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Kissinger: A Biography Hardcover – September 16, 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
- Frank Kessler, Missouri Western State Coll., St. Joseph
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Item Weight : 2.85 pounds
- Hardcover : 893 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0671663232
- ISBN-13 : 978-0671663230
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 2 x 9.5 inches
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (September 16, 1992)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #424,246 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Kissinger's staggering intellect and powerful charm/ability to manipulate - (take your pick) - are made very clear. His great triumphs - especially the Middle East - and dire misjudgments - especially Vietnam - are laid out objectively, with the author's opinions clearly separated from the facts.
Equally clear are Kissinger's character flaws - ego, volcanic temper and obsession with grabbing both turf and credit.
My only complaint is that the narrative is much less interesting when the author gets into the micro-detail of how x was excluded from a flight on a plane, y was given a less prestigious hotel room location and z was kept out of the loop on a certain topic etc. That Kissinger was just as keen to use his manipulative abilities to advance his personal turf wars as to serve (in his own opinion) the credibility (a word which crops up frequently in the book) of the USA is spelt out clearly. The minutiae of how he did this slows down the narrative.
I have an above average vocabulary, and was put off by the author using unusual words to convey what simple words could. Having to look up the definition disrupted the story - and now that I know the words, I will never use them! ( Its about efficient communication.)
The author did a good job with his research. I liked the book and think Kissinger was treated fairly, but he didnt do the same for President Nixon.
Nixon was not a helpless buffoon. He was an accomplished man who rose to heights the average man can only aspire - the most powerful man on earth.
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. The book also notes that many of his relatives died during World War II, part of the Holocaust. There follows the tale of his adolescence, his military service, his graduate study, and his promising academic career.
But the major portion of this book focuses on his role as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State under Richard Nixon's presidency and Secretary of State under Gerald Ford. There is a relatively brief discussion in several chapters of his life after Nixon-Ford, as consultant, commentator, intellectual-without-portfolio.
After having worked with Nelson Rockefeller as an advisor, it is somewhat surprising that he ended up serving one of Rocky's antagonists, Richard Nixon. The book traces the odd relationship between Nixon and Kissinger. Sometimes hard-edged and combative, sometimes oddly supportive of one another. The secretive Nixon and Kissinger as lone cowboy accomplished a great deal in foreign policy; however, their penchant for secrecy also created problems of its own. Kissinger could be viewed is devious (for telling different people things in such a way as for each to think that Kissinger was on his/her side), but he also earned the trust of many leaders as he invented "shuttle diplomacy." Leaders might become exasperated with his style and his deviousness, but he was effective in a number of key instances. Examples worth exploring and reflecting upon in the book include the negotiations with North Vietnam to extricate the United States from a quagmire of its own making; the effort to end the Yom Kippur War in a manner that would stabilize the Middle East; the opening to China; détente with the Soviet Union.
This is a biography that is worth investing time and energy into. It portrays Kissinger, warts and all, in a manner that illuminates this complicated individual. On some pages, one will think of railing against him; on other pages, one may well feel admiration for his strengths and accomplishments.
Top reviews from other countries
Kissinger primarily suffered from the memories of his childhood and never recovered from the insecurity he faced in German occupation.He never helped the state of Israel even though he is a Jew.He remains one of the most controversial diplomats of the twentieth century who ultimately failed to do justice to the trust reposed upon him by America.
Unlike Kissinger's memoirs, it covers his whole life, though most of the focus is on his years in power with Nixon.
The chapters on the early life are well written and evocative. Kissinger's parents were strong and courageous, living as respected citizens in a part of Germany with many Jewish people. As Kissinger grew up his family watched all their rights being taken away and at the last minute (in 1938) left for the USA.
Kissinger's regard for the values of the USA is in contrast to the suffering of his family in Germany, but according to Isaacson bitterness was not a part of his life.
To me one of the most interesting parts of the book is the picture of Nixon. Nixon and Kissinger were a match for each other. Each was emotional, given to tantrums, though in different styles, and each played their colleagues like a Wurlitzer.
Kissinger was brilliant and devious and famously capable of steaming into any situation and maintaining his concentration on half a dozen different aspects of a crisis simultaneously. Nixon largely gave him his head but quite unlike President Ford later, called the shots when it mattered to him to do so.
Interestingly, in some ways, at least in comparison to the Republican leaders who came after him, Nixon comes over like a liberal. He is of course associated with the Vietnam War, but when Nixon came to power there were nearly 600,000 US troops in Vietnam. He immediately began regular withdrawals, and at no point during his presidency were these regular troop reductions halted for more than a brief period. According to Isaacson, the aggressive moves made by the US after 1968 were to protect `American credibility' and their bargaining position at the peace table.
Given the situation they were in, and depending on what your view of what constitutes credibility is, they probably did a fair job. Kissinger is of course blamed for the invasion of Cambodia, but the way Isaacson tells it, it was the US invasion of Vietnam in the first place, and the subsequent use of Cambodia as a base by the Viet Cong which really led to the development of the Khmer Rouge, rather than the much later US bombing and invasion of Cambodia.
Isaacson's own views are clear and not clear. He frequently rebukes Kissinger for what he presumably sees as non-liberal actions, eg the conspiracy against Allende and the supplying of arms to the Indonesians to suppress the rebels in East Timor, but then lets him off the hook, by for instance pointing out that Allende was no democrat and an economic disaster.
Isaacson's viewpoint, like Kissinger's, appears to be that if it's American it's great, and anything Soviet, or anything which could be construed as pro-Soviet, is the enemy. Remember this book was written in 1992). It is this viewpoint, however `liberal', which let in the fundamentalists we are all suffering with today, I mean the `Let the market rule' and democracy or death guys.
The biggest lesson of this book for me though is the utter contrast between the world of the sixties and seventies and what came after. The closing chapters of the book are the least interesting, you feel Isaacson has to push himself to sustain the narrative in a period where the values are all different and Kissinger himself struggles to obtain any leverage.
Despite its limitations, a great read, and incidentally, frequently hilarious.
Ich lese zur Zeit Einstein nebenbei im Original und finde es trotz AE leichter zu lesen.
Fazit: Buch wahrscheinlich i.O., Übersetzung eher misslungen, hier wurde eine bessere Übersetzung vielleicht dem Werke gut tun.
Interesting and credible character descriptions of the characters involved: Kissinger of course, but also Nixon, Ford, Haldeman, and all the other players involved in Watergate, Vietnam, Cold War, and the thawing of relations with China as a counter balance to Soviet antagonism.
US-Iraeli relations are also discussed at length in the broader setting of perceived US interest in the Middle East.
Funny to get the hindsight of good policy decisions for the wrong reasons.
How brilliant minds get influenced by twisted personality and personal ambition and paranoia.