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John Lewis Gaddis

John Lewis Gaddis American historian of the Cold War (b.1941)

American historian of the Cold War (b.1941)
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American historian of the Cold War (b.1941)
A.K.A. Gaddis, John Gaddis, J. L. Gaddis
Countries United States of America
Occupations Writer Historian Biographer Professor Educator
Type Academia Literature Science Social science
Gender male
Birth 2 April 1941 (Cotulla)
Star sign AriesAries
Residence Greater New Haven
Education University of Texas at Austin
The details

John Lewis Gaddis (born 1941) is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University. He is best known for his work on the Cold War and grand strategy, and has been hailed as the "Dean of Cold War Historians" by The New York Times. Gaddis is also the official biographer of the seminal 20th-century American statesman George F. Kennan. George F. Kennan: An American Life (2011), his biography of Kennan, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.


Gaddis was born in Cotulla, Texas, in 1941. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, receiving his BA in 1963, MA in 1965, and PhD in 1968, the latter under the direction of Robert Divine. Gaddis then taught briefly at Indiana University Southeast, before joining Ohio University in 1969. At Ohio, he founded and directed the Contemporary History Institute, and was named a distinguished professor in 1983.

In the 1975–77 academic years, Gaddis was a Visiting Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College. In the 1992–93 academic year, he was the Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History at Oxford. He has also held visiting positions at Princeton University and the University of Helsinki. He served as president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations in 1992.

In 1997, he moved to Yale University to become the Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History. In the 2000–01 academic year, Gaddis was the George Eastman Professor at Oxford, the second scholar (after Robin Winks) to have the honor of being both Eastman and Harmsworth professor. In 2005, he received the National Humanities Medal. He sits on the advisory committee of the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project, which he helped establish in 1991. Gaddis is also known for his close relationship with the late George Kennan and his wife, whom Gaddis described as "my companions".


Gaddis is probably the best known historian writing in English about the Cold War. Perhaps his most famous work is the highly influential Strategies of Containment (1982; rev. 2005), which analyzes in detail the theory and practice of containment that was employed against the Soviet Union by Cold War American presidents, but his 1983 distillation of post-revisionist scholarship similarly became a major channel for guiding subsequent Cold War research.

We Now Know (1997), presented an analysis of the Cold War through to the Cuban Missile Crisis that incorporated new archival evidence from the Soviet bloc. Fellow historian Melvyn Leffler named it as "likely to set the parameters for a whole new generation of scholarship", It was also praised as "the first coherent and sustained attempt to write the Cold War's history since it ended." Nonetheless, Leffler observed that the most distinctive feature of We Now Know is the extent to which Gaddis "abandons post-revisionism and returns to a more traditional interpretation of the Cold War."

The Cold War (2005), praised by John Ikenberry as a "beautifully written panoramic view of the Cold War, full of illuminations and shrewd judgments," was described as an examination of the history and effects of the Cold War in a more removed context than had been previously possible, and won Gaddis the 2006 Harry S. Truman Book Prize. Critics were less impressed, with Tony Judt summarising the book as "a history of America's cold war: as seen from America, as experienced in America, and told in a way most agreeable to many American readers."

His 2011 biography of George Kennan garnered multiple prizes, including a Pulitzer.

John Nagl, in the Wall Street Journal, wrote of Gaddis's 2018 book On Grand Strategy as "a book that should be read by every American leader or would-be leader".

Gaddis is known for arguing that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's personality and role in history constituted one of the most important causes of the Cold War. Within the field of U.S. diplomatic history, he was originally most associated with the concept of post-revisionism, the idea of moving past the revisionist and orthodox interpretations of the origins of the Cold War to embrace what were (in the 1970s) interpretations based upon the then-growing availability of government documents from the United States, Great Britain and other western government archives. Due to his growing focus on Stalin and leanings toward US nationalism, Gaddis is now widely seen as more orthodox than post-revisionist. The revisionist Bruce Cumings had a high profile debate with Gaddis in the 1990s, where Cumings criticized Gaddis as moralistic and lacking in objectivity.

Political positions

Gaddis is close to President George W. Bush, making suggestions to his speech writers, and has been described as an "overt admirer" of the 43rd President. After leaving office, Bush took up painting as a hobby at Gaddis's recommendation.

During the US invasion of Iraq, Gaddis argued: “The world now must be made safe for democracy, and this is no longer just an idealistic issue; it’s an issue of our own safety.” During the United States occupation of Iraq, Gaddis asserted that Bush had established America “as a more powerful and purposeful actor within the international system than it had been on September 11, 2001.” Historian James Chace argues that Gaddis supports an "informal imperial policy abroad." Gaddis believes that preventive war is a constructive part of American tradition, and that there is no meaningful difference between preventive and pre-emptive war.


"You can't gobble all your treats on Halloween without throwing up."

Awards and distinctions

U.S. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush standing with 2005 National Humanities Medal recipient John Lewis Gaddis on November 10, 2005 in the Oval Office at the White House.

Selected publications


  • On Grand Strategy. New York, New York: The Penguin Press. 2018. ISBN 978-1-594-20351-0.
  • George F. Kennan: An American Life. New York, NY: The Penguin Press. 2011. ISBN 978-1-594-20312-1.
  • The Cold War: A New History. New York, NY: The Penguin Press. 2005. ISBN 978-1-594-20062-5. US edition
    The Cold War. London: Allen Lane. 2005. ISBN 978-0-713-99912-9. UK edition
  • Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2004. ISBN 978-0-674-01174-8.
  • The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2002. ISBN 978-0-195-06652-4.
  • (Co-editor with Philip H. Gordon, Ernest R. May and Jonathan Rosenberg). Cold War Statesmen Confront the Bomb: Nuclear Diplomacy Since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999. ISBN 978-0-198-29468-9.
  • We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1997. ISBN 978-0-198-78070-0.
  • The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations and Provocations. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 1992. ISBN 978-0-195-05201-5.
  • The Long Peace: Inquiries into the History of the Cold War. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 1987. ISBN 978-0195043365.
  • Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2005 [1982]. ISBN 978-0195174489.
  • Russia, the Soviet Union and the United States: An Interpretive History. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. 1990 [1978]. ISBN 978-0-075-57258-9.
  • The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 2000 [1972]. ISBN 978-0-231-12239-9.

Articles and chapters

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