Truman and then the Cold War leaders that followed Stalin and Truman. There is good detail here, with some excellent anecdotal passages on Russian/Soviet history and how it influenced interactions with Britain, Germany and the United States before, during and then after World War II., providing good background reference material. There is also an insightful analysis of the Reagan/ Gorbachev relationship, and why mutual trust between these two men was so important in bringing the Cold War to an end.

In short, readers looking for a good, substantial narrative about the Cold War and the history leading up to it will find this a solid, scholarly account.Still, those in search of new revelations in the “hall of mirrors” might want to look elsewhere.

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