Haslam, Jonathan. Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011. xv + 544 pages. Paper, $27.50.
Though the Cold War has been over from more than twenty years, exploration and illumination of the "Soviet side" by Western scholars remains a challenge, requiring training in an academic field vulnerable to changes in fashion, mastery of difficult languages, and the ability to navigate the archives of multiple countries. Therefore, the appearance of a book chronicling the Cold War from the perspective of the Russians, drawing upon a vastly diverse array of sources, including many in Russian, should spark considerable interest among international historians. Historian Jonathan Haslam's book exhibits impressive research, but while advanced scholars can follow the narrative and mine from it new information and perspectives, the book is tough going for readers who might reasonably expect a clearer analysis of the principal developments and events of the Cold War from the perspective of Soviet leaders: for that, Vladislav Zubok's A Failed Empire (2007) remains the leading work of scholarship.
The overall sense of Haslam's book is that the Soviet Union was a less formidable foe than its adversaries assumed. The narrative goes back to the revolution itself, and while the foreign policy outlook developed during those formative years of the Soviet regime is certainly relevant, the actual onset of the Cold War in the years after 1945, when the wartime alliance of the United States and Soviet Union degenerated into a rivalry that shaped world politics for the next forty-five years, gets relatively little emphasis. The cover flap describes the book as the "first history of the Cold War in its entirety, from 1917 to 1989," a rather bold claim that might lead the advanced scholar to worry that Haslam intends to reopen a tired and tiresome debate about when the Cold War actually began. Though he starts his discussion with the Bolshevik Revolution, he actually does not present an argument about when the Cold War really started. Moreover, the key decisions and declarations that positioned the United States to focus its prodigious economic and military energies worldwide on opposing the spread of communism and promoting capitalism do not stand out in the discussion.
Though perhaps not intentionally, the book takes a rather agnostic approach to the Cold War, presenting it less as an epic clash of...