Cold War History


So I’ve been thinking a lot about the Cold War and the concept of deterrence and all that (what a surprise, considering I just finished playing MGS Peace Walker, oh and also we are basically headed for another Cold War that god willing will not turn into nuclear armageddon, and I figure it would be relaxing(?) to read up on what happened the last time the world was in this mess.

I’ve recently read Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser (which was a real good read) and I also read Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag, but those only served to whet my appetite.

That said, here’s the topics I’m most interested in (feel free to recommend stuff that doesn’t fall within these topics, of course):

  1. Central and South America’s role during the Cold War. The US and Soviet Union both did a lot of nasty shit in these countries, or so I’ve heard, but it was curiously left out of the numerous history courses I took in college. With America’s willingness to confront the ugly parts of its own history so strong, it’s a mystery as to why (this sentence contains heavy sarcasm).

  2. What espionage actually looked like. People going back and forth from East to West Germany is pretty well documented, but what does it actually mean? None of this James Bond nonsense.

  3. What the hell was happening in Africa during this whole time? Was the continent sucked into the mess of the Cold War at all? I literally never heard shit about Africa during the Cold War beyond, you know, South Africa being SUPER INTO RACISM in a way that (almost, but not quite) put the United States to shame.

I think this sort of stuff is interesting, but I also think it’s really important. It’s recent history, and it’s the sort of stuff that I feel like I don’t know enough about - and frankly, I figure looking at how things were happening then will shed some light on what is happening now, or at least give some additional context. I could, of course, look up some books on my own, but I’m turning to y’all because I figure it’s better to get recommendations from people rather than kind of guess (the two books I mentioned earlier were both brought up by one Drew Scanlon as good Cold War books, and he was correct on that score). So anyway, there we are. Lay it on me.


You should look into the Cuban intervention in Angola. That sits squarely at the intersection of topics 1 and 2.

I find anything involving Castro kind of fascinating, personally. He managed to play the world’s most powerful countries off of each-other for far longer than you’d think is possible. I’ll dig up some handy


I’m quite interested in the cold war myself and have some resources for you.

For your first question: American influence in middle and southern america was always quite powerful Cuba being the exception. If you want to look at some events in southern/middle america look around the 80’s and forward in time. “Latin america” was going through a quite severe debt crisis at the time. This caused “interesting” things to happen.

For your second question: Go to the international spy museum’s website and/or listen to their spycast. It gives a lot of cool examples. Check out this old OSS (The proto CIA) training video “” It’ll teach you the basics.

For your third question: There was quite stuff going on in africa. The soviets tried to fill in the power vacuum after the colonial empires fell. There was near constant attacks and regime changes in the area because of this. The South African Border War is an interesting read.

I would also recommend the game “twilight struggle” and neat board game that’s also available on steam gives a fun high level of the cold war. I would also watch the documentary “The fog of war” it covers that life of Robert McNamara the US Secretary of Defense during the cuban missile crisis.


Interesting article on late Cold War spycraft:


‘The condor years’ by John Dinges covers the years when various South American juntas worked together to disappear their opposition with help from the CIA. The Brazilian novel ‘K’ by Bernardo Kucinski also covers this period in Brazil.

Related to that is ‘Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile’ by Christina Holmes which looks at Allende’s government and an attempt to create a computer system to run the Chilean economy called Project Cybersyn.

There are a couple of histories of Cuba that cover the history from Spainish take over to end of the Cold war. One is by Richard Gott, the other by Hugo Thomas, one is called Cuba: a history, the other is Cuba: a new history.

‘Africa since Independence’ by Paul Nugent gives an overview of the the different African countries touching on US, USSR and ex-colonist governments were involved post independence.

On the fiction side the UK tv series called ‘Sand baggers’ from the 60/70 and the work of John La Carre have a more realistic portrayal of how things worked. Also’ Deutschland 83’ which is a German show covering from the point of the an East German. I will throw in the FX the Americans as well.


Here’s another book for you. It’s more of an academic text, but I think it’s pretty readable to people who aren’t working on IR/history degrees.


The Cold War is deeply fascinating and I’m glad others think so, too! We’re still living in its shadow. Dubya’s administration, for example, was peopled by many Cold War vets clinging to Cold War ideology and practices.

I’m not sure if the following fits into any of Ford_Dent’s categories, but if one wants to learn more about America in the Reagan era, I have two books to recommend.

The first is Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years by Haynes Johnson. It’s very critical, and rightfully so. Reagan cultists hate it. While a broad overview of the administration, Johnson does describe the effects of its actions abroad.

Speaking of foreign affairs, the other book I’d recommend is A Very Thin Line: The Iran-Contra Affairs by Theodore Draper. It’s dense. The hardcover edition is over 600 pages, including end notes. Though published in 1991, it’s the still one of the better, if not best, sources on the subject.


Looks like I’ve got quite the reading list ahead of me. I also ended up grabbing a book on the Angolan Civil War, because reading through the wikipedia article was enough to convince me that I needed to look into it further - Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991 (The New Cold War History) was heavily cited and I figured I would check that out.

Really interested in Sleepwalking Through History and America, Russia and the Cold War (what a bummer it’s not available as an e-book, but I’ll lay out the cash for a hard copy at some point, I’m sure).