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Kissinger: A Biography

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Listening Length: 34 hours and 30 minutes By the time Henry Kissinger was made secretary of state in 1973, he had become, according to a Gallup poll, the most admired person in America and one of the most unlikely celebrities ever to capture the world's imagination. Yet Kissinger was also reviled by large segments of the American public, ranging from liberal intellectuals t Listening Length: 34 hours and 30 minutes By the time Henry Kissinger was made secretary of state in 1973, he had become, according to a Gallup poll, the most admired person in America and one of the most unlikely celebrities ever to capture the world's imagination. Yet Kissinger was also reviled by large segments of the American public, ranging from liberal intellectuals to conservative activists. Kissinger explores the relationship between this complex man's personality and the foreign policy he pursued. Drawing on extensive interviews with Kissinger as well as 150 other sources, including US presidents and his business clients, this first full-length biography makes use of many of Kissinger's private papers and classified memos to tell his uniquely American story. The result is an intimate narrative, filled with surprising revelations, that follows this grandly colorful statesman from his childhood as a persecuted Jew in Nazi Germany, through his tortured relationship with Richard Nixon, to his later years as a globe-trotting business consultant.


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Listening Length: 34 hours and 30 minutes By the time Henry Kissinger was made secretary of state in 1973, he had become, according to a Gallup poll, the most admired person in America and one of the most unlikely celebrities ever to capture the world's imagination. Yet Kissinger was also reviled by large segments of the American public, ranging from liberal intellectuals t Listening Length: 34 hours and 30 minutes By the time Henry Kissinger was made secretary of state in 1973, he had become, according to a Gallup poll, the most admired person in America and one of the most unlikely celebrities ever to capture the world's imagination. Yet Kissinger was also reviled by large segments of the American public, ranging from liberal intellectuals to conservative activists. Kissinger explores the relationship between this complex man's personality and the foreign policy he pursued. Drawing on extensive interviews with Kissinger as well as 150 other sources, including US presidents and his business clients, this first full-length biography makes use of many of Kissinger's private papers and classified memos to tell his uniquely American story. The result is an intimate narrative, filled with surprising revelations, that follows this grandly colorful statesman from his childhood as a persecuted Jew in Nazi Germany, through his tortured relationship with Richard Nixon, to his later years as a globe-trotting business consultant.

30 review for Kissinger: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    Let me state very clearly that when I give this book two stars it reflects only how I personally react to the book. It is very well researched, and it is thorough. Too thorough for me, or let’s put it this way, I didn’t know enough before picking it up. This made it difficult to follow. Yes, I am glad I read it, but it was a chore. Keep in mind that I enjoy books of non-fiction. I have given Steve Jobs, Einstein: His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, all by Walter Isaacs Let me state very clearly that when I give this book two stars it reflects only how I personally react to the book. It is very well researched, and it is thorough. Too thorough for me, or let’s put it this way, I didn’t know enough before picking it up. This made it difficult to follow. Yes, I am glad I read it, but it was a chore. Keep in mind that I enjoy books of non-fiction. I have given Steve Jobs, Einstein: His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, all by Walter Isaacson, four stars. Furthermore, I want to point out that I do not need to like a person to like a book about them. Other complaints are stated below. It follows Kissinger from his birth in 1923 in Fürth, Bavaria, Germany. There is not a lot about his parents or his sibling or his earliest years of childhood. There is very little about either his two wives or his two children. Momentum builds with his years in academia, continues with his political years with Nixon and Ford and finally concludes with his years as a world famous and sought-after business consultant, carrying the reader through the early 90s. The book was first published in 1992. It was in 1993 a nominee for a Pulitzer in biography or autobiography. Of course a very large portion of the book focuses on the Vietnam War, establishing regular contact with China, the "entente" with the Soviet Union and the shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East. Here I am neither going to list his major accomplishments nor his failures. While I admire the man’s negotiating ability, his intelligence and his supreme mastery of semantics, his penchant for secrecy, his duplicity and his total disregard for polite comportment make him a person I would have difficulty calling a friend. Clearly many others do not have such