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Customer Review

on January 16, 2007
In a 1996 interview with David Gergen on NPR, one of this book's central characters makes a case for, what I will hazard to suggest, is one of the authors' central views;

DAVID GERGEN: Let me ask you this in terms of thinking back over then of that period of American foreign policy in the last forty or fifty years, one of the ironies here is that in an age of information you suggest we have too little wisdom.
GEORGE KENNAN: Yes, I do, and one of the things that bothers me about the computer culture of the present age is that one of the things of which it seems to me we have the least need is further information. What we really need is intelligent guidance in what to do with the information we've got.

Thus The Wise Men becomes a paean to, as the authors' admit at the outset, "the twentieth-century tradition of an informal brain trust of internationalists who first served Woodrow Wilson at Versailles and returned home to found the Council on Foreign Relations, " establishing along the way, "a distinguished network connecting Wall Street, Washington, worthy foundations, and proper clubs." The polemics about where one finds wisdom aside, The Wise Men provides a fascinating and uncompromising study of the evolution of U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union from the establishment of formal relations during the Roosevelt administration to Vietnam from the perspective of six of it's most significant players; Dean Acheson, Charles "Chip" Bohlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett and John McCloy with side trips into electoral politics and the Middle East. Although I found the authors' fascination with many of these individuals' membership in Harvard's elite Porcellian and Yale's Skull and Bones clubs a bit off-putting (to say nothing of the not-so-veiled apologia for a certain social elitism . . . call me a populist), it would be difficult to find six more pivotal characters. The arguably lesser stars make significant appearances, most notably the Alsop and Bundy brothers, Clark Clifford, James Forrestal and Paul Nitze. I will even forgive the authors' treatment of one of my heroes', George Kennan's, emotional shortcomings. For those of a certain ideological bent, John Foster Dulles and Dean Rusk are not treated sympathetically. It all rings true notwithstanding and The Wise Men makes an excellent post-war study of U.S. foreign policy particularly as a counterpoint to David Halberstam's "Best and the Brightest" for those too busy or cheap to subscribe to Foreign Affairs.
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