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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Oh, Henry! Kissinger finds his chronicler

This attentive, magnificently written, and profoundly researched biography of Henry Kissinger before he took office is stunningly good, and stuns as much for what it does not say as what it does. Earlier Kissinger biographers have tried to comprehend him, not quite in order to forgive his crimes but to share with others—usually Adolf Hitler—the blame for them. Hitler stung Kissinger at a tender age into his amoral realism, and caused him to lure us into a foreign policy that history has proved was unnecessary. Walter Isaacson’s 1992 biography ends with the triumph of the West in the Cold War in spite of realpolitik. Kissinger’s machinations came to naught because the Cold War was more like a TED conference than a life-and-death struggle: Victory came to us because our values “eventually proved more attractive.”...
Niall Ferguson is 15 years younger than the midcentury baby boomers like Isaacson, Christopher Hitchens, and me, whose fathers were Kissinger’s contemporaries. Facing not an effortless Cold War victory but a victory squandered, Ferguson is free of the presupposition that both he and his reader are Kissinger’s moral superiors. Instead, using Kissinger’s thought and early career as his vantage point, Ferguson writes a marvelously capacious and dramatic history of American foreign policy during the Cold War’s first generation...

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