Every major aspect of the cold war, from FDR’s death to the 1952 US presidential election, is covered in “The Lost Peace,” focusing on events in the US, the Soviet Union, and, to a lesser extent, China. Dallek’s political judgment is very sound, recognizing as he does that Stalin was primarily responsible for beginning the cold war, but the US militarized and extended it through a combination of paranoid anti-Communism and militarism. If one were to need an introduction to the early cold-war years, “The Lost Peace” would serve well as an example.
But Dallek’s previous books went well beyond being mere introductions – they were definitive works on their subjects. “Nixon and Kissinger,” Dallek’s 2007 study of Franklin Roosevelt’s foreign policy, as well as his biographies of Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy, were so terrific precisely because they offered new insights and facts about their already-familiar subjects, in addition to being solid guides on their topics. Dallek utilized primary source material in those works, making extensive use of internal memorandums, tapes, letters, and documents.
“The Lost Peace,” instead, cites one single primary document. The rest comes from secondary sources and even, a few times, Wikipedia. Even worse, he overlooks some of the best scholarship on the cold war, work from respected scholars like Odd Arne Westad, Bruce Kuniholm, Walter LaFeber, and others. And he relies far too heavily on McCullough’s overrated, maudlin book, “Truman,” and the memoirs of George F. Kennan. It seems Dallek dipped into the vast ocean of cold war historiography, grabbed what he could with one hand, and declared himself satisfied.