World Policy Journal editor James Chace has produced a balanced, intricate portrait of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, one of the chief architects of America's foreign policy in the mid-20th century. Starting with Acheson's childhood as a preacher's son in Connecticut, Chace traces his subject's rise through Yale and Harvard Law School (where he shared a house with several classmates, including a pre-Broadway Cole Porter), a two-year stint as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis's law clerk, and key roles in the Departments of Treasury and State under FDR.
But it was Harry Truman who, upon being reelected in 1948, rewarded Acheson with the offer of secretary of state, a position he took with some initial reluctance, protesting that he was not adequate to the requirements of the job at such a critical juncture in history. He proved himself wrong with his decisive role in the shaping of the Truman Doctrine and the NATO alliance, averting war with the Soviet bloc on the European front. But, as Chace shows, Acheson's efforts were not as effective in China and Korea. And there were domestic problems as well; Acheson and his department were a particular target of the anticommunist witch-hunt even before Sen. Joseph McCarthy got in on the act. Chace's richly detailed narrative is particularly effective in placing Acheson's marginal role in the Alger Hiss affair in its proper context while highlighting Acheson's personal integrity in the matter.
After 1953, Acheson remained an outspoken commentator on America's foreign policy, frequently criticizing Eisenhower's reliance on nuclear weaponry, and serving in an advisory capacity to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the latter of whom took Acheson's advice to get out of Vietnam to heart. Acheson even had occasion to advise Richard Nixon, who had accused the secretary in 1952 of heading a "Cowardly College of Communist Containment," although he broke with Nixon after the president ordered the bombing of Cambodia. Chace's account of Acheson's life and career is as lively as it is intelligent, a well-crafted story that provides the reader with much insight into the unintended origins of the cold war. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
The blazing career of Dean Acheson (1893-1971), American statesman, secretary of state under Truman and political pragmatist par excellence, is vibrantly brought to life against the tumult of a rapidly changing political arena in this superbly written and erudite biography. The son of a Conn. Episcopalian clergyman, the obstreperous Acheson attended Groton (where he finished last in his class), then Yale College and Harvard Law School, and joined the Navy for the duration of WWI. After clerking for Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Acheson, a staunch Democrat, entered government under the New Deal, becoming undersecretary of the Treasury in 1933. Though a legal dispute with FDR about the pricing of gold led to his resignation, he lobbied for FDR's reelection, worked for the State Department during the war and was appointed undersecretary of state by Truman, becoming instrumental in the implementation of both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Following Truman's upset reelection in 1948, he was named secretary of state, a job consumed by crisis: the creation of NATO, the Communist takeover of mainland China and the beginning of the Korean War. Leaving office in 1953 he became a senior statesman, urging JFK to appoint Dean Rusk as head of the State Department (which he came to regret), taking a hawkish stance on the Cuban missile crisis and advising LBJ on Vietnam, laying the foundations, Chace writes, "for the American predominance at the end of the 20th century." A professor at Bard College, Chace (The Consequences of Peace) commands this broad historical canvas?which includes vivid portraits of FDR, Truman, Adlai Stevenson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Archibald MacLeish and Cole Porter?with an expert hand.
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