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George F. Kennan: An American Life Hardcover – November 10, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


We can be grateful to John Lewis Gaddis for bringing Kennan back to us, thoughtful, human, self-centred, contradictory, inspirational - a permanent spur as consciences are wont to be. Masterfully researched, exhaustively documented, Gaddis's moving work gives us a figure with whom, however one might differ on details, it was a privilege to be a contemporary. -- Henry A. Kissinger New York Times Book Review Kennan's life maps right onto twentieth-century political history, and no one is better qualified than Gaddis to lead the way through it ... Gaddis has written with care and elegance, and he has produced a biography whose fineness is worthy of its subject. -- Louis Menand New Yorker Well worth the wait. George F. Kennan: An American Life works brilliantly as a piece of intellectual history, and as a biography of a fascinating and complex man. Fortunately, both Gaddis and Kennan write beautifully. -- Gideon Rachman Financial Times

About the Author

John Lewis Gaddis (born 1941 in Cotulla, Texas, U.S.) is a noted historian of the Cold War and grand strategy, who has been hailed as the "Dean of Cold War Historians" by the New York Times. Cold War (Allen Lane, 2006) was Waterstone's Book of the Month. He is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; First Edition edition (November 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594203121
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594203121
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

151 of 155 people found the following review helpful By Tiger CK on November 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What happens when one of the most gifted historians of the Cold War gains unprecedented access to the diaries and personal papers of one of the most influential statesmen of the twentieth century? Answer: A Pulitzer Prize worthy biography that sheds new light on George F. Kennan's life both in and outside of public service. There have been numerous other biographies of Kennan and his role in developing the Cold War policy of containment but no work to date has explored the connections between the public and private dimensions of Kennan's life with anything near the depth or insight of Gaddis's new biography.

Kennan was, in many ways, one of the most puzzling twentieth century statesmen. As an American diplomat stationed in Moscow at the dawn of the Cold War, Kennan wrote his famous "long telegram" that explained in detail the sources of Soviet conduct and laid out a plan for how the United States could counter Russian expansionism. The long telegram and Kennan's anonymously authored "X Article" both helped foreign policy makers to define and articulate a new approach to dealing with the Soviet threat. Yet despite his status as an architect of American containment policy, Kennan would eventually become a critic of many of the policies carried out in the name of the doctrine he had helped to create. Kennan argued strongly against crossing the 38th parallel during the Korean War and even more passionately against U.S. involvement in Vietnam both of which he saw as highly flawed applications of his doctrine.

Much of this has been covered before by other scholars, including John Lewis Gaddis. Indeed Gaddis's earlier work Strategies of Containment helped to illuminate both the depths and limits of Kennan's influence on American Cold War foreign policy.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A. Jogalekar VINE VOICE on December 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
During his long life, George Frost Kennan had insights into history, international relations, Soviet psychology and American foreign policy that were unmatched among his peers. He was a multifaceted individual who excelled at many things, among them diplomacy, history, writing and farming. And he had a complex relationship with a country whose national interests he did so much to delineate and channel. John Lewis Gaddis brings us a panoramic and definitive biography of this great American that excels in three ways.

Firstly, it does an excellent job of giving us the bare facts. For more than twenty years Gaddis was intimately connected to the Kennan family as a biographer and friend. This has allowed him to gather a mountain of information from Kennan's copious diaries, interviews with him and his family members, colleagues and friends, and foreign and domestic policy documents from the era that Kennan lived in. Added to this vast repository is Gaddis's own treasure trove of expertise, drawn from his long career as one of America's most important Cold War Historians. Thus he has accurate and well-written accounts of all important episodes in Kennan's life including his intimate familiarity with Russia, his famous long telegram and "Mr. X" article in Foreign Affairs leading to the strategy of containment, his increasing disillusionment with Cold War policy, his second career as a historian and his waning years as a sharp critic of American politics. Wherever possible Gaddis always lets Kennan speak in his own voice.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on December 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In 1981, George Kennan agreed to cooperate with the eminent historian of the Cold War, John Lewis Gaddis, in the writing of the biography of his life. Little did Gaddis know then that he would have to wait for many years to see his volume published, since Kennan had one condition for Gaddis: that the biography could be published only after Kennan's death. In fact, Kennan died when he was 101 years old and now we can finally read this magnificent and brilliantly written book, which offers many insights into the mind and deed of one of the most famous Cold Warriors.
The book is extremely long and has 700 pages of text, followed by more than seveny pages of detailed notes. It is not an easy read but it captivates you from its very beginning.
After the first two chapters which describe Kennan's childhood and education, the author starts depicting in great detail the diplomatic life on Kennan. Most of the time Kennan did not live in the United States due to the nature of his work and career, which started in 1926. He married Annelise Sorensen in 1931 and had two prematurely appointments as Ambassador to the Soviet Union and then to Yugoslavia.
However, the best two reference points in Kennan's life would be the famous "Long Telegram" and the "Foreign Affairs" article signed "X". These two things brought him to the limelight of the Col War diplomatic world. The first one, known as the "Long Telegram" was indeed more than five thousands words long(but not eight thousand, as it was presumed hitherto) and came in five parts. This he did by dictating it to his secretary while he was ill and in bed. In it, Kennan explained to the State Department and to the whole world that Russia was always beset by a fear of the outside world. Paranoia, if you would like it.
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