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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Civilized Man
This remarkable book is both an act of filial piety and a reference point for future historians: Kennan must be taken seriously, must endure, and must be seen at least as one of the important ships in a small--and not growing-- flotilla of great American statesmen. Lukacs performs a service of recovery amidst the detritus of current American policies, in showing with...
Published on June 5, 2008 by Jas. Murphy

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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eulogy
A close friend looks back with respect and fondness over the long span of the intellectual life of Mr. Kennan, one of our nation's most distinguished diplomats and foreign policy experts. Important insights into the grand history of the Cold War are presented in this short volume. But this, as the author repeatedly states, is in no way a full biography.

A rare...
Published on April 21, 2007 by Christian Schlect


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Eulogy, April 21, 2007
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Christian Schlect (Yakima, Washington/USA) - See all my reviews
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A close friend looks back with respect and fondness over the long span of the intellectual life of Mr. Kennan, one of our nation's most distinguished diplomats and foreign policy experts. Important insights into the grand history of the Cold War are presented in this short volume. But this, as the author repeatedly states, is in no way a full biography.

A rare (but mild) criticism is expressed by Professor Lukas of Mr. Kennan's written evaluation of a German leader: "...Kennan's admiration for Bismark is unstinting. He esteems and defends the German chancellor throughout." (p. 171) This can be as well said of this book's near deification of George Kennan.

