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Henry Kissinger and the American Century

4 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674032521
ISBN-10: 0674032527
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

University of Wisconsin historian Suri (Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente) endeavors to explore the philosophical roots of Henry Kissinger's actions as national security adviser and secretary of state under President Nixon, finding those roots in a Jewish boy's experiences of a weak Weimar regime's fall to genocidal Nazism. At the end of the day, in Suri's account, Kissinger's philosophy boiled down to the need to back democracy with muscle. America, alone of the free countries, said Kissinger, was strong enough to assure global security against the forces of tyranny. Only America had both the power and the decency to inspire other peoples who struggled for identity, for progress and dignity. But Kissinger's expressed idealism leads Suri to downplay the consequences of Kissinger's actions, including his role in subverting the democratically elected government of Chile's Salvador Allende. Kissinger did not support the brutality of the regimes he supported in Chile, South Africa, and other parts of the Third World, Suri writes. But, the author acknowledges, he did nurture personal relations with their leaders as strongmen who could mobilize force effectively against threats to themselves and the United States. At the close of that statement, Suri stumbles into the unpleasant truth of Kissinger's realpolitik. Illus. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

This book is different from every other book about Henry Kissinger. In tracing the influences on Kissinger, from his life as a boy in Germany to his rise as one of the most powerful diplomats in the world, Suri's book is critical to our understanding of how and why Kissinger acquired his positions. (Melvin R. Laird, former Secretary of Defense)

Suri has provided a brilliant and balanced portrait of Henry Kissinger. Shaped by his childhood in Germany, his adolescence in New York, and his wartime experiences in the army, Kissinger was forever the outsider, indelibly influenced by his Jewishness, even as he became the consummate insider. Suri incisively analyzes the qualities that made Kissinger so attractive to patrons like Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon, but also skillfully examines the flaws that will forever tarnish Kissinger's legacy. (Melvyn P. Leffler, author of A Preponderance of Power)

This remarkable book is far more than a biography of Henry Kissinger. By probing Kissinger's personal background and intellectual formation as well as his often cunning and frequently controversial statecraft, Jeremi Suri brilliantly illuminates both the character of Kissinger the man and the nature of the turbulent and tension-racked age in which he lived and did so much--for better or worse--to shape. (David M. Kennedy, author of Freedom from Fear)

Probing thoughtfully into Kissinger's background and character, Suri sees the secretary as the Cold War's ultimate statesman. Eschewing polemics...this work explores what shaped and nurtured the phenomenon that was Henry Kissinger. (The Atlantic 2007-06-01)

The archival research is extensive and the analysis thought-provoking. Although there are numerous studies of Kissinger, as well as his own memoirs, Suri's is the best at studying the man in terms of the social surroundings that influenced him. (Marcia L. Sprules Library Journal 2007-04-15)

Suri endeavors to explore the philosophical roots of Henry Kissinger's actions as national security adviser and secretary of state under President Nixon, finding those roots in a Jewish boy's experiences of a weak Weimar regime's fall to genocidal Nazism. At the end of the day, in Suri's account, Kissinger's philosophy boiled down to the need to back democracy with muscle...Kissinger did not support the brutality of the "regimes he supported in Chile, South Africa, and other parts of the Third World," Suri writes. But, the author acknowledges, he did "nurture personal relations with their leaders as strongmen who could mobilize force effectively against threats to themselves and the United States." At the close of that statement, Suri stumbles into the unpleasant truth of Kissinger's realpolitik. (Publishers Weekly 2007-05-21)

Henry Kissinger is arguably the most intriguing and countercultural global political figure of the 20th century...Suri's contribution to Kissinger scholarship is in the precision with which he delineates the influences that shaped Kissinger's world view. Focusing on the concept of Bildung, or inner cultivation that allows the individual to progress toward enlightenment, Suri outlines how Kissinger's intellectual development was informed by his appreciation of such transcendent leaders as Klemens von Metternich, Otto von Bismarck and Winston Churchill. (Harold Heft Montreal Gazette 2007-07-21)

