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Manual George F. Kennan: An American Life

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Yet arguably the entire history of the cold war demonstrated that the US could only conduct its foreign policy with the consent of the people, and that could be mustered only by handing over the reins of power to those Kennan believed to be unsuitable, if not, at times, grossly irresponsible. That was his reaction to McCarthyism, but it was equally his reaction to the hawkish George Bush and the invasion of Iraq in Banished from Washington under Dwight Eisenhower and Foster Dulles after the Republicans took office in January , Kennan was thrown back on his own resources, stricken with the need to atone for the unexpected turn of events for which, in fact, he was not as responsible as he believed.

He had suddenly shot into the firmament under Truman and Acheson; and then, like a comet, with equal speed he disappeared off into the outer darkness. Immured in a Venetian style tower, a four-storey study atop Hodge Road in the heart of white-picket-fenced Princeton, he had instead to content himself writing memoirs, reflections and lucid essays while waiting in vain for the "call" that would summon him back to the White House.

He certainly missed the "real intoxication of the spirit simply from being in physical proximity of persons of high office". But to his undying frustration, instead of statesmen he was besieged by academics, seeking insights or patronage, sometimes both. This unique institution of learning took him in against the advice of professional historians such as Gordon Craig and Joseph Strayer in , but with enthusiastic support from Isaiah Berlin and Theodore Mommsen, and kept him on the payroll even after retirement as one of its most illustrious figures.

US foreign policy reviews. Order by newest oldest recommendations. Gaddis' use of Kennan's almost never-ending correspondence, speeches, and diary entries, as well as multiple lengthy interviews with Kennan himself and his wife Annelise, gives the book a comprehensive feel.

Given Kennan's longevity and with his career taking him to so many important places, this is hard to do. Gaddis' specialty is Cold War history, and it shows as he is in command of both his subject and the issues that dominated his subject's life. He clearly respects Kennan, as most people who encountered him did even if they disagreed with his policies and thinking and there were many people who did , but he is also able to maintain a sensible detachment throughout most of the book, not hesitating to bring to the fore Kennan's faults or mistakes, oftentimes questioning his judgment or behavior.

Kennan started his foreign service career in the s, after enduring a somewhat lonely childhood Kennan never knew his mother as she died when he very young; his dad was distant in Milwaukee and then transferring that loneliness with him to Princeton. Kennan attempted to resign from the Foreign Service many times over the years but, through some fluke or another, ended up staying on and becoming the country's foremost Russian expert. Kennan had a remarkable ease with languages, quickly learning to speak German and Russian, as well as several other languages, fluently.

Even Josef Stalin commented on how excellent Kennan's Russian was. Kennan had a propensity to run afoul of the policymakers in Washington, even when he was one himself as head of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. Kennan usually brought a long-range view to American foreign policy but at the expense of practicality and political considerations.

Many of his predictions turned out to be correct, but he was ahead of his time. For instance, he accurately determined that the Soviet Union would collapse after first failing to keep an iron hand on its Eastern European satellites. The only president that he had a close relationship with was John F. Gaddis astutely points out that Kennan's affection for Kennedy came not so much for the policies that Kennedy espoused Kennan thought that JFK too easily acceded to Congress and American political necessities but that Kennedy frequently sought his counsel and paid attention to him in a way that none of the other presidents ever bothered to do this included Nixon and George Bush who both had high regard for him.

Why I didn't give this book a higher rating has little to do with Gaddis. There were a few things that I wish he would have discussed more: Also, what happened to Kennan's relationship with Dean Acheson after the latter viciously criticized him publicly in following the Reith Series lectures. Despite working so closely together a decade before, Gaddis does not mention Acheson again. But the main reason this gets three stars is due to the subject himself: Kennan was one gloomy and, Gaddis uses the word "brooding", individual. Even when he had successes, he could not allow himself to enjoy them.

He had a devoted wife, yet apparently had numerous affairs. He understood Russia better than many Russians probably did, yet seemed like a fish out of water when living in and talking about his own country. After awhile, it becomes annoying, then depressing. Recommended for anyone interested in Cold War history, U. May 11, David rated it really liked it Shelves: Advice by and for the Middle-aged former Liberal Arts Major Nobody warned me about growing older, which is to say, of course they did, I just didn't listen. In any case, I don't think any of the advice was very practical.

