America and the Cold War, 1941–1991

A Realist Interpretation

by Norman A. Graebner, Richard Dean Burns, and Joseph M. Siracusa


What were the origins of the Cold War? Why did the Cold War perpetuate the nuclear arms race? How did the Cold War end? Who "won" the Cold War and why does it matter? The significance of the debate surrounding the answers to these questions makes for fascinating reading as it sheds light on the late 20th century—and its aftermath.

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Cover image for America and the Cold War, 1941–1991

May 2010


Pages 686
Volumes 2
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Military History/Conflict and Wars

America and the Cold War, 1941–1991: A Realist Interpretation is a sweeping historical account that focuses on the policy differences at the center of this conflict. In its pages, three preeminent authors offer an examination of contemporary criticism of the Cold War, documenting the views of observers who appreciated that many policies of the period were not only dangerous, but could not resolve the problems they contemplated.

The study offers a comprehensive chronicle of U.S.-Soviet relations, broadly conceived, from World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It places the origins of the Cold War as related to the contentious issues of World War II and stresses the failure of Washington to understand or seriously seek settlement of those issues. It points out how nuclear weaponry gradually assumed political stature and came to dominate high-level, Soviet-American diplomatic activity, at the same time discounting the notion that the Cold War was a global ideological confrontation for the future of civilization. A concluding chapter draws lessons from the Cold War decades, showing how they apply to dealing with nation-states and terrorist groups today.

Three distinguished diplomatic historians offer an assessment of the Cold War in the realist tradition that focuses on balancing the objectives of foreign policy with the means of accomplishing them.


  • A bibliography
  • A chronology
  • Photos and illustrations


  • Stresses the failure of Washington to understand or seriously seek settlement of major Cold War issues, providing readers with a framework for a more thorough understanding of the conflict
  • Discounts the notion that the Cold War was a global ideological confrontation for the future of civilization
  • Places the Cold War in its proper context as related to contentious issues stemming from World War II
  • Analyzes the major Cold War themes and keeps readers focused on key issues
  • Includes the best analysis to date of contemporary reactions of journalists and other writers to the changes in international relations in the latter half of the 20th century
Series Description

Praeger Security International

As the world gets "smaller" through technology and globalization, the security risks we face grow and multiply.

International security in the 21st century is not a topic that can be adequately addressed in nightly news soundbites or online articles intended to be relevant for 24 hours or less. Comprehending these complex issues requires insight from foreign policy specialists, diplomats, military officials, peace scholars, historians, and security experts—participants and observers on all sides of each conflict. This series provides the tools for understanding security issues in our uncertain, unstable world.

Written by subject experts and well-known researchers, the books in the Praeger Security International series give readers access to carefully considered and highly informed viewpoints on the critical security issues that threaten to destabilize our world. With titles authored by diplomats, first responders, economists, journalists, civil servants, military leaders and combatants, legal experts, psychologists, and other knowledgeable specialists, these books offer in-depth reflections, thorough analysis, and international perspectives that are unavailable in mass media. These titles represent an invaluable resource for students and researchers as well as anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the complex issues that affect our lives and future.


  • Provides reliable, comprehensive information on all matters relating to security that is ideal for students, teachers, researchers, and professionals
  • Offers insightful commentaries written by a diverse group of scholars and experts who provide interdisciplinary treatments of newsworthy events and important historical occurrences
Author Info

Norman A. Graebner, PhD, is Randolph P. Compton Professor of History and Public Affairs, emeritus, at the University of Virginia, and an internationally acknowledged authority on U.S. international affairs. A leading exponent of the realist school in the study of American diplomacy, Graebner has received many high awards, including the University's highest honor, the Thomas Jefferson Award, and honorary degrees from more than half a dozen other universities. He previously held the titles of Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University and a Thomas Jefferson Visiting Scholar at Downing College, Cambridge. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than 30 books and some 130 articles, essays, and book chapters. Dr. Graebner's published works include Empire on the Pacific: A Study in American Continental Expansion; Ideas and Diplomacy: Readings in the Intellectual Tradition of American Foreign Policy; Foundations of American Foreign Policy: A Realist Appraisal from Franklin to McKinley; America as a World Power: A Realist Appraisal from Wilson to Reagan; and Reagan, Bush, Gorbachev: Revisiting the End of the Cold War. He published his memoirs, A Twentieth-Century Odyssey: Memoir of a Life in Academe, in 2002.

