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The Atlantic and Its Enemies: A History of…

The Atlantic and Its Enemies: A History of the Cold War

by Norman Stone

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What a strange book! A history of the Cold War that doesn't even mention the Warsaw Pact! This is great when the Author is writing about economics, but terrible when he is writing on military affairs. Once I knew his strengths and weaknesses I enjoyed the book. But it is not a straight forward history in any sense. Each chapter is like an independent essay and it is very much about the Authors personal opinions of the time and events. That is not to say there is only opinion, there is much history here as well, but it is not a straight narrative history as most people would understand it. My suggestion is to pick a page at random and read it, if it seems interesting then give the book a go, if not then don't. ( )
1 vote bookmarkaussie | Jan 8, 2016 |
A terrible, terrible book that I really struggled with. Very difficult to follow a cohesive history throughout the book, and only seemingly interesting if you are interested in the views of Norman Stone. Poor, with little of merit apart from a concentration of the economic effects of the Right wing during mainly the latter Cold War. I would certainly advise avoid. One of the worst books I've read in five years. ( )
  aadyer | Mar 11, 2015 |
I have a rather embarrassing confession. I saw this in the bookshop and misread the author's name; I thought it was Norman Davies. And given Mr Davies' interest in Poland, and given Poland played a considerable role in the beginning and end of the Cold War, I thought this would be good.

Imagine my dismay when I realised it was written not by the estimable Davies, but by ex Thatcher speechwriter Norman Stone. But still, into it I waded. And a curious experience it is too. Firstly, forget any idea of this being an academic work of history; as Mr Stone says in the preface, it is a tract. A rant in fact. Often amusing, always opinionated, rarely encumbered by the need for historical accuracy. Its rather as though an old, rather eccentric uncle, has sat you down in front of the fire, poured you a brandy, himself a rather larger one, and started telling you anecdotes from history. As long as these are amusingly told you are willing to indulge him for a while, safe with your own interpretation of the world, and even safer in the knowledge that he will eventually nod off. Mr Stone however, does not nod off. He keeps at it relentlessly for 600 pages. In the end, it is the reader who needs the reviving stimulants. I am having mine now...

Mr Stone, comes at history from the right, but to his credit he is not a neo Conservative. Rather he is an old C Conservative - opposed to too much education of the masses (an interesting position for a University Professor to adopt), very concerned with how cultivated leaders are, and opposed to ideological pretention (which seems to include any idea formulated post the New Deal). Once you understand this, his heroes and villains are predictably cast. He scorns Kennedy as a TV creation of no substance (and what's more, he sniffs, Harry Truman was a better piano player). Weirdly he ignores Robert Kennedy, but heaps abuse on Edward Kennedy (who surely had almost no influence on the Cold War?). Nixon made mistakes, was ill advised by his "sandwich eating" (a favourite insult) team, but Carter was a born idiot of no redeeming qualities whatsoever. And so it goes. Left wing politicians in any country are either mediocrities, alcoholics or in the pay of Moscow. Only those who are cultured escape rebuke. Denis Healey "knew music properly". Salvador Allende "could discuss painting" .

The bitchy tone is never the less entertaining for a while, until you notice that most of the targets of his acrimony are safely dead and unable to litigate. And it takes a certain gaucheness to write as though intimate with the protagonists (Erick Honecker is "irritating little Honecker" etc) when of course you are not.

I would give this malevolent tripe no stars at all. But it is, at times amusing. And Stone is good where personality is not involved - his summaries of economic, industrial and financial issues are well researched and interesting. But he needs to leave the politics alone. The Cold War was a very dangerous time in human history, mocking the protagonists adds nothing to our understanding of it ( )
1 vote Opinionated | Sep 2, 2012 |
A very strange book to get a grip on. It’s like Stone’s entire outlook stems from some unspecified frame of reference entirely alien to my own. He often applies a scorn that seems entirely misplaced, and poorly directed, at phantasmagorical enemies of his own construction – particularly the left, whomever they might be; and nineteenth century-type liberalism, of the hand-wringing moralist variety. If there is a moral core to him I don’t know what it is. He complains of Allende’s supporters, and of other left-wingers who saw their democratically-elected chance to seize power obstructed by right-wing coups and repression, as being “vindictive” about their lost chances. Baffling.

He is good on the idiocies and idiosyncrasies of provincial nationalism, however, even if his own self-identity (as estranged from his background as it is) seems hopelessly contrived and compromised. But as Jonathan Meades points out, roots are for vegetables. We must have the freedom to transcend our backgrounds by our individual decisions and actions.

He name-drops a lot, acts vaguely but not convincingly ashamed about his leftist youth (shades of that provincial egotist Hitchens; like Hitchens he seems to have built his career around picking fights with idiots), harnesses some language of the upper classes and in fact the upper class 20s (referring to people as “a brick”, something he couldn’t have heard growing up, and must have picked up from a Wodehouse novel or something), and seems to idolise the upper classes. Being a rightist sort of a book, it describes Thatcher in glowing terms, but he manages a hint of condescension as well, as if her middle-class origins could be looked down on (while Stone, I believe, was working class Scottish).

