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Book Review


Michael Hunt, The World Transformed: 1945 To The Present. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2004. Pp. xiii + 495. $55.95 (paper)


     Michael Hunt's thirty years of experience teaching post-World War II history comes across strongly in The World Transformed: 1945 To The Present. For instructors, the organization of Hunt's text is highly versatile and easily lends itself to structuring post-World War II courses in a wide variety of ways. In this respect, the text's most useful feature is its thoughtfully conceived integration of chronological and thematic approaches. Chronologically, the text consists of three parts, covering 1945–1953, 1953–1968, and 1968–1991 respectively. Thematically, each part contains three chapters: a first chapter on the Cold War conflict (Chapters 1, 4 and 7); a second on the global economy (Chapters 2, 5, and 8); and a third chapter on the third world and developing world (Chapters 3, 6, and 9). The periodization of the three parts is shaped predominantly, but not exclusively, by the theme of the Cold War. The three parts thus correspond respectively to the Truman and Stalin-era emergence and intensification of tensions between the United States and the Soviet United (Part One); a relative increase in foreign policy stability between the two superpowers (Part Two); and the erosion and end of the Cold War, including the displacement of two rival Cold War economic ideologies by the international free market (Part Three). The thematically interconnected periodization of Part Three is illustrative. Appreciating that his three themes are inseparable, Hunt incorporates into each of his thematic chapters "connections to the other two themes, thus creating a more integrated picture of history" (v).

     The well-executed organization of Hunt's text enables instructors to format courses along chronological or thematic lines. From his own teaching experience, Hunt's preference is to assign chapters in thematic groups, engaging students with "the most familiar topic first—that is, the Cold War from beginning to end. [He] follow[s] with the third world . . . and then go[es] to global economic issues" (v). Placing the theme of the Cold War first perhaps explains the predominance of that theme in marking the chronological dividing points between the three parts of the text, but Hunt also presents persuasive accounts for periodizing the other two themes along the same lines. Moreover, the text in no way necessitates Hunt's preferred ordering of the themes. Rather, instructors can, without much difficulty, use the text to address the themes in a different order, one that suits their own pedagogical approaches and goals. Alternately, instructors seeking to emphasize a chronological approach to the interconnected trends of post-World War II history—contextualizing events discussed in one thematic chapter alongside contemporaneous developments addressed in the others—can opt to assign the three parts in succession.

     The Cold War chapters begin with the aggressive policies of Truman and Stalin in the context both of divergent views for the reconstruction of war-devastated economies of Europe and of a rapidly intensifying arms race. This first chapter also examines, on the one hand, the origins of "proxy wars"—or, in Hunt's terms, "limited wars"—that were informed by Cold War ideologies and allegiances, and, on the other, more peaceful superpower initiatives to gain allies in the third world. The division between Parts One and Two is marked by the year that saw transitions from Stalin to Khrushchev, with Stalin's death, and from Truman to Eisenhower. Hunt argues that relations between the United States and the Soviet Union moved toward accommodation between 1953 and 1968, in spite of and, more importantly, because of an increasingly costly arms race that raised widespread fears of assured mutual annihilation and global destruction. In this second period, Hunt also outlines domestic crises facing the two superpowers: Khrushchev's difficulties managing the production of and balance between "guns and butter," resulting in popular discontent, and, in the United States, civil rights, feminist, and antiwar protests. The final Cold War chapter centers on Nixon's policy of détente and its legacy; the Gorbachev-era end to the suppression of anti-Communist opposition within Soviet client states; and the glasnost and perestroika reforms that unleashed popular discontent and led, eventually, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In addition, a crucial thread in Hunt's narrative is his argument that "to the list of reasons for the end of the Cold War should be added the international economy," which "had once been subject to Cold War pressures" but which became "a force pushing the United States and the Soviet Union away from the Cold War" (334).

     Shifting to the global economy, then, the first chapter on this theme emphasizes the post-World War II power of the United States—as the globe's leading manufacturer and the largest repository of the world's gold supply—to lead economic recovery and push reformed economies in western Europe and Japan toward an international market-oriented system of trade and finance. While noting starts and stops in the development of an international free market system, the chapter outlines the emergence, role, and post-War successes of the agreements and institutions that resulted from the Anglo-American dominated Bretton Woods Conference and that continue to shape the global economy in which students live today. The text thus introduces students to the International Monetary Fund (IMF); the International Bank for Reconstructions and Development (IBRD), which is now part of the World Bank; and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which has largely been incorporated into the World Trade Organization; and policies such as structural adjustment programs, which made development loans to third world countries conditional on privatization, deregulation, and the lowering of tariffs. The primary focal points of the second and third chapters on the global economy are two trends, both of which span the chapters in question. One subtheme, as it were, is the way in which the United States, Western Europe, Japan, and an increasingly market-oriented China developed different models of market economies. At the same time, Hunt provides a useful framework for understanding these differences in terms of spectrums or axes of variation within a shared matrix of market economies—variations in emphasis on the individual and the community; production and consumption; desirable levels of equality and acceptable levels of hierarchy; economic rights and political rights; and variations on the role of the state in the economy. Against notions of a universalized and homogenous capitalism, Hunt claims that the "American, European, and East Asian models . . . offer a range of choices that can be combined in almost endless ways" (380). The second subtheme is the relative descent of the United States in economic power and the ascent of Japan and Western Europe. Here, Hunt argues that, similar to the post-Cold War transition from a bipolar to a multipolar set of interstate relations, the international free market had begun to shift, before the end of the Cold War, from a U.S.-dominated system to a multipolar global economy.

