Book Review: "Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly"
Throughout historian Michael Gordin’s work, the author provides a detailed analysis of the early Cold War and explores the dynamic shift in foreign relations and diplomacy that occurred following the Soviet Union’s detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949. Gordin provides extensive details pertaining to the years of espionage, theft, and secrecy that existed between both the United States and Soviet Union in the postwar era. Moreover, his work details the great lengths that Soviet spies underwent to steal nuclear secrets, as well as the tremendous effort exerted by the Americans to prevent the Stalinist regime from acquiring an atomic bomb. In many ways, Gordin’s account resembles Craig and Radchenko’s earlier study on the “origins” of the Cold War as he demonstrates that the Soviet decision to acquire a nuclear bomb was a direct result of failures in American foreign policy.
Gordin's Main Points
As Gordin argues, the Soviet Union’s desire for an atomic bomb stemmed directly from President Truman’s decision to withhold nuclear secrets from Stalin and his regime at the end of WWII; thus, prompting the Soviets to turn towards espionage and theft in their race to end American domination and control over nuclear technology. In contrast to prior historiographical accounts, however, Gordin argues that the Cold War did not originate with the end of WWII. Instead, he argues that the Cold War can trace its origins to the Soviet detonation of its first bomb in 1949 since its political fallout offered the first real (and direct) challenge to American power, and initiated the dramatic arms race that ensued during the 1950s.
Concluding Statements and Personal Thoughts
Gordin’s work relies heavily on a mixture of both Russian and Western sources that include: archival papers, scientist reports, formerly “top secret” files, as well as letters, testimonies, and memoirs from high-ranking government officials. Gordin’s account is both compelling and highly-researched. However, one weakness of this work is the author’s over-reliance on American records and the lack of attention he gives to the legacy of the nuclear arms race; particularly, the proliferation of weapons beyond Soviet and American control in the years that followed World War Two. The lack of a proper bibliographical section and the author’s limited analysis of historiographical trends also diminishes the quality of this work to a certain degree as well and could have certainly been improved upon.
Nevertheless, I give Gordin’s work 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in early Cold War history. Both professional and amateur historians, alike, can benefit from the contents of this work. Definitely check it out if you get a chance!
Questions to Facilitate Group Discussion:
1.) What was Gordin's thesis? What are some of the main arguments that the author makes in this work? Is his argument persuasive? Why or why not?
2.) What type of primary source material does Gordin rely on in this book? Does this help or hinder his overall argument?
3.) Does Gordin organize his work in a logical and convincing manner? Why or why not?
4.) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this book? How could the author have improved the contents of this work?
5.) Who was the intended audience for this piece? Can scholars and the general public, alike, enjoy the contents of this book?
6.) What did you like most about this book? Would you recommend this book to a friend?
7.) What sort of scholarship is the author building on (or challenging) with this work? Does this work offer a unique addition to modern historiographical trends?
8.) Did you learn anything after reading this book? Were you surprised by any of the facts and figures presented by the author?
Do you believe that the Cold War began with the detonation of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Gordin, Michael. Red Cloud at Dawn: Truman, Stalin, and the End of the Atomic Monopoly. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.
© 2017 Larry Slawson