The resulting book, refreshingly short compared with the thousands of pages devoted to the man--most of which he has written himself--is both unusual and fascinating...Suri is not interested in whom Kissinger met with as national security advisor (from 1969 to 1973) or secretary of state (1973 to 1977), when he met them or even the minute details of what was discussed. In fact, he spends few pages on Kissinger's actual time in office. What he wants to get to the bottom of is why Kissinger is Kissinger, or, as he puts it, "I focus not on what Kissinger did, but on why he did it." Suri also tries to put the man in context, explain how the demands of the Cold War world facilitated the rise of such an outsider to American power...Given how hard Kissinger has tried to obscure his origins and make himself and his ideas seem exceptional, it's a little jarring to realize how much he is simply the result of historical circumstances that shaped not only him but millions of others of his generation, as well...One can probably do no better than Suri's portrait of Kissinger's mind. (Gal Beckerman Forward 2007-07-25)

A useful, idiosyncratic study...Suri's Kissinger is an academic rumination on the cerebral Harvard professor-turned-showboating national security adviser that, while intentionally narrow in scope, is bold in its reach. (David Greenberg Washington Post Book World 2007-07-29)

This is a readable and provocative book that successfully explores the formation of its subject's worldview and rise to power. Suri is at his best when demonstrating the roots of Kissinger's distrust of mass democratic politics, his obsession with strong leaders, his emphasis on the limits of American power and his disdain for the "insular self-righteousness" and "utopianism" of reformers "advocating a vision of global democracy."...[A] timely book. (Eric Arnesen Chicago Tribune 2007-08-04)

Nobody will ever accuse Jeremi Suri of lacking style or insight. His study of Henry Kissinger's personality and place in history offers piercing originality--so much so that laying down Dallek for Suri feels rather like that moment in The Prince and the Showgirl when Laurence Olivier, after telling all and sundry that they have too little love in their life, meets his ex-mistress...and realizes that she has too much. (David Frum National Review 2007-08-27)

Offer[s] some fresh glimpses of [Kissinger's] motives and personality on display in high office. (G. John Ikenberry Foreign Affairs 2007-09-01)

Drawing on research worldwide in addition to extensive interviews with Kissinger and others, Suri analyzes the sources of Kissinger's ideas and power and explains why he pursued the policies he did. (Times Higher Education Supplement 2008-02-28)

An interpretation of his life that stands out among recent books on the subject for the extent and the depth of the author's research. Unlike Hitchens (to say nothing of Robert Dallek and Margaret Macmillan, two other writers who have recently published books critical of Kissinger), Suri has done some real digging before rushing into print...This is surely the best book yet published about Henry Kissinger...Unlike so many previous writers--particularly those journalists steeped in the blood of the Nixon administration--Suri actually makes an attempt to understand his subject in the appropriate historical context rather than simply joining in the never-ending hunt for "smoking gun" quotations. (Niall Ferguson Times Literary Supplement 2008-05-30)

[Suri] has written a quite different, bracingly original book about history's impact on Kissinger. Using extensive archival research and interviews with Kissinger, Suri shows us for the first time how Europe's nadir in the 1930s forged a mind that would define the course of American foreign policy...Adeptly executed, Suri's portrait of the statesman as a young man enlivens the stale fare of academic Kissingerology. This is a book that should be read not only by historians but also by general readers with an interest in international affairs...Suri has offered a disarming character statement, a testimony that will oblige readers to comprehend the stateman's complicity in terms of the tropubles that history has rested upon him. In itself, that is an important accomplishment. (Daniel Sargent Times Higher Education Supplement 2008-06-05)

This provocative, evenhanded study examines how Henry Kissinger's background--particularly youthful memories of the failure of German democracy to respond to Nazism--influenced his diplomacy. (A. J. Dunar Choice 2008-04-01)

[Suri] argues that Kissinger was the first true global diplomat...This is a thoughtful and readable biography of a hugely influential statesman. (Bruce Elder Sydney Morning Herald 2009-06-13)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674032527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674032521
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #582,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was quite excited about reading this book, which promised to be interesting from a historical and sociological perspective. However, I find the information to be poorly organized, written in apparent haste. There is a flagrant lack of concision, with many ideas being repeated over and over again.
For example, on page 81 Suri writes, "[Adenauer] was the strong father (or grandfather) figure destined to guide the German people..." and then on page 83, "...made [Adenauer] an ideal candidate for Americans seeking a 'great man' to lead postwar Germany" and then on page 84, "he and other observers came to [Adenauer] as an indispensable 'great man' in the creation of a new Germany..." and then on page 85, "As the father of the postwar Federal Republic of Germany... Adenauer..." and just one paragraph later, "Adenauer was, in many ways, the German father figure Kissinger and other occupation officials searched for."
All this repetition makes the book terribly boring to read, since we have the same ideas drummed into our heads for pages and pages, with very little new information. Also, I find much of the information included here inconsequential. There are practically no surprising anecdotes or quotes. Since Kissinger is still alive and the author interviewed him, you might expect to find some interesting quotes, but no. Suri goes to the trouble of citing such uninformative responses from Kissinger as "I am not prepared to share that yet" but not much else.

