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Constructing the Monolith

Constructing the Monolith

The United States, Great Britain, and International Communism, 1945–1950

Marc J. Selverstone

ISBN 9780674031791

Publication date: 02/16/2009

As the Cold War took shape during the late 1940s, policymakers in the United States and Great Britain displayed a marked tendency to regard international communism as a “monolithic” conspiratorial movement. The image of a “Communist monolith” distilled the messy realities of international relations into a neat, comprehensible formula. Its lesson was that all communists, regardless of their native land or political program, were essentially tools of the Kremlin.

Marc Selverstone recreates the manner in which the “monolith” emerged as a perpetual framework on both sides of the Atlantic. Though more pervasive and millennial in its American guise, this understanding also informed conceptions of international communism in its close ally Great Britain, casting the Kremlin’s challenge as but one more in a long line of threats to freedom.

This illuminating and important book not only explains the Cold War mindset that determined global policy for much of the twentieth century, but also reveals how the search to define a foreign threat can shape the ways in which that threat is actually met.


  • The Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote 20 years ago that American statesmen in the postwar period never ‘believed in the existence of an international Communist monolith.’ After reading Selverstone’s work, it would be hard to accept that judgement… The parallels between ‘Communist monolith’ thinking and the ‘axis of evil’ delusion which infected the United States after 9/11 are all too clear… This is not a general history of the early Cold War, but rather a study of how the policymaking elites of Great Britain and the United States tried to develop ground rules and useful concepts in order to manage a perceived threat… Twenty years after the democratic upheavals of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the idea that Communism was ever a serious threat to the American way now seems ridiculous—as ridiculous as the idea that al-Qaida could destroy liberal democracy.

    —Neal Ascherson, London Review of Books


  • 2010, Winner of the Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize


  • Marc J. Selverstone heads the acclaimed Presidential Recordings Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, where he edits the secret White House tapes of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. He has written for the Washington Post, Atlantic, and U.S. News and World Report and appeared on C-Span radio. He is the author of Constructing the Monolith: The United States, Great Britain, and International Communism, 1945–1950, winner of the Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, and is Associate Professor in Presidential Studies at the University of Virginia.

Book Details

  • 318 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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