Winner of the 2018 American Academy of Diplomacy Douglas Dillon Award
The award-winning author of The Battle of Bretton Woods reveals the gripping history behind the Marshall Plan—told with verve, insight, and resonance for today.
In the wake of World War II, with Britain’s empire collapsing and Stalin's on the rise, US officials under new secretary of state George C. Marshall set out to reconstruct western Europe as a bulwark against communist authoritarianism. Their massive, costly, and ambitious undertaking would confront Europeans and Americans alike with a vision at odds with their history and self-conceptions. In the process, they would drive the creation of NATO, the European Union, and a Western identity that continues to shape world events.
Focusing on the critical years 1947 to 1949, Benn Steil’s thrilling account brings to life the seminal episodes marking the collapse of postwar US-Soviet relations—the Prague coup, the Berlin blockade, and the division of Germany. In each case, we see and understand like never before Stalin’s determination to crush the Marshall Plan and undermine American power in Europe.
Given current echoes of the Cold War, as Putin’s Russia rattles the world order, the tenuous balance of power and uncertain order of the late 1940s is as relevant as ever. The Marshall Plan provides critical context into understanding today’s international landscape. Bringing to bear fascinating new material from American, Russian, German, and other European archives, Steil’s account will forever change how we see the Marshall Plan and the birth of the Cold War. A polished and masterly work of historical narrative, this is an instant classic of Cold War literature.
American, British, and Soviet leaders gather at Potsdam to discuss the future of Germany and postwar Europe, July 17, 1945. Foreground: British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden (left) and Prime Minister Clement Attlee (right). Background: Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (center) and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (left).
Benn Steil is senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War. His previous book, the prize-winning Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order, was called “a triumph of economic and diplomatic history” by the Financial Times, “a superb history” by The Wall Street Journal, and “the gold standard on its subject” by TheNew York Times. He lives in New York with his wife and two boys.
"Trenchant and timely...builds intellectual excitement...Steil has written an ambitious, deeply researched narrative that not only delineates the interlocking gears of international politics and economics in early post-war Europe but also introduces a large cast of statesmen, spies and economists that perhaps only Dickens could have corralled with ease."—The New York Times Book Review
“[A] brilliant book...The story of the Marshall Plan has been recounted many times before, including by those who were its architects and thus, like Dean Acheson, “Present at the Creation.” But Mr. Steil’s is by far the best study yet, because it is so wise and so balanced in its judgments...The maturity and surety of Mr. Steil’s book is nowhere more in evidence than in his final chapter...“—Paul Kennedy, The Wall Street Journal
“This is a gripping, complex, and critically important story that is told with clarity and precision. The book is superbly documented and reflects an extraordinary level of research.”—Christian Science Monitor
"Benn Steil has made clarifying complex subjects a specialty: first with his well-received Battle of Bretton Woods, and now with this comprehensive history of the Marshall Plan. Drawing on an equally keen grasp of diplomacy, economics and grand strategy, Steil sets a new standard for our understanding, not just of the Cold War, but also the post-Cold War era, where the future of Europe and the role of the United States in it are once again at stake. An outstanding—and certainly timely—accomplishment.”—John Lewis Gaddis, Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History, Yale University
"The Marshall Plan is elegant in style and impressive in insights. Steil... has an enviable gift for presenting complex economic and geopolitical issues in crisp, readable prose."—Tony Barber, The Financial Times
“[B]ig, serious, and thoroughly intelligent . . . Steil embeds [the Marshall Plan] in a sharp and critical political history of the first years of the cold war itself. In his final chapters, he looks far beyond the period of the Marshall Plan and discusses parallels and contrasts with the twenty-first century scene.”—Neal Ascherson, New York Review of Books
“Even readers who consider themselves well-versed on what became the Marshall Plan will be gripped by the details in Benn Steil’s retelling of just how Mr. Truman’s idea became reality…Mr. Steil, an economist for the Council on Foreign Relations, is at his narrative best in recounting how the program was put together.”—Washington Times
"It may be hard to imagine someone hurrying home to curl up with a work of political history, but Benn Steil’s fascinating new book The Marshall Plan could change that. Steil, author of the acclaimed The Battle of Bretton Woods, has given us a thoroughly researched and well-written account of the crucial years of 1947-49 and formation of the Marshall Plan.... his expertise energizes his thoughtful and meticulous writing style....will appeal to history buffs in general and those seeking a definitive record of America’s first diplomatic confrontation with Soviet Russia in particular."—USA Today
“In his new book, Benn Steil tells a double story: that of the launch of the Marshall Plan, the unprecedented American program to help rebuild Europe after World War II, and also of the various Soviet attempts to thwart and counter it. Enlivened by brilliantly-wrought pen portraits, this gripping narrative adds a whole new perspective on one of the most fateful periods in world history.”—Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance
