Reviewing the book The Cold War: Threat, Paranoia, and Oppression From the Iron Curtain to the Collapse of Communism by Norman Friedman made me truly value proofreading and citing sources, but did it affect my enjoyment? Let’s find out!
Whenever people write, they often proofread their materials before publishing or turning it in, especially when their writings deal with past events. I can imagine the pressure nonfiction authors have to go through to make sure that everything they claim happened actually occurred. With the recent controversy involving Naomi Wolf’s book Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, it has made proofreading all the more necessary, especially if authors want readers to enjoy and come back to their books. In spite of all of this, it has got me thinking: can the lack of proofreading affect one’s enjoyment of a book? I will analyze this with The Cold War: Threat, Paranoia, and Oppression From the Iron Curtain to the Collapse of Communism by Norman Friedman because it includes some obvious errors, yet it contains a lot of well-presented information.
The Cold War: Threat, Paranoia, and Oppression From the Iron Curtain to the Collapse of Communism is exactly what one would think of a title like that. It is a general history of the Cold War, and what occurred on both sides. From a presentational standpoint, Friedman does this well. The book itself is divided up into short chapters, which make it easier to digest not only the text, but also the photos, the mini-biographies, and the translations. Speaking of the photos, they contain pictures of documents, leaflets, etc. from both sides. There is even a photo of a Stasi (East German internal security service) smelling jar. I thought that it was very cool. Friedman presents the information effectively in such a way that even people, who are not familiar with the “war,” would be very interested to read about it.
From a historical standpoint, it does not hold up as well as I wanted it to. Even though a lot of the information that Friedman discusses contains facts that I have previously heard in other books and tidbits that surprised me (the whole notion that the Soviet government relied on their intelligence to copy their enemies’ technology because they believed Western technology was better is something that I never have thought of before), every history book should contain a reference list. This list documents what print and/or online sources were used in the author’s research. This allows readers to look up said sources in order to see how credible they are, which in turn makes the information itself reliable. I completely understand that Friedman himself is knowledgeable about the Cold War since he is an American defense analyst who had advised the US government on the strategic competition between them and the Soviet government and has written over 40 books, including The Fifty-Year War: Conflict and Strategy in the Cold War, BUT unless the sources he used were top secret, without that reference list, he is denying himself a chance to prove to his readers that his work is truly trustworthy and accurate although it was nice of him to list the photo credits in the book.
When I had said that there are some obvious errors in this book, I really meant it. For example, in the mini-biography of founder and long-time chief of the East German foreign intelligence agency Markus Wolf, Friedman lists his birth and death years as 1923-1923. I could not believe it! I had to ask myself, “How could they have overlooked this?”
I also had look Wolf up to see when he actually died. In addition, Harry Truman’s mini-biography claims that he replaced Walter Ulbricht because “he accepted the West German opening to the East (Ostpolitik)” (p. 16). I thought that Truman did no such thing until I encountered Erich Honecker’s mini-biography, IN WHICH IT SAID THE EXACT SAME THING (p. 142)! Now, I KNOW that Truman did no such thing! Why didn’t Friedman have someone else look at his work and detect those errors? This in fact DID bother me while I read and thought about the book afterwards.
In conclusion, to answer the question I have proposed, the lack of proofreading did affect my ability to adore The Cold War: Threat, Paranoia, and Oppression From the Iron Curtain to the Collapse of Communism. I still admire the facts themselves and how they were presented, yet the mistakes were so obvious that it raked my brain for a while. Nonetheless, I would still recommend the book to those who are interested in the Cold War both in the military and political aspects, but with a warning: have other books about the Cold War available as references for certain chapters.
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