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Kissinger: A Biography Paperback – September 27, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The fullest account of Kissinger's life and career to date, other than for his memoirs, this massive biography provides plenty of ammunition for the former Secretary of State's supporters and detractors. Growing up in Nazi Germany as an Orthodox Jew, Kissinger faced beatings and virulent anti-Semitism, and in Isaacson's view these burdened him with lifelong feelings of insecurity and distrust, as well as a yearning for stability and order. Isaacson, assistant managing editor of Time , sees Kissinger as the foremost American negotiator of this century, but one whose furtive, conspiratorial, at times deceitful personality shaped his conservative realpolitik and diplomatic maneuvering. He maintains that Kissinger's foreign policy, rooted in stealth and surprise, mirrored and reinforced the darker side of his increasingly jealous patron, President Nixon, and goes on to reveal how Chief of Staff Alexander Haig undercut his rival. He also pierces the secretive world of Kissinger's lucrative, globetrotting post-White House career as a business consultant. A spooky, engrossing portrait of the only European-style realist ever to guide U.S. foreign policy. Photos. First serial to Vanity Fair; BOMC main selection; QPB and History Book Club alternates; Reader's Digest Condensed Book selection; author tour.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Isaacson, assistant managing editor of Time , has produced much more than another unauthorized biography, giving extensive insights into the younger years of Heinz Kissinger in Bavaria and how they shaped his character, his style in dealing with others, and his worldview. Over 150 interviews with Kissinger intimates, enemies, subordinates, and the man himself generate a less-than-flattering portrayal of the man behind the intellect and the myths. Isaacson covers Kissinger's Americanization, his use of Harvard ties to enhance his career, his forays into the stratosphere of the Council on Foreign Relations (NY), and his Washington years and exploits. He also examines Kissinger's ill-fated negotiations with the North Vietnamese, empire building as national security assistant, shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, arms control efforts, and later years as private citizen and consultant. While there are other excellent Kissinger biographies (Stephen Graubard's Kissinger , LJ 6/1/73; John Stoessinger's Henry Kissinger: The Anguish of Power , LJ 9/15/76; Bruce Mazlich's Kissinger: The European Mind in American Policy , LJ 9/15/76), this work is the best to date on Henry K. Superstar. Essential for general libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/92.
- Frank Kessler, Missouri Western State Coll., St. Joseph
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743286979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743286978
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and of Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 97 people found the following review helpful By James Schoonmaker on December 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
As Walter Isaacson will tell you, Kissinger is the sort of man who will draw polar reactions from people-- you either love him or hate him. This makes it difficult to write an objective biography of him while still providing useful commentary. Isaacson succeeds brilliantly. Although he is very penetrating in analyzing Kissinger's techniques and views as National Security Advisor and later as Secretary of State, he stops short of giving us his views on whether they were good and bad, focusing instead on whether or not they worked, and what reaction they provoked. This leaves the reader to form their own opinion on whether or not Kissinger was justified in his actions, or if his policies were the best ones. This is as it should be-- Kissinger is too complex a subject and too emotional a topic to be fed someone else's reaction to his actions. Isaacson points out the successes of Kissinger's noted duplicity and his pragmatic, sometimes ruthless, worldview, as well as the negative reactions it often drew, but leaves the reader to decide their own opinion. What Isaacson does is provides an excellent insight into Kissinger's complex personality, as well as an analysis of his foreign policy, the effects of his personality on his policy, and the options available to him. I have never seen a better guide to Kissinger and his policies.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By JoeV VINE VOICE on January 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book has sat on my shelf unread for years - I think because I'm somewhat leery of "contemporary" biographies. Just another error in judgment on my part - this is an excellent book. (A back cover review describes it as "riveting" and that's not far off - I found it difficult to put this book down.)

It's all here - the chronology - Kissinger's family's escape from Nazi tyranny, Kissinger's time in the armed services, Harvard, Rockefeller - with the bulk of the book, (understandably so), covering Kissinger's life and times in the Nixon administration - including the bizarre relationship that only these two men could have had.

As for concerns about objectivity, the author addresses this in his introduction - how can a reader not come to this book without preconceived notions/opinions on such controversial/polarizing topics as Watergate, the Vietnam War, détente, etc. - I found the writing to be fair as well as extremely engaging.

Concerning "gossipy" issues - the subject's thin skin, temper tantrums, zeal for secrecy, back-biting, etc. - and "real-politik" issues - China, the USSR, the Paris Peace Talks - All deftly covered in this book combining anecdotes, news reports, analysis, and behind the scenes sources. Kissinger's place in history is up for time to tell - this biography's place is secure. If you're debating about reading this book - don't - pick it up and start it - you won't be disappointed.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By T. Graczewski VINE VOICE on February 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
It's impossible to write a completely objective biography on a contempory and highly controversial figure - but Walter Isaacson has come decently close with "Kissinger."

This massive best-seller is a wild, often uproarious and always entertaining read. Isaacson traces Kissinger from his turbulent childhood in Nazi Germany, his formative years in the US Army during the Second World War and his storied tenure as a Harvard underclassman, graduate student and imperious young professor. He presents Kissinger as undeniably brilliant yet completely insecure, callous and driven by unbridled ambition. His ultimate success as an academic, a bureaucrat and a statesman were all attributable to an uncommon mix of exceptional talent, incredible hard-work and constant manipulation.

Isaacson highlights Kissinger's academic focus on 19th century European diplomacy and attempts to show how the method and practice of Napoleonic era foreign secretaries such as Metternich directly influenced his behavior as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. His attempts to centralize power and decision-making across all facets of foreign policy result in some of the most entertaining pieces of the biography: Kissinger's bizarre relationship with his boss, Richard Nixon. For instance, Isaacson tells how Kissinger always did his best to keep Nixon away from direct meetings with foreign leaders and diplomats, citing the president's "Walter Mitty tendencies" - as if the chief executive's desire to play an intimate role in his administration's foreign policy were ominous signs of delusions of grandeur.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 20, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Walter Isaacson, who has written esteemed biographies of Benjamin Franklin, The Wise Men, and Einstein, tackles the complex character of Henry Kissinger, academic, diplomat, and consultant. Kissinger is a difficult character to pin down, as Isaacson notes. He was devious, self-promoting, self-deprecating, intelligent, ambitious, and successful. The author interviewed over 150 people--including Kissinger himself--to gather information for this lengthy volume (767 pages of text).

At the outset, Isaacson says (page 9): "Three decades after he left office, Henry Kissinger continues to exert a fascinating hold on the public imagination as well as intellectual sway over the nation's foreign policy conversation." He was a well-known apostle of "Realpolitik," emphasizing doing what had to be done to advance the national interest, balancing power with power, concerned more with accomplishing things than getting caught up in ideology and morality. Again, a realist as opposed to an idealist. And this is the tension that is described throughout the course of this powerful volume (page 15): ". . .Kissinger had an instinctive feel. . .for power and for creating a new global balance that could help America cope with its withdrawal syndrome after Vietnam. But it was not matched by a similar feel for the strength to be derived from the openness of America's democratic system or for the moral values that are the true source of its global influence."

The book begins with a brief early biography of Kissinger, including the misery he experienced after the Nazis came to power and the departure of his immediate family from Germany when they came to understand how inhospitable that country was becoming for Jews.
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