"A fresh perspective on the Marshall Plan....Though scholars have covered the subject many times before, general readers will do well to choose this lively, astute account....Steil writes a vivid, opinionated narrative full of colorful characters, dramatic scenarios, villains, and genuine heroes, and the good guys won. It will be the definitive account for years to come."—Kirkus, Starred Review
“The Marshall Plan is a remarkably insightful and beautifully written work of diplomatic and economic history. Leaders and pundits keep calling for new ‘Marshall Plans’ around the globe, but how many actually understand what the real one was about, how it was created, and what it achieved? This book will open eyes and minds.”—Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve
"Steil’s fresh perspective on a well-tilled subject will be appreciated by specialists for its wide-ranging analysis and welcomed by general readers for its engrossing style and accessibility."—Publisher’s Weekly
"[An] important examination of the Marshall Plan....an excellent recounting of an ambitious, huge program that helped rebuild and transform Europe."—Booklist
“Compelling, authoritative and lucid… Steil’s superb narrative combines diplomatic, economic and political history with descriptions of such episodes as the Berlin Airlift, along with vivid portraits of the diverse primary personalities… this dramatic and engaging account of one of the most complex but enduring achievements of American foreign policy deserves a wide readership.”—Bookpage
“The Marshall Plan has become a favorite analogy for policymakers. Yet few know much about it. Finally, Benn Steil provides a readable, authoritative account of what it was, what it did, and what it achieved.”—Graham T. Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School
“The Marshall Plan is one of the great success stories of U.S. foreign policy. Benn Steil’s well-researched and insightful account reminds us that this iconic example of strategic foresight and imagination was anything but inevitable. On the contrary, his book shows that the Plan’s creation, refinement, implementation, and eventual success required perseverance, political savvy, and plenty of plain good luck. The moral for our era is clear: successful foreign policies require creative and dedicated public servants and do not emerge without them.”—Stephen Walt, Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
“Compelling and authoritative, The Marshall Plan is a first-rate work of history. But it also bears powerfully on the present, reminding us that if soft power is the power to attract, the Marshall Plan is a stunningly successful example of it.”—Fredrik Logevall, Professor of International Affairs and History, Harvard University
“Benn Steil’s carefully researched new book reminds us of the economic uncertainties and political turmoil that surrounded U.S. foreign policy-making in the aftermath of World War II. In the end, the right choices were made, first in developing the Marshall Plan providing economic support for economically devastated European allies, and then building in NATO a strong Western military alliance. Here we are seventy years later in very different circumstances, economic and military. The United States and its allies are strongly challenged to find new approaches to renewing the alliances. May our leaders benefit from the practical wisdom and ideas of seventy years ago.”—Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve
“In this fascinating book, Benn Steil returns to one of the enduring achievements of American diplomacy: the Marshall Plan to rebuild European allies that were close to collapse after World War II. A lucid and engaging writer, Steil has a rare gift for blending economic and political history, showing how the Marshall Plan dashed Soviet hopes that the United States would retreat from Europe. At a time when the radical Trump administration is trashing American alliances around the globe, this book is a powerful reminder of how hard it was to build them, and how dangerous the world can be without them.”—Gary J. Bass, author of The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide
“Steil’s lucid reminder of US political history should . . . energize and focus citizens of democracies today, to help them recognize what a world in dramatic geopolitical flux in looks like. And how smart policy and strategy, well executed, can pay dividends for decades to come.”—The Cold War Daily
“[An] immensely erudite book.”—Literary Review
“Benn Steil’s fascinating book places the transformative design and huge impact of the Marshall Plan in the context of the early Cold War drama. Engaging, detailed, and well researched, it takes us behind closed doors in both Europe and the United States, illuminating how the plan was created and how it changed the world. The book’s relevance extends well beyond its new historical insights, showing how offshoots of the plan continue to shape modern-day Europe. It also sheds light on how open mindsets and intelligent economic architecture can help anchor an increasingly fluid and uncertain global economy.”—Mohamed El-Erian, Chief Economic Advisor at Allianz, former CEO of PIMCO, and author of The Only Game in Town
“An excellent new book…Steil's account picks its way through [the] arguments and counter-arguments with a quiet skill…Steil's mastery of both the sources and the narrative is exemplary.”—Keith Lowe, The Telegraph (UK)
“The Marshall Plan is a very good book, driven by a compelling narrative with excellent profiles of complicated, impressive people and institutions.”—The Washington Diplomat
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