difficulties. He was quite popular with the women and did have long lasting friendship with several male colleagues. After reading this book I do feel I understand his character. That is important to me. It is very clear that the author has a negative view toward Kissinger. This makes me uncomfortable. In a biography, I want an unbiased presentation. Isaacson does acknowledge Kissinger’s accomplishments, but his subjective attitude is reflected in his choice of words. There is an excessive use of subjective wording. I wish the author had more often specified what exactly lead him to draw a particular conclusion. When a criticism is made I want background sources specified. Perhaps the paper book has detailed notes. There is no reference to notes in the audiobook. One of Kissinger’s major achievements was his success in balancing Russian, American and Chinese power. Kissinger’s ability to shift what had been a bi-polar power structure toward a tri-polar field was cleverly maneuvered. The benefit to the US is clear, but nothing is said to explain how the Chinese were thinking. The author stresses Kissinger’s preference for “realpolitik”, a German term, over morally motivated foreign policy. This theme is discussed from page one to the very end. I found it exaggerated. Reality is more diffuse. I do not recommend choosing the audiobook. Malcolm Hillgartner reads too fast. This is a book of non-fiction with numerous academic and political terms that are often not clarified. One needs time to think. Furthermore, he employs a ridiculous German accent for Kissinger’s lines. This intonation makes Kissinger sound even worse than the author’s colorfully subjective wording. I am glad I read the book, but I am very glad it is over. Phew.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Returning to the wonderful world of political biographies, I chose to tackle another of Walter Isaacson's collection, looking at Henry Kissinger. Isaacson traces Kissinger's humble beginnings in Germany through to his meteoric rise through the American political stratosphere, concentrated in the Nixon and Ford White Houses. Throughout the book, numerous storylines present three distinct themes in Kissinger's life: the stellar academic, the megalomaniacal fiend, and the astute statesman. Isaacson Returning to the wonderful world of political biographies, I chose to tackle another of Walter Isaacson's collection, looking at Henry Kissinger. Isaacson traces Kissinger's humble beginnings in Germany through to his meteoric rise through the American political stratosphere, concentrated in the Nixon and Ford White Houses. Throughout the book, numerous storylines present three distinct themes in Kissinger's life: the stellar academic, the megalomaniacal fiend, and the astute statesman. Isaacson offers a plethora of information and detailed accounts of Kissinger's life to date, which allows the reader a sensational look into some of America's formative years in the mid- to late-20th century. While his prominence has waned of late, Kissinger's impact on foreign policy and the historical footprint he's left will forever be seen in historical tomes. One of the most detailed biographies I have ever read, Isaacson goes above and beyond to bring Kissinger to life. One key aspect to Kissinger's success in life traces back to his academic prowess. From an early age, Kissinger's aptitude for his studies were second to none. After fleeing Germany and the Nazi regime in 1938, a fifteen year old Kissinger and his family settled in New York with many of the others of Jewish descent. He scored the highest grades in his classes, even with the language barrier, and never sought to use these hurdles as a means of pity. While he had an early penchant for mathematics, an eventual passion for history turned Kissinger's academic focus to the liberal arts. Kissinger elevated his studies and headed to Harvard on scholarship, with a strong focus on international history. He could impress his professors with a passion for better understanding the nuances of the world through past historical events. He leapfrogged into graduate studies and eventually earned a doctoral degree with a dissertation examining the post-Napoleonic organisation of Europe through the role that Klemens von Metternich (the Austrian Empire's foreign minister) played in sewing up diplomatic relations, which would prove highly useful in understanding the world's development during the Cold War years. Turning to teaching at Harvard, Kissinger could formulate strong opinions that caught the eye of many in the upper echelons of government, especially his views on nuclear weapons armament, which ruffled the feathers of many liberals within the Harvard family. These sorts of studies not only earned him recognition in Washington, but exemplified his academic foundation, which would prove essential when he worked with Nixon and Ford in the White House, formulating foreign policy and negotiating with Cold War enemies.Isaacson shows Kissinger's passion for research and delving to the depths of the issue in order to extract core elements essential for a better understanding of the process, pulling in Metternichian ideas during numerous occasions. Kissinger's brilliant academic foundation led to megalomaniacal tendencies, fostered by his superiority sentiment. As an academic, Kissinger utilised his position of authority to direct research of his graduate and