In 1951 Gaines Post was a gangly, bespectacled, introspective teenager preparing to spend a year in Paris with his professorial father and older brother; his mother, who suffered from extreme depression, had been absent from the family for some time. Ten years later, now less gangly but no less introspective, he was finishing a two-year stint in the army in West Germany and heading toward Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, having narrowly escaped combat in the Berlin crisis of 1961. His quietly intense coming-of-age story is both self-revealing and reflective of an entire generation of young men who came to adulthood before the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.
Post's experiences in high school in Madison, Wisconsin, and Paris, his Camus-influenced undergraduate years at Cornell University, and his army service in Germany are set very effectively against the events of the Cold War. McCarthyism and American crackdowns on dissidents, American foreign and military policy in Western Europe in the nuclear age, French and German life and culture, crises in Paris and Berlin that nearly bring the West to war and the Post family to dissolution—these are the larger scenes and subjects of his self-disclosure as a contemplative, conflicted "Cold War agnostic."
His intelligent, talented mother and her fragile health hover over Post's narrative, informing his hesitant relationships with women and his acutely questioning sense of self-worth. His story is strongly academic and historical as well as political and military; his perceptions and judgments lean toward no ideological extreme but remain true to the heroic ideals of his boyhood during the Second World War.
“One of the best books I've read in a good while…clear-eyed, thoughtful, honest, and often very moving. As one of the same generation as the author, I found myself saying again and again, yes, this is how it was back then—back when we were inside that extremely different time.”—David McCullough
“This beautifully written memoir offers a historian's incisive perspective on the cold war years…Post interweaves autobiography and history with great charm and wit to produce an engaging account of the post-World War II generation.”—James M. McPherson
“Gaines Post's Memoirs of a Cold War Son views an almost forgotten era in recent American history. He makes us remember what young Americans were like in postwar Paris, how they felt about the Berlin crisis and the building of the wall…An important historical record.”—Jill Ker Conway
“Post deftly weaves together analysis of the legacy of WWII and the intellectual currents of the '50s and early '60s (Camus, Sartre, McCarthy, Kennedy) with his own deeply personal rememberances…Post has written an unflinchingly honest and moving description of his moral and intellectual development at an important time in history. This is a valuable book about a generation who never really got their due since, as someone once put it to Post, 'there are no real 'Cold War' medals.'”—Publishers Weekly
“This coming-of-age story about a boy who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s is easy to read and to identify with … Suitable for all academic and public libraries.”—Daniel K. Blewett, Library Journal
“The best memoirs provide through one life story a glimpse into the lives of a generation; such is the case in this well-written account of the formative years in the life of a Cold War agnostic…It is not only a good read for the general public, but also a useful text for historians delving into the complexities of the early Cold War.”—Reynolds S. Kiefer, Wisconsin Magazine of History