Paradoxes of Nostalgia: Cold War Triumphalism and Global Disorder Since 1989

Duke Univ. Jul. 2022. 400p. ISBN 9781478018230. pap. $28.95. HIST
This intriguing study is about opportunities missed and wrong paths taken in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Von Eschen (Satchmo Blows Up the World) argues that the Cold War’s demise posed an epistemic crisis for its participants: no longer facing a clearly identifiable enemy, there was no guarantee of a stable world system. Ignoring the pleas of appealing new figures like Gorbachev, Mandela, Havel and Walesa, all of whom visited the White House to make their case, American leaders embraced American exceptionalism, the U.S.’s unipolar domination of the world. Concurrently, the U.S. and other countries turned to the right, gutting social safety nets and privatizing services while promoting unconstrained free market capitalism. Nostalgia for older times, even missing the Cold War, has since increased on all sides. Von Eschen mixes high political narrative (Bush through Trump; Gorbachev to Putin) with excursions into pop culture (visits to the Spy Museum and Eastern European historical theme parks; discussion of movies and novels) to illuminate connections in this complicated story. The joints aren’t always seamless but mostly it works.
VERDICT Not easy to read, but an interesting, important book. For lovers of history and current events.
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