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The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War Hardcover – September 15, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The cold war was a matter of personalities as well as policies. From the 1940s through the 1980s, Paul Nitze and George Kennan were central actors at opposite poles. Nitze was the hawk. In the darkest days of the nuclear arms race, he argued that the way to avoid an atomic war was to prepare to win it. Few policymakers matched either his knowledge of weaponry or his persuasive skills. Even fewer matched Nitze's ability to alienate superiors, but his talent could not be overlooked for long. George Kennan was the dove, consistently arguing that the U.S. must end its reliance on nuclear weapons, advocating forbearance in the face of provocation. He had an unusual ability to forecast events: the Sino-Soviet split, the way the cold war would eventually end. In these days of personalized polarization, the close friendship between these two men seems anomalous—but instructive. That Thompson is Nitze's grandson does not inhibit his nuanced account of two men whose common goal of serving America's interests transcended perspectives. Their mutual respect and close friendship enabled administrations to balance their contributions. That balancing in turn significantly shaped the cold war's outcome. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“The book is brimming with fascinating revelations about the men and the harrowing events they steered through.” —The New York Times
“In this important and astute new study, Nitze emerges as a driven patriot and Kennan as a darkly conflicted and prophetic one.”—The Washington Post
“Paul Nitze and George Kennan were the yin and yang of American foreign policy. They were also the only figures deeply involved in the Cold War from beginning to end, and so they make ideal focal points for Nicholas Thompson’s lively and illuminating book.” —Newsweek
“Few men did more to shape postwar U.S. Foreign policy than Paul Nitze and George Kennan. In tracing their dueling visions of America’s role in the world, Nicholas Thompson provides a white-knuckle glimpse inside the 20th century’s most dangerous moments.” —Time Magazine
“Thoroughly engrossing … Thompson succeeds admirably in blending biography and intellectual history, painting colorful portraits of complicated men who embodied conflicting strains of American thinking about foreign policy.” —The New York Times Book Review
“The Hawk and the Dove does an inspired job of telling the story of the Cold War through the careers of two of its most interesting and important figures, who were not only present at the creation, but were each a witness—and, in Nitze’s case, a participant—in its end.” —The Washington Monthly
“Gripping, stirring … Thompson has delivered a book that’s not just a labor of love for a grandfather; it’s a vindication of a tradition of civic-republican comity that can’t be coerced but is quietly stronger, even in this polarizing, frightening time, than anything the republic’s noisier claimants have to offer.” —Talking Points Memo Cafe
“A very good new book.” —The National Review
“A lifetime of documentation combined with a personal narrative create a compelling story of two men who shared a lifetime of conflict and camaraderie.”—The Daily Beast
“[An] outstanding dual biography … Excellent insights into these men and their roles in the era they helped shape.” —Booklist
“The key to understanding modern American foreign policy is appreciating the complex 60-year friendship between George Kennan and Paul Nitze. Nicholas Thompson brilliantly captures their divergent personalities, clashing politics, and intellectual bonding. It is an insightful and important tale, but also a colorful and fascinating one—an intellectual buddy movie with enormous historical resonance.”—Walter Isaacson
“With clarity and vigor, Nicholas Thompson has given us an engaging and insightful account of one of the great friendships of the modern age, the personal bond between Paul Nitze and George Kennan that illuminates the epochal stakes of the Cold War. This is a terrific book.”—Jon Meacham
“George Kennan and Paul Nitze were the Adams and Jefferson of the Cold War. They were there for the beginning, they witnessed its course over almost half a century, and they argued with each other constantly while it was going on. But they maintained throughout a remarkable friendship, demonstrating—as few others in our time have—that it is possible to differ with civility. Nicholas Thompson’s is a fine account of that relationship, carefully researched, beautifully written, and evocatively suggestive of how much we have lost because such civility has become so rare.”—John Lewis Gaddis
“With grace and a keen appreciation of human nature, Nicholas Thompson has written a revealing, moving history of the Cold War through two fascinating men.”—Evan Thomas
“They say that ‘history is an argument without end.’ In Thompson’s skillful hands, this momentous argument between two old friends on the most critical issue of the last century is thus history at its best. Thompson’s judicious and delicious depiction of Nitze and Kennan will fascinate anyone who cares about the Cold War or the ways that human beings shape the future.”—Jonathan Alter
“This is dual biography at its best: riveting, thought-provoking, and fair-minded throughout. Nicholas Thompson renders these two remarkable men—their ideas, their arguments, their personal passions—vividly, in three dimensions. Through the prism of this powerful rivalry, Thompson illuminates the entire Cold War era—as well as our own.”—Jeff Shesol
“The Hawk and the Dove is a wonderful idea for a book, wonderfully carried out. Nicholas Thompson has used illuminating new material to present each of his protagonists in a convincing, respectful, but unsparing way. Even more valuable, he has used the interactions and tensions between Paul Nitze and George Kennan to bring much of American 20th century foreign policy to life, with human richness ever present but with the big issues clear in all their complexity.”—James Fallows
“Nicholas Thompson is an exceptionally good writer and a very clear thinker; both of these talents lift up The Hawk and the Dove, an energetic, fair, revealing and highly readable account of two men whose thinking and public lives helped to define the Cold War—and whose views on the international order remain strikingly relevant to the era that has followed.”—Steve Coll