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I write you today in part to repair this lamentable situation. When you reach a certain age you realize, on your way to your job at the Olive Garden, that you haven't thought about certain historical figures in months, even years. Soon after, you realize that your knowledge of sa Advice by and for the Middle-aged former Liberal Arts Major Nobody warned me about growing older, which is to say, of course they did, I just didn't listen.

Soon after, you realize that your knowledge of said historical figures once so voluminous that you could speedily empty a dorm room by deploying only a fraction of it has been reduced to a comparative nubbins during the long years of pre-early-bird-special napkin folding. Listen to long, long biographies of beloved to you historical figures on unabridged audio book. The advantages are many.

That is what we used to call value for money. Also, if you choose historical figures who interested you strangely in your younger days, you never have the problem of being lost in the narrative. You can pick up with the thread again in 15 seconds, saying to yourself: I remember it well. Listen to long audio books on great historic figures, like this one another example: FDR by Jean Smith. It won't give you the nest egg you should already have for your old age but don't, but it will make the commute to The Garden both more enjoyable and more edifying, plus, you never know when you might need to empty a room again.

Strangely, most reviews of this book center on Kennan instead of Gaddis. In any case, the biography is informative and sympathetic, making allowances for Kennan's solipsism while never excusing his errors and misconceptions. It sits with American Prometheus as the best biographies I have had the pleasure or reading.

Aug 21, Justin Tapp rated it it was amazing Shelves: An American Life I learned a lot from this authorized biography, the author was given "unrestricted access" to Kennan's journals, writings, and personal friends with the understanding that this book would be published after his death. Kennan's thoughts and work have much to offer as we see an inter-Slavic conflict in Ukraine as well as the U. Kennan would have understood very well Former Secretary of State Clinton's criticisms of the President for not having a coherent, consistent foreign policy. He would probably see the current conflict as inevitable given the tensions that had built up.

He would also see Putin's strongarm tactics as continuation of Russian history. Kennan was one of the first to recognize that the USSR was just the latest face on the flow of Russian history, led by strong autocrats with empirical ambitions and deep phobias about the Western world. He noted that dispatches written by diplomat Neal Brown from Russia in the s could have just as easily been written in the s, very little had changed. But Kennan always quoted John Adams on foreign policy: Don't go abroad looking for monsters to destroy.

Fight for freedom and democracy where feasible, but not every monster was a Hitler and some conflicts like Vietnam, which he was fervently against are best left avoided. Military strategy should be made concordant with political policy, and this is a theme I saw echoed in Robert Gates' recent memoir. Kennan essentially had three fathers: His own, George Kennan one of the first Americans to widely travel Russia and the Caucasus who was Kennan's grandfather's cousin but shared both his birthday, name, and affinity for Russia, and Chekov.

Every man has suffered a wound that shaped his development, Kennan's came from the loss of his mother in his infancy and rejection by family members-- including the above George Kennan's wife who made sure her husband had nothing to do with him a shame, really. Nonetheless he was a "happy child" and a "normal boy" who got his first taste of overseas life and learned fluent German when his family lived in Germany for a time. From that he developed an appreciation of foreign culture and a wanderlust. After a military high school, Kennan barely makes it into Princeton and wrote mix feelings about it, mainly finding it "homogenous" and remarks on the lack of foreigners or broader world view.

He begins writing letters to his sister while at school, a lifelong endeavor that would be the source for many of his memories in this book. He got passport, took a boat to Europe one summer and fell upon the mercy of the U. After returning, he graduated from Princeton in and joins the newly-formed Foreign Service.

After passing his exams, he is posted to Geneva, then Hamburg. Not enamored with complaints and lives of expats, he fell in love with a girl, and wanted to resign and also pursue graduate studies. Kennan as bored, frustrated, physically exhausted, and cynical is a recurring theme. He often grows whimsical about doing other things, like farming, writing, or teaching. He is usually given a way out and a new chapter begins.

This time, the FS sent to US for 6 months of leave where he elected to join a new program to train in critical languages-- he chose Russian in part out of family affiliation, even though the elder Kennan would have little to do with him. He was then stationed in Talinn, Estonia. The Depression hits, bankrupting his parents, and Kennan begins to write very pessimistically about civilization. This would continue throughout his life. While professional and stable at home and the office, Kennan is crankily pessimistic, insecure, and often depressed.

