George F. Kennan by John Lewis Gaddis
An American Life

79%

14 Critic Reviews

Embracing and explaining the paradoxes that made Kennan has been Gaddis's uneasy task. The accomplished, Pulitzer-winning result tells us a good deal about postwar America.
-Guardian

Synopsis

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year

Drawing on extensive interviews with George Kennan and exclusive access to his archives, an eminent scholar of the Cold War delivers a revelatory biography of its troubled mastermind.

In the late 1940s, George Kennan wrote two documents, the "Long Telegram" and the "X Article," which set forward the strategy of containment that would define U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union for the next four decades. This achievement alone would qualify him as the most influential American diplomat of the Cold War era. But he was also an architect of the Marshall Plan, a prizewinning historian, and would become one of the most outspoken critics of American diplomacy, politics, and culture during the last half of the twentieth century. Now the full scope of Kennan's long life and vast influence is revealed by one of today's most important Cold War scholars.

Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis began this magisterial history almost thirty years ago, interviewing Kennan frequently and gaining complete access to his voluminous diaries and other personal papers. So frank and detailed were these materials that Kennan and Gaddis agreed that the book would not appear until after Kennan's death. It was well worth the wait: the journals give this book a breathtaking candor and intimacy that match its century-long sweep.

We see Kennan's insecurity as a Midwesterner among elites at Princeton, his budding dissatisfaction with authority and the status quo, his struggles with depression, his gift for satire, and his sharp insights on the policies and people he encountered. Kennan turned these sharp analytical gifts upon himself, even to the point of regularly recording dreams. The result is a remarkably revealing view of how this greatest of Cold War strategists came to doubt his strategy and always doubted himself.

This is a landmark work of history and biography that reveals the vast influence and rich inner landscape of a life that both mirrored and shaped the century it spanned.

 

About John Lewis Gaddis

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JOHN LEWIS GADDIS is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of History at Yale University. His previous books include The United States and the Origins of the Cold War; Strategies of Containment; The Long Peace; We Now Know; The Landscape of History; Surprise, Security, and the American Experience; and The Cold War: A New History. Professor Gaddis teaches courses on Cold War history, grand strategy, international studies, and biography; has won two Yale undergraduate teaching awards; and was a 2005 recipient of the National Humanities Medal.
 
Published November 10, 2011 by Penguin Books. 801 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for George F. Kennan
All: 14 | Positive: 14 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Good
on Jul 26 2013

A well-rounded treatment of the life of a man who made significant contributions to his country and the world at large.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on Aug 15 2011

Adroitly managed...Gaddis’s work is a major contribution to Kennan’s legacy and the history of American foreign policy.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Fred Kaplan on Nov 22 2011

...“George F. Kennan: An American Life” turns out to be not only an epic work —probing, engrossing, occasionally revelatory — but also a well-timed one.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Henry A. Kissinger on Nov 10 2011

Gaddis had the acumen to follow Kennan’s tortured quest and to convince us that Kennan had indeed reached his mountaintop.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Jonathan Haslam on Apr 17 2012

Embracing and explaining the paradoxes that made Kennan has been Gaddis's uneasy task. The accomplished, Pulitzer-winning result tells us a good deal about postwar America.

Read Full Review of George F. Kennan: An American... | See more reviews from Guardian

WSJ online

Good
Reviewed by Alonzo Hamby on Nov 19 2011

Mr. Gaddis's admiration for Kennan is obvious, but it does not stop him from portraying his subject's flaws— an immense ego, a deep insecurity, a volatile temperament.

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Financial Times

Good
Reviewed by Gideon Rachman on Nov 18 2011

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the modern makers of foreign policy were able to think and write as clearly as that?

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Christian Science Monitor

Good
Reviewed by Christopher Hartman on Dec 29 2011

Gaddis, a Cold War scholar at Yale University and prize-winning author of several books on the subject, has provided an important, if not indispensable biography of Kennan in George F. Kennan: An American Life.

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Booklist Online

Good
Reviewed by Gilbert Taylor on Sep 19 2013

The work of an eminent historian of that very subject, Gaddis’ biography is doubly significant and a new essential in any reading, recreational or scholarly, in the history of American foreign policy.

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The Daily Beast

Good
Reviewed by Jacob Heilbrunn on Dec 09 2011

How to fashion a coherent biography out of such a contradictory figure? John Lewis Gaddis has, against all the odds, written what surely amounts to the best study of Kennan.

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The New York Review of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Frank Costigliola on Dec 08 2011

Despite its problems of perspective and balance, Gaddis’s George F. Kennan remains a monumental and absorbing book.

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California Literary Review

Above average
Reviewed by Peter Bridges on Jan 19 2012

Professor Gaddis has set out clearly and not uncritically Kennan’s subsequent years as policy adviser and, indeed, policy maker.

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The Cresset

Good
Reviewed by Mel Piehl on Sep 19 2013

While there is an extensive literature on Kennan’s influential role in US foreign policy, John Lewis Gaddis’s weighty biography is the first scholarly treatment of Kennan’s life. Not only is it the first, George F. Kennan: An American Life...well deserves the label “definitive.”

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International Affairs Review

Good
Reviewed by Bradley Martin on Apr 16 2012

A complex, independent man, Kennan defied easy labels. George F. Kennan: An American Life provides a fascinating account of the life of a forgotten voice from an important time in American diplomacy.

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Reader Rating for George F. Kennan
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