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Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World Hardcover – August 31, 1998

3.7 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

World Policy Journal editor James Chace has produced a balanced, intricate portrait of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, one of the chief architects of America's foreign policy in the mid-20th century. Starting with Acheson's childhood as a preacher's son in Connecticut, Chace traces his subject's rise through Yale and Harvard Law School (where he shared a house with several classmates, including a pre-Broadway Cole Porter), a two-year stint as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis's law clerk, and key roles in the Departments of Treasury and State under FDR.

But it was Harry Truman who, upon being reelected in 1948, rewarded Acheson with the offer of secretary of state, a position he took with some initial reluctance, protesting that he was not adequate to the requirements of the job at such a critical juncture in history. He proved himself wrong with his decisive role in the shaping of the Truman Doctrine and the NATO alliance, averting war with the Soviet bloc on the European front. But, as Chace shows, Acheson's efforts were not as effective in China and Korea. And there were domestic problems as well; Acheson and his department were a particular target of the anticommunist witch-hunt even before Sen. Joseph McCarthy got in on the act. Chace's richly detailed narrative is particularly effective in placing Acheson's marginal role in the Alger Hiss affair in its proper context while highlighting Acheson's personal integrity in the matter.

After 1953, Acheson remained an outspoken commentator on America's foreign policy, frequently criticizing Eisenhower's reliance on nuclear weaponry, and serving in an advisory capacity to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the latter of whom took Acheson's advice to get out of Vietnam to heart. Acheson even had occasion to advise Richard Nixon, who had accused the secretary in 1952 of heading a "Cowardly College of Communist Containment," although he broke with Nixon after the president ordered the bombing of Cambodia. Chace's account of Acheson's life and career is as lively as it is intelligent, a well-crafted story that provides the reader with much insight into the unintended origins of the cold war. --Ron Hogan