From , Kennan would be a part of the first U. Kennan became one of State Department's most respected Russian experts. When FDR negotiated diplomatic recognition of Moscow in , Kennan warned that Russians would break any agreements signed. This would also be a recurring theme of 20th century history. While Kennan made a decent salary, he was often physically ill, could not stand working for political appointee ambassadors, and received a transfer to Jerusalem only to later be sent back to Moscow when the State Department reorganized its affairs.

The depth at which the Soviets had penetrated the State Department and other branches of government during this time was truly remarkable and disturbing. Kennan was definitely anti-McCarthy but recognized areas where he saw Soviet influence.


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Kennan is the ultimate expatriate, who knows one can never truly go home again. While he loves America, he also loathes its bad characteristics increasingly on every home visit. Kennan was fluent in Russian and well-versed in its history but remarkably ignorant of U. In he writes of how America needs a stronger central government led by elites with women and blacks kept from voting. It echoes the "Gentleman" concept of the late s and the Founding Fathers but the author doesn't mention this; Kennan was just ignorant of previous American thought.

Kennan later softens after seeing the brutality of fascism, Stalin's purges, and other acts of brutality by non-democratic governments. But he hopes America can rebuild from the Depression in such a way that the proletariat doesn't take the reigns as they did under Hitler in Germany. His journal writings come across as fairly anti-semitic, but he did work to get Jews out of Eastern Europe and Germany before America entered World War II, something he did not get much credit for. Kennan is stationed in Prague during early days of the war and witnesses Nazi occupation.

His wife's father was tortured by Germans when they took over Norway. Kennan Meets Germans in Prague who are against Hitler, but little anyone can do. He found the hypocrisy of the German army toward the Jews detestable. Kennan had missed the Soviet-Nazi pact, didn't forsee it. He is transferred to Berlin where he is later interred with other Americans after Pearl Harbor. While in Berlin, Kennan had affairs, which led his wife to leave kids with sister in U. The details of Kennan's affairs are always a mystery but he has a roving eye his entire life, despite loving his wife.

After being released, Kennan is stationed in Portugal where he negotiates on behalf of FDR for the use of Portugese land and bases. Eventually, he returns to Moscow under Ambassador Harriman. He is disturbed by the Roosevelt administration's lack of concern with human rights, especially with how FDR quashed talk of Polish mistreatment by Russia for election purposes. Kennan warned various administrations not to let atomic knowledge fall into hands of Soviets for this reason.

Kennan again grows frustrated and weary. He tried again to resign in but was discouraged by his superiors because of his expertise and value. After Stalin's speech denouncing rest of the world, Kennan wrote "the long telegram," and 8, word document that essentially explained Soviet policy and established U. It essentially launched Kennan's modern career. However, in he again wanted to resign again from foreign service, felt he could only do so much as diplomat. He had traveled Russia, Siberia for his namesake and seen more of the country and read more of its literature than any other American.

Eventually, he was given an appointment at the newly-established War College in D. An article penned anonymously by him appeared in the July edition of Foreign Affairs that outlined a policy of containment, which essentially became the Truman Doctrine. Kennan, more than any other diplomat before or since, had shaped U. Kennan worked Worked under Sec. Kennan helped craft the Marshall Plan, basically saying that U.

His recommendations in regards to Yugoslavia and China were also accepted-- China was to be left alone. Kennan was even sent to Japan and did brilliant end-run around McArthur and his "psychophants. The Marshall Plan took Stalin by surprise. However, in Kennan began a "great reversal," going back on previous recommendations after becoming alarmed by the U. Kennan had recommended pushing for a unified, neutral Germany and wanted to formulate an end of the Cold War rather than it go on indefinitely.

He was Director of Policy Planning-- and the book shows importance of this role in light of today. Kennan advocates separating Communism from Russian Emperialism, which would help isolate Kremlin from places like Tito's Yugoslavia. He also recommends supporting Tito's communism as affront to Kremlin. However, many in Congress do not distinguish "good communists" from "bad communists" and Kennan's views are out-of-step again. He comes to loathe McCarthyism and the far right-wing of the Republican party. Acheson viewed Russian threat as primarily military and disregarded much of Kennan's policy advice.

Kennan believed the Russian people would eventually "come around," and generally wanted peace, but was pessimistic that a peaceful outcome would be reached by the powers.