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805081429
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805081428
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #598,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce Loveitt on August 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I ordered a copy of this book I was a bit worried that the author is a grandson of Paul Nitze. Hmmm.....was this going to be a bit of a whitewash, overpraising Nitze while trashing Kennan? Or conversely, was Mr. Thompson going to be overly sensitive to the potential criticism and would he bend-over-backwards to be fair to Kennan at the expense of Nitze? Not to worry.....this is a fascinating, well-researched book, evenhanded in its approach and conclusions. Both men are given praise when praise is due, and criticized when necessary. One of the best things about the book is that it helps you see both men, and the Cold War itself, in shades of grey rather than in black-and-white. Despite their reputations, both men had some of the hawk and some of the dove in them. They both wanted to avoid nuclear war, they just had different ideas on the best way to achieve that goal. Although Kennan saw the Russians as people-like-us, he was a bit of an idealist and would probably have given away the farm if he had been involved in nuclear arms reduction talks. He would have been perceived as weak, and so would the United States as well. Not a good scenario when engaging in tough negotiations. On the other hand, Nitze probably was a bit too cynical and tended to demonize the Russians. This made him an overly tough negotiator and probably resulted in escalated tensions between the two countries. Both men would have been better off if they had had a bit of the other man's personality as part of their own make-up. Another fascinating thing about this book are the historical gems the author has unearthed. For example, did you know that early in his first administration Richard Nixon sent nuclear-weapon-laden bombers on an exercise where they pretended they were going to enter Russian airspace?Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In reading history I'm often reminded of the preface to Wittgenstein's PHILOSOPHICAL INVESTIGATIONS. He wrote that his subject required him to approach the same issues from different directions, like one exploring a landscape from different approaches. Each approach reveals the subject in a new way and sheds new light on it. In the same way, the entire Cold War era is best understood by criss crossing it in a variety of ways. I also very much enjoy joint biographies. In fact, one of the best I have ever read also involved George Kennan, THE WISE MEN: SIX FRIENDS AND THE WORLD THEY MADE by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, a marvelous joint biography of Kennan, Robert Lovett, John McCloy, Averell Harriman, Charles Bohlen, and Dean Acheson. Paul Nietzsche also featured prominently in that one. (In fact, I very strongly recommend that book to anyone who enjoys this one.)

George Kennan and Paul Nitze were two of the most emblematic figures of the Cold War. By any measure their contributions to American government were enormous. Kennan is one of the most fascinating personalities from the last half of the 20th century. He is generally considered to have had a deeper understanding of the Soviet Union than any other individual and, as Nicholas Thompson so ably explains, anticipated many of the major developments in the last decades of the past century. He prophesied in the 1940s with uncanny accuracy the eventual fate of the Soviet Union, explaining both how and why the system would eventually implode and collapse. He was one of the major architects of the Marshall Plan, one of the greatest achievements in the history of American foreign policy. And he was the author of the famous Long Telegram, which evinced an understanding of the Soviet Union.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I picked up this book because, like the author (Nitze's grandson), I too have a small, if minor, connection to Paul H. Nitze - I attended the graduate school in international affairs he established (the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies). I read the book in part out of curiosity about my school's founder, and also to learn more about the George Kennan, a man whom I had always associated with the word containment. While I am pretty familiar with World War II and Cold War history, I had never studied the careers of either of these two men.

I am glad my introduction to their lives as through Nicholas Thompson's The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War. Thompson has hit upon a great idea of writing a joint biography of Kennan and Nitze. Since both had such long public careers, this book provides a great exploration of how the foreign policy establishment works. Unlike single-subject biographies, it does not chronicle the remarkable life of one man, but rather shows two very different career paths - Kennan the intellectual and Nitze the insider. The contrast demonstrates much more about the successes and failures of foreign policy establishment than most memoirs and the penultimate dilemma in foreign policy - marrying intellectual insight with bureaucratic competence. I have noticed this very frequently even in my own dealings at SAIS - experts in certain countries disagreeing with international relations theorists, etc. For example, Nitze comes across as an insider able to master the details of weapons systems, but with little understanding of the USSR or history.
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