88 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating - and will teach you how much you don't know,
This review is from: Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (Hardcover)
A brief objective description of the book: Dean Acheson was Harry Truman's Secretary of State. In that role, he was instrumental in setting the tone and direction of our foreign policy, especially toward the Communist bloc, at the very beginning of the post World War II era [hence the title of the book]. This book is his memoir of the years he spent in the State Department. He discusses how decisions were reached and how the policies were implemented. Acheson was an articulate and engaging writer, but only people interested in the subject of cold war foreign policy are likely to enjoy reading all the way through this book. If you are such a person, I expect you'll find the book captivating and brilliant.
But here's how the book affected me personally: Like most people interested in politics, I always held fiercely to my opinions about what we should have done or shouldn't have done in our cold war foreign policy. I listened to or read political speeches by George McGovern, Jesse Helms, Henry Wallace, Joe McCarthy, and everyone in between. But it was only when I read this book [and then followed it by reading "Diplomacy" by Henry Kissinger - another excellent book] that I realized that for decades I had been spewing forth opinions without knowing what I was talking about. Acheson does a wonderful job at describing the considerations that had to be taken into account before coming to conclusions on the many critical issues that faced the U.S. in those years, and he really opened my eyes.
It wasn't that Acheson's book taught me that I was wrong about any one particular issue. I didn't come away feeling that I had been too "hawkish" or too "dovish" about anything. I simply realized that every foreign policy decision is far more intricate, with many more variables and many more potential consequences to every decision, than I had ever understood before.
Acheson's book may be grist for debates among cold war ideologues. They may argue till kingdom come that if Acheson hadn't done this or said that, then such-and-such would never have happened. Some people will say that if Acheson had been nicer to poor old Joe Stalin, then Stalin would have been nicer to us. Some will say that if Acheson hadn't been so accommodating and naive, we could have destroyed the communist conspiracy before it ever got off the ground. My own feeling is that both groups are wrong, but that's beside the point. The important point is that those endless public debates between the hawks and the doves are almost criminally superficial. Almost never do we hear a speech or read an article that comes close to describing the full range of options in any major decision, along with a description of all the possible ramifications of one alternative or another.
The main thing I learned from reading this book was the extent of my own ignorance. And perhaps that's the beginning of wisdom.
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Initial post: Sep 5, 2015 11:07:11 PM PDT
Patricia Harmanci says:
Coming to this book late, through David McCullough, but glad to have found it. Your review is excellent. Thank you.
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