George F. Kennan: An American Life
John Lewis Gaddis
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year
Drawing on extensive interviews with George Kennan and exclusive access to his archives, an eminent scholar of the Cold War delivers a revelatory biography of its troubled mastermind.
In the late 1940s, George Kennan wrote two documents, the "Long Telegram" and the "X Article," which set forward the strategy of containment that would define U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union for the next four decades. This achievement alone would qualify him as the most influential American diplomat of the Cold War era. But he was also an architect of the Marshall Plan, a prizewinning historian, and would become one of the most outspoken critics of American diplomacy, politics, and culture during the last half of the twentieth century. Now the full scope of Kennan's long life and vast influence is revealed by one of today's most important Cold War scholars.
Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis began this magisterial history almost thirty years ago, interviewing Kennan frequently and gaining complete access to his voluminous diaries and other personal papers. So frank and detailed were these materials that Kennan and Gaddis agreed that the book would not appear until after Kennan's death. It was well worth the wait: the journals give this book a breathtaking candor and intimacy that match its century-long sweep.
We see Kennan's insecurity as a Midwesterner among elites at Princeton, his budding dissatisfaction with authority and the status quo, his struggles with depression, his gift for satire, and his sharp insights on the policies and people he encountered. Kennan turned these sharp analytical gifts upon himself, even to the point of regularly recording dreams. The result is a remarkably revealing view of how this greatest of Cold War strategists came to doubt his strategy and always doubted himself.
This is a landmark work of history and biography that reveals the vast influence and rich inner landscape of a life that both mirrored and shaped the century it spanned.
foreigner in the city. A dinner conversation, joined by Bohlen, stretched on until two in the morning, with Berlin convinced that the Soviet leadership saw conflict with the West as unavoidable. Did they not realize, Kennan wondered, that if a conflict came about, it would be because of their own belief in its inevitability? Berlin thought not: “They would view it as inevitable through the logic of the development of social forces.” Friends would discover in time that they were enemies, “even
telegram, in contrast, projected fierce self-confidence in clear prose with relentless logic. It qualified nothing, advanced no alternatives, and made no apologies for seeing everything in a single snapshot. It was the geopolitical equivalent of a medical X-ray, penetrating beneath alarming symptoms to yield at first clarity, then comprehension, and finally by implication a course of treatment. The clarity came from Kennan’s demonstration—it was more than just a claim—that victory in war and
is a source of great satisfaction to me that I have been able, with the loyal and effective support of the other officers here, to assist you in your heavy responsibility at this difficult period,” Kennan replied to Byrnes. “I have been associated with this Mission on and off since its inception, and no one—I think—has its interests more keenly at heart.” If the department really wanted him to stay through June, he would do so to the extent that his health permitted. But he warned Durbrow that it
administrations, each of whom intervened in Latin America in ways well beyond anything Kennan recommended. It’s hard to see how the policy he suggested would have produced worse results. Two things made Kennan’s report unacceptable, though, even by the standards of his own day. One was his outsider’s perspective, which upset the State Department’s Latin American experts, much as he would have been upset if forced to read a report from one of them on the Soviet Union or Germany. Crude looks at
calling on them to reconsider it. That is why Adenauer complained to Eisenhower on December 17, “with some impatience” as the official record understated it, about “the recent lectures by George Kennan which unfortunately had made quite an impression.” The opposition newspapers were “quick to pick up this kind of thing.” Eisenhower agreed explosively—no small matter in a man upon whose blood pressure the fate of the West appeared to depend:The President said that nothing could be more wicked for