George F. Kennan: An American Life

Kennan befriends Robert Oppenheimer and worked for the Institute for Advanced Study, writing and lecturing. Both Kennan and Oppenheimer publicly opposed developing a hydrogen bomb, convinced they would be used if they were ever made. He got onto the Princeton faculty with some considerable controversy and eventually his published books are acclaimed enough to justify his position there.

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Kennan also sponsored Russian dissident organizations, helping exiles get incorporated into American life. He published book, a "realist" view of foreign policy based on his surprisingly very popular lectures at U. Kennan's works would win a couple Pulitzer prizes. While lecturing at Princeton, he advises the State Dept.

Kennan ends up being the conduit the Soviets choose to send the message--the Russians told him in a private meeting that they urged N. Kennan found life in Moscow harder, like being in prison. He was lonely and isolated. At one point he requested the CIA provide him with suicide pills ostensibly because he thought war was inevitable, didn't want to be tortured and put in solitary. He also possibly had an affair and feared the news leaking. His wife eventually was able to come and didn't find it so intolerable. Kennan took everything personally, thought Stalin was out for him; indeed he was given a test by a fake dissident proposing assassination.

Kennan said his ambassadorship reminded him of his internment in Berlin said while in Berlin. This comparison with the Nazis engraged the Kremlin and it Seems Stalin himself made the call to banish him. Kennan eventually retired in He was succeeded in Moscow by Charles Bohlen, who was a long-time colleague and intellectual adversary that was also seen as too much of an "appeaser. Kennan lives the life of an expatriate and scholar.

He becomes critical, almost spiteful, of his own country and its faults. JFK pushes a crucial Trade Act through Congress, but the conservatives strip provisions in the bill that would maintain Poland and Yugoslavia's most favored nation status, something that would be a brutal blow to those countries. JFK gave promises about aid to Poland, Yugoslavia, but reneges. Kennan himself had lobbied Congress in person and made calls from Yugoslavia. JFK even promises to criticize while signing, and further reneges. Oddly, Kennan did not fault the President for not keeping his word, or the political situation.

Domestic politics wins, and JFK wanted to look tough on communism. JFK later meets with Tito and apologizes while Kennan resigns his post. Kennan writes an article for Foreign Affairs on how the lack JFK's foreign policy is actually the fault of a paralyzing Congress eager to block the President at all turns sounds familiar. LBJ is mentioned only briefly and comes across as distant, brooding. The Kennans became world travelers while George lectured and wrote his memoirs. He also cultivated "friendships" with various ladies, including Stalin's daughter who defected in India.

He became increasingly concerned about policy toward Southeast Asia and testifies before Congress on national television against intervention in Vietnam, which polls showed actually swayed public opinion. Kissinger spoke highly of Kennan and Kennan had apparently tracked Kissinger's intellectual progress. Kennan was initially critical of detante but supported the idea of greater dialogue.

George F. Kennan: An American Life - John Lewis Gaddis - Google Книги

I would agree with them on this point, according to dissidents life got better for them when the U. Kennan was criticized for lack of moral clarity, but Kennan believed the U. He appears to misjudge the U. Reagan oddly enough echoed Kennan's writing, speeches, and policy-- negotiating arms reduction with USSR, but Kennan gave him no credit and was constantly critical. The author contrasts this with Kennan's affections for JFK who lied and did nothing, while Reagan actually opened dialogues and reduced the danger. Kennan was simply more cranky and vain in his old age.

He probably hated Reagan for being from movies and ads, part of what he hated about America. He still assumed nuclear war inevitable. He felt that, like Rome, the Soviets had conquered too widely and spread their defenses too thin. Eventually the Soviet bloc territories and sattelites would be too expensive to maintain.

I would look for that aspect in another book, this one solely focuses on the man and his immediate impacts.

George F Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis - review

Kennan was 78 at the time, but he did not die until , which changed the context in which the book was published due to contemporaneous concerns about "economic misery and questions about the future of American dominance in international affairs". Gideon Rachman of The Financial Times describes Kennan as "a rare example of a diplomat who changed history through the power of his ideas and the clarity of his writing".

John Lewis Gaddis and Barton Gellman - "George F. Kennan: An American Life"

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. An American Life [Hardcover]". Retrieved May 28, An American Life [Paperback]". The New York Times.