Also very down on actors and writers, who he describes as the worst and the most absurd commentators on society and politics that there is. If Stone’s own output is anything to go by, well, certainly. But the claim is really an example of how much of Stone’s strange self-obsession fuels this book.

How all this got past editors at Penguin is anyone’s guess. Maybe they thought that sub-titling it "a personal history" would provide enough leeway for Stone's slanted autobiogrpahical sallies. Possibly Stone’s invented grand persona was enough to cow them. I was amazed when he mentions that he has a son – I had assumed Stone was gay. He writing carries that sort of poisonous queeny menopause sometimes found in old academic queers. ( )
1 vote Quickpint | Jan 31, 2012 |
Showing 4 of 4
The outcome of the Cold War may seem inevitable in retrospect, but it hardly appeared that way during the four decades of high-stakes conflict. In the West and in the developing world of former European colonies, many perfectly intelligent people, without any great ideological investment in either side of the debate, concluded that the Soviet Union offered a successful path to modernity while the U.S. and its allies faced crisis or decline. . . . The totality of the Western victory prompts an interesting question: How could so many have gotten so much so wrong?

Norman Stone's answer, in The Atlantic and Its Enemies, is that those who doubted the West failed to grasp the deep resilience of its societies and "the extraordinary vigor of the capitalist world." The ability of the U.S. and Great Britain to regenerate themselves after sustaining the damage of stagflation and industrial strife in the 1970s brought dividends in the 1980s. . . .

Mr. Stone, a former Oxford history professor who now lives (and teaches) in Ankara, Turkey, has in the past written a general history of Europe and a study of the Eastern Front during World War I, bringing to his accounts an idiosyncratic verve that is much in evidence in The Atlantic and Its Enemies. He paints on a broad canvas, showing how the Cold War unfolded, but that does not keep him from weaving in personal anecdotes, like one about the time in the 1960s when he was traveling in Eastern Europe and ended up being jailed for several weeks in Slovakia, suspected of being a spy.

Mr. Stone contends that the Soviet Union's technological achievements in the 1950s masked the truth that it depended for its survival on an inheritance from czarist Russia. Without the men and women formed by the old regime's educational system, he says, neither Soviet science nor Soviet culture would have come to much. The communist system itself stifled initiative. . . . Much of communism's apparent success lay in the missteps and failings of the West—as when divisive conflicts in Vietnam and Algeria devastated the U.S. and France while Britain slid into economic decline. . . . .

The story of the 1980s, in Mr. Stone's bracing account, is one of the West finding its true self after years of wandering in the wilderness, while the Soviet experiment at long last revealed itself to be the sham it had been from the beginning.
Most of what Stone has written is worth reading, and The Atlantic and Its Enemies displays its author's merits, as well as his faults. I was reminded of what Isaiah Berlin said of his friend Lewis Namier: according as whether one was or was not interested in the subject on which he was discoursing, he could be the most interesting man alive or the most boring. Some of these pages are repetitious, or rambling, or simply unstoppable, and on occasion one has the feeling of being trapped in the bar by the club raconteur.

Then again there are many very vivid passages, and Stone in his anecdotage can be good fun, even if some of his turns of phrase . . . are so colloquial as to be obscure. And Stone is welcome to tweak lefty noses, but when he says of the Vietnam war that "Johnson was very anxious to spare civilians," one must add that, in that case, he was not anxious to much effect.

When the fall of communism comes, Stone's knowledge of eastern Europe is once again invaluable, although he rubs in the fact that few in the west foresaw that fall, even confessing his own error. There is a nice line from the late Philip Windsor, the international relations scholar at the LSE, who said that it was "the end of an empire" – not the Soviet one, but political science.
Norman Stone's history of the Cold War began as an account of the entire 20th century. He refined it into its present shape based on the realisation that the two halves of the century were in such stark contrast with each other.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0465020437, Hardcover)

After World War II, the former allies were saddled with a devastated world economy and traumatized populace. Soviet influence spread insidiously from nation to nation, and the Atlantic powers—the Americans, the British, and a small band of allies—were caught flat-footed by the coups, collapsing armies, and civil wars that sprung from all sides. The Cold War had begun in earnest.

In The Atlantic and Its Enemies, prize-winning historian Norman Stone assesses the years between World War II and the collapse of the Iron Curtain. He vividly demonstrates that for every Atlantic success there seemed to be a dozen Communist or Third World triumphs. Then, suddenly and against all odds, the Atlantic won—economically, ideologically, and militarily—with astonishing speed and finality.

An elegant and path-breaking history, The Atlantic and Its Enemies is a monument to the immense suffering and conflict of the twentieth century, and an illuminating exploration of how the Atlantic triumphed over its enemies at last.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:59 -0400)

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Discusses the abundance of Communist military and cultural successes during the Cold War and the sudden triumph of the British and American financial systems and ideology.

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