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A Review Of Kissinger: A Biography

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As Walter Isaacson will tell you, Kissinger is the sort of man who will draw polar reactions from people-- you either love him or hate him. This makes it difficult to write an objective biography of him while still providing useful commentary. In my opinion, Isaacson succeeds brilliantly. Although he is very penetrating in analyzing Kissinger's techniques and views as National Security Advisor and later as Secretary of State, he stops short of giving us his views on whether they were good and bad, focusing instead on whether or not they worked, and what reaction they provoked. This leaves the reader to form their own opinion on whether or not Kissinger was justified in his actions, or if his policies were the best ones. This is as it should be-- Kissinger is too complex a subject and too emotional a topic to be fed someone else's reaction to his actions.

What Isaacson does is provides an excellent insight into Kissinger's complex personality, as well as an analysis of his foreign policy, the effects of his personality on his policy, and the options available to him.

At the same time I kept wondering how anyone could believe anything that comes out of Kissinger's mouth. To say he is disingenuous seems to be an understatement. Isaacson brings out the fact that Kissinger would flatter a person and then insult him behind his back. Quite often this would come back to haunt Kissinger.

Isaacson does a masterful job in articulating the "realist" school of foreign policy and the "idealist" school. The realist view sees things in terms of balances of power, whereas the idealist school sees things in terms of promoting American values in foreign policy (like democracy, human rights, etc.). Kissinger, holding to the former school, had no feel for the latter whatsoever. This left his foreign policy open, and I believe rightly so, to criticism from human rights groups and from average Americans who felt we should put our best values forward in conducting foreign affairs.

Walter Isaacson simply set out to chronicle and highlight to the life and times of Henry Kissinger. What resulted was one of the most comprehensive, insightful, and nonpartisan biographies of the field. Isaacson draws extensively from Kissinger's own memoirs, Years of Upheaval, White House Years, and Years of Renewal, as well as other works written by Kissinger. However, Isaacson also uses other secondary sources written by authors sympathetic and unsympathetic to the former Secretary of State. Yet Isaacson doesn't narrow his focus to any particular period of time in Kissinger's life or career.

Isaacson traces Kissinger from his turbulent childhood in Nazi Germany, his formative years in the US Army during the Second World War and his storied tenure as a Harvard underclassman, graduate student and imperious young professor. He presents Kissinger as undeniably brilliant yet completely insecure, callous and driven by unbridled ambition. His ultimate success as an academic, a bureaucrat and a statesman were all attributable to an uncommon mix of exceptional talent, incredible hard-work and constant manipulation.

Isaacson highlights Kissinger's academic focus on 19th century European diplomacy and attempts to show how the method and practice of Napoleonic era foreign secretaries such as Metternich directly influenced his behavior as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State

Isaacson does not shy away from controversial topics in or facets of Kissinger's life. He mentions Kissinger's standing as a jet-setter, courting the heads of state and traveling the world, solving, or working to solve, major world problems such as the Vietnam war, the Yom Kippur War, problems with the Soviet Union, and many more. Part of what makes Isaacson's biography a work of quality



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