From Publishers Weekly

The blazing career of Dean Acheson (1893-1971), American statesman, secretary of state under Truman and political pragmatist par excellence, is vibrantly brought to life against the tumult of a rapidly changing political arena in this superbly written and erudite biography. The son of a Conn. Episcopalian clergyman, the obstreperous Acheson attended Groton (where he finished last in his class), then Yale College and Harvard Law School, and joined the Navy for the duration of WWI. After clerking for Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Acheson, a staunch Democrat, entered government under the New Deal, becoming undersecretary of the Treasury in 1933. Though a legal dispute with FDR about the pricing of gold led to his resignation, he lobbied for FDR's reelection, worked for the State Department during the war and was appointed undersecretary of state by Truman, becoming instrumental in the implementation of both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Following Truman's upset reelection in 1948, he was named secretary of state, a job consumed by crisis: the creation of NATO, the Communist takeover of mainland China and the beginning of the Korean War. Leaving office in 1953 he became a senior statesman, urging JFK to appoint Dean Rusk as head of the State Department (which he came to regret), taking a hawkish stance on the Cuban missile crisis and advising LBJ on Vietnam, laying the foundations, Chace writes, "for the American predominance at the end of the 20th century." A professor at Bard College, Chace (The Consequences of Peace) commands this broad historical canvas?which includes vivid portraits of FDR, Truman, Adlai Stevenson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Archibald MacLeish and Cole Porter?with an expert hand.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 31, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684808439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684808437
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,128,088 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on October 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
No one was more influential in successfully constructing the American political approach toward negotiating the difficult passage of the United States in the fractious post World War Two period than Harry Truman's controversial Secretary Of State, Dean Acheson. No single individual was more energetic, impassioned, or persistent in creating the American worldview of the second half of this century than Acheson, and although he was not among the original company of American "Cold Warriors", he quickly made up for his late start with extraordinary enthusiasm, brilliance, and decisive action. In this stirring, comprehensive, and immensely readable biography by historian James Chace, the reader is taken into the fascinating vortex of the wealthy power elite, where we watch with fascination as this child of privilege slowly comes of age, graduating from prestigious Groton Academy and undergraduate studies at Yale, moving on to Harvard Law School, where he was a housemate of Cole Porter's.
Acheson indeed quickly learned to walk with ease in the corridors of money, power, and influence, first, as a protégé of Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, and then as a close advisor to General George Marshall. He was a friend and confidant to Winston Churchill, and after the war was appointed by Harry Truman to the job of a lifetime, that of Secretary of State from 1949 until 1953, thus achieving the key position he needed to massively influence the key decisions and policies that would shape the post-WWII world.
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Format: Hardcover
James Chace has written an excellent history of the cold war through his biography of Dean Acheson, the architect of the US post WWII foriegn policy. If you like history and biographies -- this book is a great read.
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By A Customer on January 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
While it can sometimes be overly favorable to the former Secretary of State, this book provides a very interesting view of the most important events of the century. A must read for anyone interested in Cold War history, the author has done a great job - it's not remotely boring!
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Format: Paperback
Acheson is a great biography and a splendid introduction to Cold War history. Unlike most political biographers, Chace manages to render a full portrait of Acheson without getting bogged down in the minutiae of his long and extraordinary public life.
Prior to this book, my impression of Acheson was as the Ultimate Cold Warrior. Chace reveals him to be a far more complex and ultimately heroic character than that moniker would suggest. Aside from the Cold War chapters, what I found most fascinating were the details of Acheson's relationship with Oliver Wendell Holmes and the influence the old jurist had on him.
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Format: Paperback
Dean Acheson, who served as Harry Truman's Secretary of State from 1949 until 1953, was in that office during a series of momentous events. This was the period when the People's Republic of China emerged victorious from the Chinese civil war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was organized, the Korean War started, and the superpowers' nuclear arms race commenced in earnest. It is no wonder, therefore, that Acheson entitled his State Department memoir Present at the Creation and that his biographer James Chace, who teaches at Bard College, paraphrased that title for the sub-title to this book. Acheson was a great Secretary of State, and, although I believe that this biography is longer on description than insight, it is a very good narrative of one of the exceptional public careers of the 20th century.
At the risk of stereotyping, Acheson was Eastern establishment to his viscera. The son of the Episcopal Bishop of Connecticut, young Dean went to Groton School (where Franklin Roosevelt also received his secondary education), Yale College, and Harvard Law School. After clerking for Justice Louis Brandeis and making the acquaintance of the Supreme Court's other Olympian figure, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Acheson practiced law at a prestigious firm in Washington, D.C. Acheson was a good enough lawyer to have been offered a federal appellate-court judgeship in the mid-1930s, and he was under consideration for appointment as Solicitor General when President Roosevelt died in 1945. But it is, of course, as a long-time State Department official that Acheson is best known.
Acheson intellectual eminence is obvious, but Chace makes clear that, as Secretary of State, Acheson was an implementer, not an innovator.
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Format: Paperback
I recommend this book for anyone aspiring to be America's chief diplomat and chief foreign policy advisor to presidents. This is the story of Dean Acheson, the American diplomat who helped to create NATO, helped to rebuild Europe after WWII, and later set the stages for the decades-long fight against Communism.
This book doesn't reveal anything new about the Cold War that you can't find in Ronald Steel's Walter Lippmann and the American Century and Walter LaFeber's The American Age. Instead, the author does a good job of bringing the Secretary of State to life by revealing his human side. As an associate in the new law firm of Covington and Burling, Mr. Acheson decides to pursue his own line of argument in court which prompts old man Burling to shove a piece of paper at Mr. Acheson bearing the words "SHUT UP!" In another colorful account, Mr. Acheson tries to punch a nasty US senator from across the table but is restrained by an assistant who says: "Take it easy, boss; take it easy." Wow, who would have thought that history could be so exciting.
The book is sometimes inadvertently funny because Mr. Chace tries to place Mr. Acheson at every historic event. What was Mr. Acheson's contribution to the Lend-Lease program to England? Says Mr. Chace: "Acheson thoroughly approved of the lend-lease idea" but "wished he could come up with a brilliant suggestion, but he had none." And Mr. Acheson's contribution to the creation of the IMF? He played a small role but "was prepared to defend it vigorously before congressional committees." You almost expect to read that while Mr. Acheson was picking his teeth or getting a manicure, he heartily approved of this plan or that. Nevertheless, this is an interesting book if you are a fan of American history.
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