doctoral students, going so far as to steamroll over their proposals, only to take the ideas for himself. In one instance, Isaacson illustrates how Kissinger quashed a publication option by one of his students, citing an earlier inclination to publish on the topic. Forcing the student to alter their research, Kissinger never got around to writing or publishing the contentious piece, though he never thought to apologise for the oversight. This only laid the groundwork for many other instances of power-hungry Kissinger pushing for control and domination over all around him. Isaacson portrays Kissinger as one who must always be within the inner circle of power, or at least around the discussion table. He would drone on to the likes of Kennedy, circumnavigating protocol and those within the inner sanctum, only to be rebuffed behind his back. Once Nixon brought him into the White House inner sanctum, Kissinger's megalomaniacal nature only flared, leaving him to step on the toes of his subordinates, equals, and superiors alike. In a highly-detailed narrative of Nixon's first term in office, Isaacson shows how Kissinger overstepped his position as the National Security Advisor to run large portion of the State portfolio while keeping the Secretary, Will Rogers, completely in the dark. One concrete example of this come in the secret mission to open up ties with China in 1971. Kissinger went to China to pave the way, after convincing Nixon that he was the obvious and only choice for the job. He dodged the bureaucrats and organised the mission without State's input, releasing the details only afterwords in a tightly-spun lie. These clashes only heightened the more time Kissinger remained in his position, fuelled by a somewhat passive (or enabling) Richard Nixon. Kissinger could not have climbed the ladder of control without the permission or support of Nixon, which Isaacson shows throughout the text. These two men, destined for complete power, rarely butted heads, but used one another to climb over all opponents in their way, as though they were a pair of hedonistic political juggernauts, happy only when the world turned to them in awe. With strong beliefs and an indestructible sense, Kissinger's role as statesman was second to none. As mentioned above, he took the reins of lead statesman in Nixon's government long before the role was given to him. Nixon turned to Kissinger to diffuse many of the world events in which America had a vested interest. The China mission and secret talks with the Viet Cong remain two of the great events in which Kissinger was involved, though both commenced when he was not yet in the role of Secretary of State. Kissinger was seen to be long-winded and somewhat of a diplomatic bouncer for world leaders who hoped to bend Nixon's ear on issue. Indira Ghandi mentioned during her State Visit in 1971 that Nixon would demur to Kissinger's opinions and allowed him to lead the discussions surrounding the India-Pakistan War, which troubled her, but led to a quick end to the conflict. Kissinger was more than an academic, spouting the textbook approach to resolution in his realist perspective, which Isaacson cites throughout. Kissinger got results and helped move diplomacy in areas of the world stuck in stalemates for long periods of time, through duplicitous means, in Isaacson's view. The statesman would play both sides against one another by appearing to side with them in individual discussions and promising not stop at nothing to advocate for fairness. While handling statesman roles during Nixon's first administration, Kissinger could work in any sphere, save for those of a Middle East capacity (at least until crowned as Secretary of State in 1973). Isaacson indicates throughout the tome that Nixon felt Kissinger's Jewish background might prove to be too much of an impediment to successful negotiating. However, once Kissinger became Secretary of State, he utilised the Yom Kippur War to open a dialogue between Israel and Egypt, paving the way to successful advancements in the Middle East. For this, Kissinger must be lauded as he opened up key discussions that led to the famous Camp David Accords, under Carter's Administration. To call Kissinger a powerful statesman would undercut his abilities. The latter chapters, including those in the Ford Administration, show Kissinger forging new and never-ending attempts to settle the Cold War geo-political divisions within and between states, though his relationship with the Soveits would taint his ability to work with subsequent Republican administrations, including Reagan and both Bushes. Kissinger's statesman abilities surpass many of those who served as Secretary in America's history. After taking a thorough examination of the book, including Isaacson's sentiments in the forewards offered, it is hard to determine Isaacson's tilt on the man. Much of the biography is supportive of his ability to change the world and America's place therein with a strong reliance on a political butterfly effect (an issue in one part of the world could have strong implications on those in another sphere).There are also segments that paint a highly negative or confrontational light of Kissinger, peppered throughout Isaacson's narrative. I did not leave this biography hating Kissinger, nor did I leave feeling that he was pure as the driven snow. Perhaps that is the hard part for Isaacson; finding that happy medium in