During the peak years of the Cold War, when the inscrutability of the Kremlin's agenda left many Western observers fearing imminent nuclear war, Americans could only speculate about what Soviet leaders might be thinking and planning.
What were the Soviet's true intentions? Did they have a comprehensive strategy in their confrontation with the West?
Was there a Communist blueprint for every action, or were they engaging in the same cautious "realpolitik" that leaders in the West practised as well?
Using archival materials, personal interviews and a broad familiarity with Russian culture, two young Russian historians have written an interpretation of the Cold War as seen from the Soviet shore.
Covering the volatile period from 1945 to 1962, Zubok and Pleshakov explore the personalities and motivations of the key people who directed Soviet political life and shaped Soviet foreign policy.
They begin with the figure of Joseph Stalin, who was driven by the dual dream of a Communist revolution and a global empire. They reveal the scope and limits of Stalin's ambitions by taking us into the world of his closest subordinates, the foreign minister Molotov and the Party's chief propagandist, Zhdanov.
The authors expose the machinations of the secret police chief Beria and the party cadre manager Malenkov, who tried but failed to set Soviet policies on a different course after Stalin's death.
Finally, they document the motives and actions of Nikita Khrushchev, who overturned many of Stalin's policies with strategizing on a global scale.
The authors show how, despite such attempts to change Soviet diplomacy, Stalin's legacy continued to divide Germany and Europe, and led the Soviets to the split with Maoist China and to the Cuban missile crisis.
Zubok and Pleshakov's work reveals how Soviet statesmen conceived and conducted their rivalry with the West within the context of their own domestic and global concerns and aspirations.
The authors demonstrate that the Soviet leaders did not seek a conflict with the United States, yet failed to prevent it or bring it to conclusion.
They also document why and how Kremlin policy-makers triggered the crises of the Cold War in Korea, Berlin and Cuba. Zubok and Pleshakov present portraits of the men who made the West fear, to reveal why and and how they acted as they did.