HIS 135
Notes on the Course Textbooks
 
 

Well, I have changed textbooks again, and the books now are Robert J. McMahon, The Cold War: A Very Short Introduction and Raymond F. Betts, Decolonization, 2nd ed. I thought a bit about my major focus in the course, and it is pretty clear that coverage of the Cold War has always been important. A second theme has been the movement away from colonial empires and a process of democratization in the world. And so I decided to look for two rather short books that would cover each of these themes.

Over the years, I have looked through a lot of "textbooks" that cover the post 1945 era, and I have never been satisfied with the available choices. Mostly, I have not liked the overly political focus of textbooks with little treatment of social, cultural, economic or intellectual developments in the world--there are plenty of books that deal with just the US or the "West." With these two books we will be able to cover politics and leave a lot of room for investigation of other issues and developments. Now, here are some specific comments on the two books.

the McMahon book on the Cold War:

  • it is very cheap
  • It has great coverage of the scope of the entire Cold War
  • the author offers some critical appraisals of events in the Cold War
  • the material in the book fits well with the Unit 3 exam essay question
  • but because it is short, not everything re the Cold War is covered in great detail
  • but because it is short, you really have to concentrate when you read the book
  • it could use some more maps

the Betts book on decolonization

  • it is very cheap
  • it has great coverage of the overall scope of the decolonization process
  • the author offers some critical appraisals of decolonization
  • the material in the book fits exactly with the Unit 5 exam essay question
  • but because it is short, not everything re decolonization is covered in great detail
  • but because it is short, you really have to concentrate when you read the book
  • it could use some more maps
  • while the book is roughly done in a chronological manner, it is not per se a history book. The author treats aspects of the decolonization process, and that means chronology sometimes gets sacrificed (the book does not go strictly in order from this event to the next event). Still, this is the best treatment of decolonization that I found, and the book is well done.
  • it is a good idea that you keep in mind the section of the book entitled "Chronology of political decolonization." This will help you as an overview of what happened.

The old texts for the course included William Keylor, A World of Nations: The International Order since 1945, 2nd ed. (that was simply too massive), Carter Findley and John Rothney, Twentieth-Century World, 6th edition (that covered too much of pre-1945 history) and Daniel R. Brower, The World since 1945: A Brief History( that was pretty much just Cold War coverage). These are some other books that I looked at in the past:

  • Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties, Rev. ed. (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996).
  • Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes:  A History of the World, 1914-1991 (New York: Vintage Books, 1996).
  • Glen Blackburn, The West and the World since 1945, 3rd ed. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993).
  • J. A. S. Grenville, A History of the World in the Twentieth Century, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1996).
  • Daniel Brower, The World in the Twentieth Century, 5th ed. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 2000).
  • Michael Adas, et al., Turbulent Passage:  A Global History of the Twentieth Century (New York: HarperCollins, 1994).
  • T. E. Vadney, The World since 1945, 2nd ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992)
  • Older but still useful: D. C. Watt, E. Spencer and N. Brown, A History of the World in the Twentieth Century (Hodder & Stoughton, 1967) or M. Biddiss, The Age of the Masses (Penguin, 1977).
 
 

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