a political period mired in conflicts around the world with Cabinet members and White House staffers so energised to make a difference. I did, however, take away a great deal of knowledge and insight from the book, which does not shirk on its details. Isaacson paints vivid pictures of the battles that developed and ensued, portraying Nixon (and Ford) as lapdogs to Kissinger's wiles, some of which were blatant violations of his role in the Cabinet. Any reader looking for a powerful insight into the shaping of politics in the 1960s and 70s need look no further than this biography to extract scores of concrete examples about America's role in shaping the Cold War world and steering it away from the communistic clutches of the Soviets. Kudos, Mr. Isaacson for this wonderful piece of work. I was drawn in to this sensational biography and will recommend it to anyone with a political curiosity. Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

  3. 5 out of 5

    Barry Sierer

    At first I was hesitant about reading a biography of Henry Kissinger because I was concerned about what kind of author could grasp the complexities of Kissinger’s times, his expertise in foreign relations, and personal nuances. However, after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I decided to give him a chance. I was not disappointed. Walter Isaacson has proved to be well up to the task of examining Kissinger’s decisions in the tactical, strategic, diplomatic, and moral context of h At first I was hesitant about reading a biography of Henry Kissinger because I was concerned about what kind of author could grasp the complexities of Kissinger’s times, his expertise in foreign relations, and personal nuances. However, after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, I decided to give him a chance. I was not disappointed. Walter Isaacson has proved to be well up to the task of examining Kissinger’s decisions in the tactical, strategic, diplomatic, and moral context of his times. Isaacson also closely examines his relationships with others including Nixon (of course), the media, and even the social circles that he frequented. I would highly recommend this work as an all-encompassing view of the most of complex of men.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    Walter Isaacson, who has written esteemed biographies of Benjamin Franklin, The Wise Men, and Einstein, tackles the complex character of Henry Kissinger, academic, diplomat, and consultant. Kissinger is a difficult character to pin down, as Isaacson notes. He was devious, self-promoting, self-deprecating, intelligent, ambitious, and successful. The author interviewed over 150 people--including Kissinger himself--to gather information for this lengthy volume (767 pages of text). At the outset, Is Walter Isaacson, who has written esteemed biographies of Benjamin Franklin, The Wise Men, and Einstein, tackles the complex character of Henry Kissinger, academic, diplomat, and consultant. Kissinger is a difficult character to pin down, as Isaacson notes. He was devious, self-promoting, self-deprecating, intelligent, ambitious, and successful. The author interviewed over 150 people--including Kissinger himself--to gather information for this lengthy volume (767 pages of text). At the outset, Isaacson says (page 9): "Three decades after he left office, Henry Kissinger continues to exert a fascinating hold on the public imagination as well as intellectual sway over the nation's foreign policy conversation." He was a well-known apostle of "Realpolitik," emphasizing doing what had to be done to advance the national interest, balancing power with power, concerned more with accomplishing things than getting caught up in ideology and morality. Again, a realist as opposed to an idealist. And this is the tension that is described throughout the course of this powerful volume (page 15): ". . .Kissinger had an instinctive feel. . .for power and for creating a new global balance that could help America cope with its withdrawal syndrome after Vietnam. But it was not matched by a similar feel for the strength to be derived from the openness of America's democratic system or for the moral values that are the true source of its global influence." The book begins with a brief early biography of Kissinger, including the misery he experienced after the Nazis came to power and the departure of his immediate family from Germany when they came to understand how inhospitable that country was becoming for Jews. The book also notes that many of his relatives died during World War II, part of the Holocaust. There follows the tale of his adolescence, his military service, his graduate study, and his promising academic career. But the major portion of this book focuses on his role as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State under Richard Nixon's presidency and Secretary of State under Gerald Ford. There is a relatively brief discussion in several chapters of his life after Nixon-Ford, as consultant, commentator, intellectual-without-portfolio. After having worked with Nelson Rockefeller as an advisor, it is somewhat surprising that he ended up serving one of Rocky's antagonists, Richard Nixon. The book traces the odd relationship between Nixon and Kissinger. Sometimes hard-edged and combative, sometimes oddly supportive of one another. The secretive Nixon and Kissinger as lone cowboy accomplished a great