While I admire Professor Lukas' previous work, I do think he is too blindingly close to his subject for objectivity. My case for this view is made when Professor Lukas closes by linking the greatness of this American life, by a direct allusion, to that of Abraham Lincoln's: "Now he belongs to the ages."
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Civilized Man, June 5, 2008
This remarkable book is both an act of filial piety and a reference point for future historians: Kennan must be taken seriously, must endure, and must be seen at least as one of the important ships in a small--and not growing-- flotilla of great American statesmen. Lukacs performs a service of recovery amidst the detritus of current American policies, in showing with great subtlety how men of wisdom once took a considered if not pure approach to diplomatic relations, and how the amorphous beast of public opinion, embodied in Congressional representatives more than ever subject to the vicissitudes of polls and "focus groups", influenced and continue to influence--and frustrate--statecraft.
Kennan represented a rare strain in the American character, a man deeply immersed in European civilization, history, and languages, aware of America's profound European roots, who put the sum of his knowledge to use in addressing deep questions going to the heart of the American experience, teasing out the tensions inherent in the various strands of the American outlook. Remarkably, Kennan's greatest enduring influence came perhaps in the second fifty years of his life through his writings and lectures, a massive outpouring before which even a historian of Lukacs's extraordinary capabilities stands in awe.
Kennan was remarkably consistent throughout his life in maintaining that America does not represent a Chosen Nation destined to lead mankind from darkness, that, in John Adams's words, "we are friends of liberty all over the world; but we do not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy". If this saying has been too-oft quoted by opponents of the invasion of Iraq who, despite their unqualified support for JFK's abstract principles of intervention, which I have not heard repudiated by a single self-styled liberal, then we must understand it in the context of Kennan's views: he advocated firmness when called for, in responding to the North Korean incursion into South Korea, in providing detailed proposals to create demilitarized and denuclearized zones in Western Europe and to end the partition of Germany, not to say his firmness in standing up to "anti anticommunism" during the witch hunts of Senator McCarthy, while recognizing that communists and their sympathizers had indeed infiltrated the US government to a degree. In short, he did not hesitate to assert American interests nor shrink from recommending the judicious deployment of American military power. While his famous "X" article described a political strategy, he was also aware that the ability to apply force is a necessary, if not sufficient condition of any containment policy.
As Lukacs makes clear, Kennan recognized the duality running through American politics, itself drawing at its source from the very New England qualities that Kennan professed to admire and of which he himself was partly a product. If his soul and intellect were haunted by an older, deeper Scots and European pessimism, he was also a product of the Middle West, and possessed very American traits, although a progressivist instinct may not have been among these despite his Wisconsin provenance. This grounding led him to be unafraid to criticize excessiveness or the "legalistic moralistic" character of much of American foreign policy. In the current atmosphere of conservative triumphalism where the history of the Cold War is interpreted through the lens of an American "victory", Kennan punctures these reprehensible pretentions by pointing out that, "The suggestion that any American administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous political upheaval, in another great country on another side of the globe is intrinsically silly and childish" (all quotation are drawn from the Lukacs book).
Amidst the theme and variations of post-war US policy toward the Soviet Union, apparently formed from reading Dr. Benjamin Spock on child-rearing, Kennan saw clearly and consistently that the Soviet Union was not a "fit ally or associate, actual or potential, for [the United States]", a pronouncement he made at the outset of WWII and which he repeated for many years after. Thus, détente, the "Evil Empire", and other variations of US policy had, despite the best efforts of neoconservative writers to lead us to believe otherwise, little impact on a Soviet Union that Kennan recognized early on had, by Stalin's time, fundamentally shifted course from Marxism-Leninism to despotism and lacked the resources or will to endure as a Communist state. Early evidence of this came in the post-war period as the USSR pulled back from Finland and Austria, and demonstrated its weakness through interventions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, among other actions.
Kennan was equally sceptical of what is now called "global governance", including the formation of the United Nations; viewed the Yalta "Declaration of Liberated Europe" as "deplorable, [a] sham, and useless" (Lukacs's words) because Eastern Europe fell within Russia's sphere of influence; and was highly critical of the "American (and neo-Wilsonian) belief that a new international institution such as the United Nations was of paramount importance" (p. 65). He remained persuaded throughout his lifetime that "national and state interests were and would remain more powerful than any international organization dedicated to assure some kind of unchanging peace". Later, he opposed the expansion of NATO to Eastern Europe, referring to it as a disastrous mistake.
