From Publishers Weekly
Although Acheson (1893–1971) was a life-long Democrat who served four presidents, Harry Truman's flamboyant and sharp-tongued secretary of state is admired on the right as an architect of American Cold War foreign policy, most famously for the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan. Historian Beisner's exhaustive treatment of Acheson's long, influential career reveals the tangled roots of contemporary policy and political discourse—especially the purported links between the unilateral projection of American might and our national security—during and after WWII. A crucial and complex figure, Acheson was not the earliest "cold warrior," though later among the staunchest, and not easily reduced to left or right in the conflict's dissonant strategic and moral calculus. A deep wariness with regard to the atomic bomb, for instance, did not necessarily temper his involvement in developing U.S. nuclear arms policy, including deployment of the more powerful H-bomb. His early urging of engagement in Vietnam later gave way to counseling Johnson to end it. Chronicling rather than criticizing the assumptions undergirding the postwar period's rapidly evolving bipolar order, this thorough biography offers insight into perhaps one of the least understood fields of government action at the outset of a momentous era that's still, in many respects, very much underway. (Sept.)
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Beisner's diplomatic history of Dean Acheson, President Harry Truman's secretary of state, is comprehensive yet not solely of scholarly interest. It sifts Acheson's record at the State Department and yields a positive assessment with a few caveats. Beisner questions Acheson's decisions during the Korean War, particularly in encouraging Truman to approve the military advance to the China-Korea border that ended in disaster. Explaining that Acheson was an Atlanticist who knew little about Asia, Beisner writes more approvingly about his role in establishing institutions such as NATO. His diplomatic strategies in reviving a prostrate Western Europe against an obstreperous Soviet Union form the bulk of the narrative. Aristocratic in appearance and accent, Acheson did not suffer fools gladly, whether Communists or congressmen. In addition to detailing his pungency, Beisner also discusses Acheson's attitude toward power and his loyalty to Truman. Significant cold-war historiography that merits the consideration of larger libraries. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved