No American statesman has been as revered or as reviled as Henry Kissinger. Once hailed as Super K the indispensable man whose advice has been sought by every president from Kennedy to Obama he has also been hounded by conspiracy theorists, scouring his every telcon for evidence of Machiavellian malfeasance. Read more...
No American statesman has been as revered or as reviled as Henry Kissinger. Once hailed as Super K the indispensable man whose advice has been sought by every president from Kennedy to Obama he has also been hounded by conspiracy theorists, scouring his every telcon for evidence of Machiavellian malfeasance. Yet as Niall Ferguson shows in this magisterial two-volume biography, drawing not only on Kissinger s hitherto closed private papers but also on documents from more than a hundred archives around the world, the idea of Kissinger as the ruthless arch-realist is based on a profound misunderstanding.
The first half of Kissinger s life is usually skimmed over as a quintessential tale of American ascent: the Jewish refugee from Hitler s Germany who made it to the White House. But in this first of two volumes, Ferguson shows that what Kissinger achieved before his appointment as Richard Nixon s national security adviser was astonishing in its own right. Toiling as a teenager in a New York factory, he studied indefatigably at night. He was drafted into the U.S. infantry and saw action at the Battle of the Bulge as well as the liberation of a concentration camp but ended his army career interrogating Nazis. It was at Harvard that Kissinger found his vocation. Having immersed himself in the philosophy of Kant and the diplomacy of Metternich, he shot to celebrity by arguing for limited nuclear war. Nelson Rockefeller hired him. Kennedy called him to Camelot. Yet Kissinger s rise was anything but irresistible. Dogged by press gaffes and disappointed by Rocky, Kissinger seemed stuck until a trip to Vietnam changed everything.
The Idealist is the story of one of the most important strategic thinkers America has ever produced. It is also a political Bildungsroman, explaining how Dr. Strangelove ended up as consigliere to a politician he had always abhorred. Like Ferguson s classic two-volume history of the House of Rothschild, Kissinger sheds dazzling new light on an entire era. The essential account of an extraordinary life, it recasts the Cold War world."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-08-10
- Reviewer: Staff
In the first of a planned two-volume Henry Kissinger biography, Harvard historian Ferguson (Civilization: The West and the Rest) traces Kissinger’s life from his birth in Germany in 1923 through his service in WWII and growing career as a foreign policy expert, culminating in his 1968 appointment as national security advisor to newly elected President Richard Nixon. To readers’ benefit, this is as much a history of post-WWII and Cold War foreign policy as a biography of Kissinger. Jumping off from Kissinger’s high-level involvement in the 1961 Berlin Crisis and his role as an advisor in the early years of the Vietnam War, Ferguson offers a detailed and provocative examination of how foreign policy is developed in the midst of theoretical and political crosscurrents. Kissinger’s views on Vietnam and his involvement in several failed Johnson administration Vietnam peace initiatives provide a deeper dimension to the complexities of American Vietnam policy. Ferguson also takes ample time to describe the Machiavellian jockeying for influence and power among high-end government officials. There is little discussion of Kissinger’s personal life, and readers looking for such detail or psychological speculations will be disappointed. Some may see this complicated, generally admiring view of Kissinger as overly generous, but Ferguson endeavors to provide nuance around Kissinger’s approaches to the challenges of Cold War foreign policy. Agency: Wylie Agency. (Oct.)