from Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies

The Marshall Plan

Dawn of the Cold War

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.

Book
Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

More on:

Political History and Theory

Economics

U.S. Foreign Policy

Russia

In the wake of World War II, with Britain’s empire collapsing and Stalin's on the rise, U.S. 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 U.S.-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.

Up

Reviews and Endorsements

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 Reviews (starred review)

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 of 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

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, author of Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

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

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 and author of The Only Game in Town

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

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, Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs, 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

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, Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

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

Explore More on CFR

Lebanon

Saudi Arabia pressed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign to try to weaken Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. The path to resolving the crisis could run through Yemen.

Zimbabwe

Global

A growing number of countries are legalizing same-sex marriage amid a steady advance in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, but opposition remains strong in many countries.