At the same time, he saw a consistent thread running through the policies of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Bush, and Clinton, and continued in the current Bush presidency: a naive liberal interventionist mentality to secure questionable gains, usually at a high cost. It is useful to ponder Kennan's perspective when insisting too acutely on major differences in Democratic and Republican approaches to foreign policy, remembering that restraint, moderation, and measured analysis, all qualities that Kennan exemplified in his life as a practitioner and a historian, do not appear to be embedded in either party's approach to the world.
As an undergraduate I read the first volume of Kennan's Memoirs in a summer course in diplomatic history, ably taught by Professor Clifford Egan at the University of Houston. Among hundreds of books read in college, the vividness of some of Kennan's prose continued to recur in my mind for years after, despite not having picked up the book since 1973. Lukacs insists throughout his study on Kennan's qualities as a writer as well as his brilliance as an historian and researcher, and Lukacs's own prose is the equal of Kennan's. His concentrated "character study" in fact points the way to further serious research for historians, though this research is not likely to be undertaken as waves of fads sweep through the profession, if not the practice of historical scholarship and writing, obviating the need to "do" history in favour of constructing frameworks and "theories" whose theoretical underpinnings are of the weakest sort.
Kennan's life and work span the twentieth century, a remarkable life, yet leaving us with a legacy that must be accounted for and drawn upon if America is to achieve its promise. This is not likely to happen, of course, given the midgets who now propose to lead us. They possess the most detailed knowledge of the opinions of voters in each and every county across the country, now represented in a colouring book cartoon of America with red, purple, and blue, yet lack the slightest insight into foreign affairs, history, or the lives of other peoples far away, not to say any mastery of other languages or cultures. More distressingly, they are not unrepresentative of America at this moment in history, when many of the most civilized have put aside judgment in favour of passion, wisdom in favour of ideology. In so doing, our putative and potential leaders and their supporters have no claim upon our loyalties and deserve to be held to the high standard of accountability upon which Kennan insisted. As Kennan might have agreed, the foreign policy questions that are most vital and of most immediate moment are questions about America, not about our enemies and rivals.
Even with Kennan's constant global travels, capacity for research (and his love of library culture, which he saw as one of America's distinctive contributions to civilization), and seemingly unlimited energy for writing, his lectures, speeches, and even a later role under Kennedy as ambassador to Yugoslavia, he maintained a small farm in Pennsylvania, and regularly sailed the Norwegian fjords around his family's summer home, indulging in his nostalgie du Nord, and his love of the Baltic area. Throughout his life he was accompanied and supported by his Norwegian wife, with whom he celebrated a 70th wedding anniversary before his own passing at the age of one hundred. Even in his 90s he continued to produce books, articles, and memoirs at an astounding rate, and received accolades and recognition that would not have been predicted upon his leaving government service in the 1950s. Yet neither Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, nor neoconservatives attempted to lay claim to him as one of their own, which speaks to the complexity of his intellect and the resistance of his thought to simplification.
As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, "The good fortune of America and its power place it under the most grievous temptations to self-adulation". Kennan's work and the exemplary nature of his life both bear close study, but there is no evidence that American leadership is any more prepared now than previously to learn the lessons offered by this distinctive patriot who often acted as Cassandra during America's most self-congratulatory and misguided episodes. Perhaps there will arise among us another such man who will exercise more influence over wise leaders, but I'm not holding my breath.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading, June 12, 2007
I knew almost nothing about Kennan before I read this book, but Lukacs got me interested in learning more about Kennan and reading Kennan's books. This is by no means a balanced, objective, or scholarly work - Lukacs very obviously admires Kennan and makes no attempt to hide this. If you want a scholarly analysis of Kennan's life, work, or legacy, this book is not for you. But if you want to read a mostly well-written and interesting biography of a rather major American figure, I recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please read this book!, March 22, 2012
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This is the third book by Lukacz that I've read (previously, "Hilter of History" and Budapest 1900").

