Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, eds., The Cambridge History of the Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 3 vols. 1: Origins. xviii + 643 pp. ISBN-13 978-0521837194. 2: Crises and Detente, xviii + 662 pp. ISBN-13 978-0521837200. 3: Endings. xviii + 694 pp. ISBN-13 9780521837217. $184.00 per volume.
Cold War Studies have now really earned their capital "S." The field has been growing for years and has recently reached a mature state of unprecedented differentiation. It has established itself as a distinct subdiscipline of historical studies. It has entered the stage of (dynamic, of course) codification. Several major collaborative scholarly endeavors testify to this disciplinary self-awareness. A kaleidoscopic, alphabetically organized two-volume Encyclopedia of the Cold War was published in 2008. (1) The fifth volume of the German-language Studien zum Kalten Krieg (Studies on the Cold War), with its international set of contributors, came out in 2011; its theme was the intellectual history of the Cold War, while the preceding volumes focused respectively on small-scale "hot wars," crises, fear and emotions, and the economy. (2) Now an important addition to these weighty volumes is to be welcomed--The Cambridge History of the Cold War. No doubt, this is one of the most comprehensive and multifaceted histories of the Cold War that has been written so far. Any intellectually honest discussion of The Cambridge History of the Cold War, of its merits and weaknesses, needs first to acknowledge the achievements of these three extensive volumes with their 72 chapters (of just above 20 pages each) produced by a well-selected group of scholars. The project is unmatched by any existing comparable collective English-language endeavor. It is rare even for volumes by a single author to manifest a similar consistency and clarity of thought--among these notable exceptions are works written by the editors themselves, Melvyn Leffler's For the Soul of Mankind and Arne Westad's Global Cold War. (3) Their Cambridge History is magisterial and monumental; its scope is appropriately broad--diplomatic, social, cultural, and intellectual history meets the study of science, technology, economy, global migration, and even the biosphere.
It is only at this high level that criticism can be raised at all. The Cambridge History of the Cold War is the best survey of the Cold War on the Anglophone book market, but it is also, like any collectively produced volume, not a fully even product--a masterpiece, but still not really all of a piece. There are excellent chapters, and there are some that do not quite match that high standard. A wide variety of subjects is discussed, but it is not always clear why a certain topic merits more attention than a different one. Also the overarching construction of the three volumes is not as convincing as the editors, and in particular Westad's lead essay, claim. The thread Westad rolls out in his opening chapter--broadly speaking, the place of the Cold War in the history of modernity--does not really run through all or even most other chapters. These are the unavoidable weaknesses of even a highquality collective project such as the Cambridge History of the Cold War. The odd title of the second volume lays bare the problem: "The Middle Years" would obviously have been unoriginal, but "Crises and Detente" makes the reader wonder: what was the whole Cold War on the level of political events if not the sequence and synchrony of crises and detente? Does a title like this not symbolically privilege the traditional political perspective at the expense of newer approaches and perhaps even against the editors' intentions? Further explanation should have been given as to why certain topics merit a chronologically serialized treatment while others have to be discussed within a single chapter that spans the whole Cold War period.
Most commendable and practical for readers involved with Cold War studies are chapters that make the occasionally heated scholarly debate visible while arriving at a fair, original, and well-argued judgment on their topic. …