Overall I'm very disappointed and I cannot recommend this book.

Also, there is also a brief mention of Arnold Schoenberg, which in addition to being completely out of place, is misleading since Suri suggests that this composer developed new rhythmical structures. Schoenberg broke with tonal traditions, but he did not contribute any novelty in rhythmical structures.
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Format: Hardcover
In "Henry Kissinger and the American Century," Jeremi Suri has chronicled the political history of arguably one of the world's most brilliant personalities. Suri's book leaves out much of Kissinger's personal history, beyond his childhood in Weimar and Nazi Germany, which is generally vague. "Henry Kissinger and the American Century" does, however, provide readers with the background necessary to begin to understand the man and his policies. Suri pays particular attention to Kissinger's skepticism of democracy, which truly helped shape those policies.
Henry Kissinger is a Cold War oracle, subject to the failings of the human condition as any of us, but arguably far more attuned to the strategic and political situation than anyone ever was.
Suri does not dodge logical criticisms and critics and provides a groundwork for understanding of Kissinger's philosophies. Reading the book, you might notice how just when you begin to forget Kissinger's German-Jewish childhood, Suri extols this fact in context throughout.
The book reveals Kissinger's innate ability to address both his genteel and gentile contemporaries. If any American in history ever leveraged their "outsider" status to the maximum and re-define the idea of an "insider", it was Kissinger.
The book is full of exceptional quotes from Kissinger, his influences and his contemporaries that are no less relevant in the War on Terror than they were in the Cold War.
REVIEW EVERY BOOK YOU READ!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Henry A. Kissinger, one of a handful of memorable secretaries of state, is a German-born Jew haunted by the failure of democracy in his birthplace and the subsequent failure of the world's democracies to stop the Nazi drive for mastery of Europe in the 1930s. Those failures made possible the massive slaughter of World War II, the nearly total destruction of Jewish life in Europe (which marked Kissinger personally)and in its aftermath left the United States and the exercise of its power the main arbiter of the world's fate. Stalin's Soviet Union, however, had other plans.
Kissinger did not view war with Soviet Russia as inevitable, nor did he regard Russian ambitions in Eastern and Central Europe as altogether unreasonable. But he did think that unless America was willing to project its power in strategic areas of the world, such as Europe and the Middle East, and confront Soviet ambitions in those areas, the Cold War would be lost with dire consequences for Americans.
Kissinger thought the Cold War would make strange bedfellows--reactionary kings, military dictators and strongman-types whose personal vanity outweighed any concern for the future of their people.
Kissinger was a supreme realist. He did not seek the make the world a better place, only a safer one for his adopted country and its friends.
His hero was Metternich, of Congress of Vienna and Balance of Power fame. There was no room for sentimentality, and not much room for public opinion, in his world view. Wars and rumors of wars were not only expected, but exploited by Kissinger, which his critics viewed as coldly cynical, immoral and in some cases (Vietnam, Chile) indifferent to human lives.
Kissinger owed his power, at the height of his career, to Richard M.
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Format: Hardcover
Jeremi Suri presents Henry Kissinger in a very unique way, unfamiliar to traditional biographies. His writing and analytic abilities set this book far ahead of any others. Sure, you may read an eight hundred epic on every little think Kissinger did. In "Henry Kissinger and the American Century" the author provides a concise analysis of Kissinger's life and its implications on his later decisions which have gathered such controversy and his impact upon history as a whole.
A fantastic, well written, unique take on Henry Kissinger - a man who is, without a doubt, one of the most influential figures of the twentieth century.
Five Stars - I can't think of a bad thing about it.
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