Lukacz always has described himself as a "reactionary", longing for the early days of Europe before 1900, when concepts of honesty, self-reliance, morality and dignity prevailed.

He obviously found a soul mate in his friend and correspondent, George Keenan.

Both Lukacz and Keenan were against both "communism" and the extremists on the right. Which was worse, Hitler or Stalin? The answer is that the most powerful of the two. In 1942 Hitler was more powerful. In 1952, Stalin was.

Politics is always a choice between extremes. I always considered myself to be so anti-socialist that I must be "conservative", but I certainly agree with those against American supremists and right wing theocrats.

In this presidential election year the choice is more than obvious. Do we vote for an extreme liberal or for a right-wing nut?

This book describes both options very specifically. There is much to ponder, and ponder we should. A theocrat or the choice of main-stream elitists?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to Keenan, September 20, 2007
Lukacs' George Kennan is purpouted to be about the character of the man but rather serves as a very short biography of the man that ensured the defeat of the Soviet Union then any other American president. Many years after Keenan hammered out his containment philosophy, he remained convinced that the essential problem regarding Russia was not communism but instead was the paranoid nature of the Russian state. Look no farther then the so-called head of the Russian Republic now. Unlike, our current administration appointments, George Kennan was curious about the rest of the world and before he wrote anything down contemplated for every eventuality. That Lukacs knew Keenan is the ultimate flaw in the book, because there are several points where the author veers into untrammeled hagiography. But overall, a good introduction to Keenan and the tremendous impact he had on the world.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A One Sided Study, January 14, 2009
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This review is from: George Kennan: A Study of Character (Paperback)
George Kennan is one of the most fascinating and little known figures (general public) of the 20th Century. It is difficult to capture the man in such a short biography and Lukacs make sure it is a "study of character" rather than full biography. My main problem with the book is that the author at times seem to glow with unnecessary praise which I think diminished the point that he was trying to make. The "Wise Men" provided a much fuller view of the man and much more details of his thoughts and work. I decided not to finish this book and move on to the original source: Kennan's "Memoirs".
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4.0 out of 5 stars George Kennan- American, August 9, 2009
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Cody Carlson (Salt Lake City, UT United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: George Kennan: A Study of Character (Paperback)
John Lukacs' consideration of his friend's life, "George Kennan, A Study of Character" is a fine, brief look at an amazing intellect and a dedicated public servant. An American foreign service officer, historian, and author of the US policy of Containment during the Cold War, Kennan's life was lived with intelligence, responsibility, hard work, and hope for the future of mankind. Lukacs' respect for Keenan is evident throughout this piece, as is his belief that Kennan's life is filled with important lessons. As Lukacs points out several times in this work, this is not a full scale biography of George Kennan, but rather a look at the man's life and the choices he made as he lived it. Kennan's role in the Cold War is examined briefly but with great insight, as is his career as an historian and foreign service officer in the capitals of Europe. For anyone interested in Cold War history, or the lives of great Americans, this book will undoubtedly impress.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An admiring overview of a remarkable life, July 7, 2007
Lukacs views this as a study of a man's character, but it's really more of an overview of Kennan's life. It probably will have limited appeal to people who have read a lot of Kennan's work, particularly his books and collection. It is probably better for someone like me who is familiar with his famous work on "containment" and has read some of Kennan's more recent magazine pieces in the New Yorker and elsewhere. Kennan had a remarkable career that straddled academia and government and his mastery of Russian and German allowed him to get beyond the usual sources of information that fed Cold War debates. He was truly a man of the 20th century who was engaged in the world from the time shortly after WWI through the end of the Cold War.

Lukacs provides the broad outlines of Kennan's life and what he felt to be Kennan's most important books. In that respect, he has written a biography that is likely to stimulate interest in Kennan's longer works, particular those from the middle Cold War era. Lukacs never really describes his relationship to Kennan, although it is clear that they were friends and collegial with respect to topics such as foreign affairs. It may be that this was written too close to Kennan's recent death to provide the distance necessary to fully consider another person's life.

As a character study, the book falls somewhat short and misses obvious connections between experiences and points of view. There is a short description of Kennan's religious journey (from a Presbyterian upbringing to an vaguely described flirtation with Catholicisim and finally adoption of Episcopalianism) without recognizing the essential Calvinism in Kennan's lifelong world view. Kennan was clearly an enthusiast of bourgeois values, in the traditional sense and sympathetic to rather authoritarian, despotic government. He advocated a kind of government by "wise men" that certainly suggests a belief in "a predetermined elect". Ironically, he had the opportunity to see how policy by wise men could be undermined by broad political currents (the Truman years) or could bring about disastrous policies (the JFK years). Lukacs wonders how Kennan would have viewed this philosophy in light of our current government by "wise men" most of whom have come from the conservative "think tank" world, something that Kennan probably would have viewed as an a oxymoron. Kennan's view of the world comes off as lacking holism in important areas. While recognizing that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, even at a political/social level, Kennan seems to have minimized the dynamic nature of societies and the inevitable presence of internal and external forces which propel societies in new directions. Rather he is a humanist of the old school and conservative in the sense of being skeptical of "progress" and intervention. In many cases he proved prescient, as in Vietnam and the execution of the Cold War, but in others such as the rise of fascism, his cautious view of the world was inadequate.

Kennan lived a remarkable life and was able to see a much of the world and play a part in US foreign policy at key points in our recent history. He was a true scholar and one unmoved by constraining or trendy paradigms. His status as an outsider and a public intellectual probably lessened his academic prestige, but his depth and insight make him someone worth revisiting and reading further. As a character study, this book has serious analytic shortcomings. As an affectionate brief biography, it works better and it should stimulate more interest in the life and work of this remarkable man.
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George Kennan: A Study of Character
George Kennan: A Study of Character by John Lukacs (Paperback - January 6, 2009)
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