     In his treatment of the developing world, Hunt presents neither an overly-generalized and homogenous nor an encyclopedic and overwhelmingly-detailed account. Similar to his approach to different models for market economies, Hunt employs selected case studies to delineate commonalities and variations within patterns that characterized many countries in the third and developing world. Hunt argues that "the term third world has some value" for illustrating patterned similarities and differences from the late 1940s to the early 1970s (20). Hunt's method for outlining these patterns is framed by "the experience of foreign domination"; "the struggle for independence and the subsequent search for an appropriate development path . . . against the backdrop of the Cold War"; and the predominance of peasant societies undergoing transitions due to the increasingly intrusive expansion of the international, market-oriented economy (20–21).

     The first chapter on this final theme covers the Chinese Revolution and two different paths to independence: violent struggles against imperial military efforts to retain pre-World War II colonies, as in the case of Vietnam, and smoother transitions of power from colonial officials to indigenous elites, as was the case in India and the Philippines. In the second chapter Hunt continues his narratives of Communism in China and Vietnam, shifting, in the latter case, to the Cold War military assault waged by the United States. Framed by the appeal—among the third world populations and their leaders—of Marxism, radicalism, and nationalism as means of challenging histories of subjugation, the chapter also covers interventionism and resistance in the cases of Guatemala, Cuba, and Iran; African socialism in Ghana and Arab socialism in Egypt; and the continuation of violent anti-colonial struggles in Algeria. The final chapter picks up on the last of these dynamics with a focus on opposition to settler colonialism and foreign domination in South Africa, Palestine, and, again, Guatemala and Iran. During this time, 1968 to 1991, Hunt argues that the tide of Marxist-oriented radicalism collapsed into disillusion, particularly after the gruesome, genocidal revolution in the case of Cambodia. The consequences of this disillusionment were the emergence of, on the one hand, authoritarian regimes focused on stability rather than economic transformation and, on the other, divergent approaches for economic development and for integration into the international market economy, with widely differing results. Increasingly divergent development models, coupled with the decline both of broadly shared independence struggles and of post-independence radicalism, marks for Hunt the primary rationale for a change in terminology from the "third world" to the "developing world," the latter being more appropriate from the 1970s onward.

     For students and instructors alike, the versatility of Hunt's text consists not only in allowing a thematic as well as chronological presentation of historical knowledge, but also in providing a foundation for building skills in different forms of historical analysis. Hunt's model of difference within a pattern, used to frame the histories both of the international market economy and of the third and developing world, establishes a basis for a wide variety of compare and contrast assignments. As well, the chronological structure, whether one stays within a single theme or assigns the parts consecutively, allows for an equally wide variety of assignments examining continuity and change over time. Finally, although Hunt makes many explicit connections between the three themes, many more implicit and unstated connections can be made by students in assignments requiring closer and more creative readings.

     In his "Preface," Hunt writes that his aims in writing the text are "accessibility, breadth, and coherence," and that if he "has succeeded, instructors will find this text easy to supplement at some points and fruitful to challenge at others" (vii). Hunt has succeeded on all fronts. In such a short review, one cannot do justice to the breadth and depth of Hunt's text, which, for example, examines the global and local environmental effects of industrialized production and the late-century population explosion. His prose is easy to follow, he provides clear means of understanding complex issues, and he presents historical figures in a personal manner, all of make his text not only accessible but also inviting. As well, Hunt's chronological and thematic approach establishes a narrative and argumentative coherence seldom seen in textbooks. Finally, perhaps one of the most fruitful points at which to challenge and supplement Hunt's text concerns the acknowledgement of continuity as well as change before and after World War Two. In his introduction, "The 1945 Watershed," Hunt makes the case, as the premise of his text and its title, that bipolar interstate relations, the ascent of market-oriented globalization, and the challenges to and collapse of colonial rule mark a break in global history, paralleling his three themes. Hunt claims that this break is "best understood not as a new phase in a long or short twentieth century [but as] a major watershed in its own right in the history of the modern world—the beginnings of a distinct profoundly transformative epoch" (iv). While the changes that organize Hunt's overarching argument are extremely significant for an understanding of post–1945 world history, his narrative abounds, from beginning to end, with continuities between the periods before and after the Second World War. For example, Hunt connects America's Cold War ideology to Woodrow Wilson's "fourteen-point program for a post-World War I world that in [Wilson's] view advanced a fundamental American commitment, as old as the nation itself, 'to show mankind the way to liberty" (4). Regarding the global economy, Hunt refers to post–1945 developments as a "second phase of globalization" that was preceded by a "first phase" from the 1870s to 1914; moreover, Hunt argues that "the architects of the post–1945 economic system . . . took as their model the achievements of a great wave of economic globalization spanning the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries" (9–10). As a final example, in his conclusion on the post-Cold War years and the status of the United States as a lone superpower, Hunt offers the following observation concerning the history of colonial and neocolonial subjugation: "U.S. hegemony carries forward a pattern of dominance by the North Atlantic world reaching back over several centuries" (453). This criticism in no way undermines Hunt's narrative: as the examples show, both continuities and changes are incorporated into his text. However, whereas Hunt strongly emphasizes as discontinuities the changes that can be traced back to the immediate postwar years, he does not similarly highlight the histories and trends that traverse the alleged watershed in question, leaving them as understated, implicit, or unstated continuities. On the other hand, the fruitful side of this criticism is that it allows instructors both to present historical continuities in lecture and to assign students the task of tracking those continuities that are indeed present in Hunt's text.

Bart Wisialowski recently received a Ph.D. in History at University of California, Irvine. The focus of his dissertation concerns Cold War and post-Cold War history. He can be reached at


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