Nichols, David A.: Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis--Suez and the Brink of War.

Author:Pereboom, Maarten
Position::Book review
 
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Nichols, David A. Eisenhower 1956: The President's Year of Crisis--Suez and the Brink of War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011. xx + 346 pages. Cloth, $28.00.

The Suez Crisis of 1956 was a dramatic chapter in the history of the Cold War, in part because of the twists and challenges this event represents in the overall narrative of the period between 1947 and 1991, when the superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, intensified by the threat of nuclear apocalypse, dominated world affairs. Historians aim to reconstruct and interpret the significance of events both as they were experienced at the time as well as how they came to be understood subsequently. In this case, the crisis at the time signaled an end of the era of European colonialism, but we may also look back on these events now with the hindsight that the Middle East was replacing Europe as the prime focus of U.S. foreign policy. At the time, the fear that the United States and Soviet Union might go to war as a result of upheaval in the Middle East certainly had a major impact on how the crisis unfolded, but it began with a provocative assertion of Egyptian sovereignty over a strategic waterway and symbol of Anglo-French imperial glory located within Egypt's borders, the Suez Canal. World War Two had sealed the fate of Britain and France's empires, a reality which some understood better, or more rationally, than others by 1956. Yet, because of the amount of oil shipped through it, the canal retained great importance in a world increasingly understood in geopolitical terms.

David A. Nichols' Eisenhower 1956 examines the leadership of U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower through this crisis. The existence of much literature on both Eisenhower and Suez--Eisenhower's own memoirs, the classic 1991 biography by Stephen Ambrose and a new one by Jim Newton (2011), the 1995 book by Cole Kingseed focusing specifically on Eisenhower and Suez, and an abundance of literature on the Suez Crisis drawn heavily from source materials in Britain and the United States open for several decades--raise the question as to whether there is anything new to say. Broadly speaking, the answer is no: scholars for decades have challenged and refuted the at-the-time condescension of their predecessors, who dismissed Eisenhower as genial but semi-retired, unengaged and willing to leave Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in charge of U.S. foreign policy. But Nichols' book improves on...

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