Richard Dean Burns is professor emeritus of history at California State University, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA. He has authored and edited over 12 books and more than 24 in-depth articles covering arms control, diplomatic history, international law, and American foreign policy. A bibliographer, essayist, and editor, Dr. Burns has long been involved in preparing reference books, such as the internationally recognized Guide to American Foreign Relations Since 1700 and the critically acclaimed 20th-century presidential bibliography series. Burns designed and edited the three-volume Encyclopedia of Arms Control and Disarmament, coedited the three-volume Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, Second Edition and edited the three-volume Chronological History of United States Foreign Relations.

Joseph M. Siracusa is professor of human security and international diplomacy at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Australia, where he is a specialist in diplomacy and nuclear security. A native of Chicago and long-time resident of Australia, he is internationally known for his writings on the Cold War, nuclear deterrence, and presidential politics. A frequent political affairs commentator in Australia, Siracusa has worked at Merrill Lynch in Boston, MA, at the University of Queensland, and for three years as senior research fellow in the Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, Griffith University, Southport, Queensland, Australia. His published works include A History of United States Foreign Policy,Depression to Cold War: A History of America from Herbert Hoover to Ronald Reagan, Presidential Profiles: The Kennedy Years, Real-World Nuclear Deterrence: The Making of International Strategy, Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, and Globalization and Human Security.



"Recommended. All levels/libraries."Choice

"This valuable work for history collections in both public and academic libraries sheds much new light on this recent part of our nation's history. Highly recommended."Library Journal


"Comprehensive, deeply researched, and utterly persuasive, America and the Cold War 1941-1991: A Realist Interpretation exposes Washington's persistent inability to see the world as it actually is rather than as Americans fancy it ought to be. The relevance of this book to events in our own day can hardly be overstated."—Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War

"In this comprehensive, compelling work, these three leading realist historians of U.S. foreign relations reveal with clinical and devastating clarity the huge gap that existed between the rhetoric and reality of U.S. policy during the Cold War. Basing their incisive critique on a vast range of contemporary public material and archival documents, the authors vividly trace the course of the Cold War with meticulous and masterly attention to detail. This study reminds us that US foreign policy makers must operate within the limits of what the world is, regardless of what they think it should be. This is as true today as it was during the Cold War."
—Dr. Ian J. Bickerton
Visiting Senior Research Fellow
School of History and Philosophy
University of NSW

"Powerful and penetrating, this critique of U.S. behavior in the Cold War documents how persistent anti-communism dictated imprecise policies ensuring frustration and failure. American leaders, ignoring reality and prioritizing principle over national interests, exaggerated undefined Soviet threats and worse, failed to acknowledge the primacy of nationalism in world affairs. Lacking sufficient means to impose its will on both friends and enemies, the United States consistently pursued elimination of the Soviet Union as the prerequisite for achieving global peace and security." —James I. Matray, California State University, Chico

"In this deeply researched, clearly written work, based on 'traditional diplomatic and political history' and loaded with telling quotes from top policymakers and informed journalists, three distinguished authors, headed by a dean of diplomatic historians, Norman Graebner, climax their many major contributions by providing both a comprehensive narrative and a challenging realist interpretation of the Cold War--an interpretation that is particularly significant in its evaluations of, among others, FDR, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger ('the first secretary of state in three generations to think and act in political rather than judicial terms'), Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian leader persuasively identified by the authors as the most important figure in bringing the Cold War to a close."—Walter LaFeber, The Andrew and James Tisch University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University, and author of The American Century: U.S. Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad since 1750

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