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Home > Catalog > The Cold War and the United States Information Agency
The Cold War and the United States Information Agency


  • 10 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 600 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 1.16 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521819978)

  • Also available in Paperback
  • Published June 2008

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$155.00 (P)

Published at a time when the U.S. government’s public diplomacy is in crisis, this book provides an exhaustive account of how it used to be done. The United States Information Agency was created in 1953 to “tell America’s story to the world” and, by engaging with the world through international information, broadcasting, culture and exchange programs, became an essential element of American foreign policy during the Cold War. Based on newly declassified archives and more than 100 interviews with veterans of public diplomacy, from the Truman administration to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nicholas J. Cull relates both the achievements and the endemic flaws of American public diplomacy in this period. Major topics include the process by which the Truman and Eisenhower administrations built a massive overseas propaganda operation; the struggle of the Voice of America radio to base its output on journalistic truth; the challenge of presenting Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, and Watergate to the world; and the climactic confrontation with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. This study offers remarkable and new insights into the Cold War era.


Prologue: the foundations of US information overseas; 1. Getting the sheep to speak: the Truman years, 1945–53; 2. Mobilizing 'the P-Factor': Eisenhower and the birth of the USIA, 1953–6; 3. In the shadow of Sputnik: the second Eisenhower administration, 1957–61; 4. Inventing truth: the Kennedy administration, 1961–3; 5. Maintaining confidence: the early Johnson years, 1963–5; 6. 'My radio station': the Johnson administration, 1965–9; 7. Surviving détente: the Nixon years, 1969–74; 8. A new beginning: the Ford administration, 1974–7; 9. From the 'two-way' mandate to the second Cold War: the Carter administration, 1977–81; 10. 'Project Truth': the first Reagan administration, 1981–4; 11. Showdown: the second Reagan administration, 1985–9; Epilogue: victory and the strange death of the USIA, 1989–99; Conclusion: trajectories, maps, and lessons from the past of US public diplomacy.

Prize Winner

Choice Outstanding Academic Title -- 2009


"At a time when public diplomacy is more important than ever before, Nick Cull has provided a comprehensive examination that should be of great value to professionals, scholars, and concerned citizens. Thoroughly researched and clearly organized, the book illuminates the evolution of public diplomacy in the United States during the Cold War, highlights successes and failures, and suggests lessons for the future."
-Melvyn P. Leffler, Stettinius Professor of American History, University of Virginia

"American soft power has recently been in decline, yet we used public diplomacy as a key instrument of soft power during the Cold War decades. This important book tells the story of how we did it, and what we need to do it again."
-Joseph S. Nye, Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard, and author of The Powers to Lead

"Although U.S. capabilities in public diplomacy have withered over the past decade, The Cold War and the United States Information Agency suggests the importance of examining the lessons that might be learned from earlier successes and failures of 'soft power.' Drawing on prodigious archival research and engagingly written, Cull presents the first comprehensive history and assessment of the varied elements that comprised the USIA’s mission to tell “America’s story to the world.” He consistently weaves insightful analysis into an engrossing and timely narrative."
-Emily S. Rosenberg, University of California, Irvine

"In The Cold War and the United States Information Agency, Nick Cull has written the definitive history of U.S. public diplomacy. It is a masterwork, meticulously researched and engagingly written, and should be required reading for anyone who cares about U.S. foreign policy."
-Kristin M. Lord Associate Dean, Elliot School of International Relations, The George Washington University

"Nicholas Cull's comprehensive history of USIA begins by clarifying what is meant by "public diplomacy." This is a great service, because since 9/11 every committee, think tank, advisory board and broom closet in Washington has published a report on the topic... none cuts through the semantic muddle as deftly as Mr. Cull."
-Martha Bayles, Wall Street Journal

"This work by Cull (public diplomacy, U. of Southern California) is a Cold War history of the United States Information Agency, privileging the high politics of public diplomacy and political appointees over the work of career veterans in the bureaucracy and in the field." -Reference & Research Book News

"Nicholas Cull...has written a well-researched, comprehensive book on the history of the US Information Agency (USIA). It is the first, and so far only, work that relies heavily on documentary sources rather than the personal recollections of a former USIA officer. It is unique, and scholars as well as practitioners of public diplomacy will want to read this insightful and well-written book...." -Walter R. Roberts, Mediterranean Quarterly

"Exhaustively researched, lucidly written with an obvious enthusiasm for the subject, The Cold War and the US Information Agency deserves to become a standard text of public diplomacy." -Lawrence Raw, Journal of Popular Culture

"Cull’s masterful history will be the gold standard in scholarship on USIA." -Bruce Gregory, Naval War College Review

"Highly recommended." -Choice

"Cull's prodigious research, clear writing, and sweeping scope are quite impressive." -Laura A. Belmonte, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

"...a volume crammed with local color and colorful characters that moves along at a jaunty clip. For readers seeking a compendious account of the USIA's fitful rise and precipitous demise this study will provide invaluable: a definitive institutional history, exhaustive in its coverage of bureaucratic maneuverings, missions espoused, and mandates reversed." -Susan L. Carruthers, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

"This is an authoritative study. The research that went into it bumps the needle up to somewhere between 'thorough' and 'extreme.'" -Richard Freid, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

"...Cull offers an insightful conclusion to his work, summarizing not only the successes and failures of the USIA but also drawing interesting and sometimes controversial conclusions of his own about the future of public diplomacy in America's foreign relations." -Michael L. Krenn, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

"Nicholas Cull's magisterial history of the USIA is...a sorely needed account that fills a colossal gap in the historical literature. Scholars all too casually use the word 'prodigious' to describe the research of books they review, but Cull's book truly matches this description." -Kenneth Osgood, H-Diplo Roundtable Reviews

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