deal in foreign policy; however, their penchant for secrecy also created problems of its own. Kissinger could be viewed is devious (for telling different people things in such a way as for each to think that Kissinger was on his/her side), but he also earned the trust of many leaders as he invented "shuttle diplomacy." Leaders might become exasperated with his style and his deviousness, but he was effective in a number of key instances. Examples worth exploring and reflecting upon in the book include the negotiations with North Vietnam to extricate the United States from a quagmire of its own making; the effort to end the Yom Kippur War in a manner that would stabilize the Middle East; the opening to China; détente with the Soviet Union. This is a biography that is worth investing time and energy into. It portrays Kissinger, warts and all, in a manner that illuminates this complicated individual. On some pages, one will think of railing against him; on other pages, one may well feel admiration for his strengths and accomplishments.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Me

    This was an amazing book. It includes amazing detail that I thought would be lost to time. The writer is A+. The topic was fascinating. This is another book I wish I had read when I was much younger. I wanted to understand who Kissinger was. Both the extreme right and extreme left think he is a curse and war criminal. He is far from either, just a man responding to causes and conditions in his life. I find myself somewhat admiring him for his intelligence, craftiness, insight and expertise. I gre This was an amazing book. It includes amazing detail that I thought would be lost to time. The writer is A+. The topic was fascinating. This is another book I wish I had read when I was much younger. I wanted to understand who Kissinger was. Both the extreme right and extreme left think he is a curse and war criminal. He is far from either, just a man responding to causes and conditions in his life. I find myself somewhat admiring him for his intelligence, craftiness, insight and expertise. I greatly recommend this book for anyone interested in becoming a foreign service officer, intelligence analyst or politician.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Walter Isaacson is an excellent writer, with the ability to be historically accurate, tell a good story, and provide reasoned and thoughtful analysis about the subject he is writing about. This definitely holds true for his biography of Henry Kissinger. Written in 1992, Isaacson was able to interview many of the major players (including both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford) who worked with Kissinger while he was in office National Security Adviser and then Secretary of State. One especially well-c Walter Isaacson is an excellent writer, with the ability to be historically accurate, tell a good story, and provide reasoned and thoughtful analysis about the subject he is writing about. This definitely holds true for his biography of Henry Kissinger. Written in 1992, Isaacson was able to interview many of the major players (including both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford) who worked with Kissinger while he was in office National Security Adviser and then Secretary of State. One especially well-constructed chapter is when Isaacson takes September 1970 and reviews all of the crises that Kissinger was facing at that time: Vietnam, the Soviets trying to install missiles in Cuba, Chile, and Jordan. Isaacson shows how Kissinger is forced to juggle all of these issues simultaneously and that they do not occur in a vacuum. Here, as elsewhere, he makes extensive use of Kissinger's memoirs, as well as those of many other major players from that era. This helps to provide perspective on why Kissinger did certain things, or did not do them. Kissinger's duplicity is well-known by now, and Isaacson makes no effort to hide it. Exceptionally thin-skinned and extremely arrogant make for a bad combination in a person's personality, and this is what Kissinger was. His staff had a high turnover and burnout rate, partly from the difficulty and importance of their work, but also partly from how Kissinger treated them (throwing tantrums, being duplicitous to everyone, being domineering). He even instituted wiretaps on several aides - they only found out much later, and even then Kissinger denied any involvement. Yet, Isaacson also notes that Kissinger intentionally surrounded himself with the best people he could get, and wanted to hear their ideas, indeed even wanted to be challenged by them because he knew that made him better at his job. Another area that Isaacson delves into is Kissinger's relationships with Nixon, Ford, and other high political figures. His relationship with Nixon was just... bizarre. Both were paranoid and suspicious of the other - and everyone else. Isaacson cogently notes that they each tended to exacerbate the paranoia that came naturally to the other one. While there may be a tendency to assume that Nixon's deviousness influenced Kissinger to be this way, and this to an extent probably is true, Isaacson indicates that Kissinger behaved this way even with Ford - who was about as straightforward a president as America has had. Isaacson ends the book with a short but analytical chapter about Kissinger's legacy, contrasting his best and worst qualities and putting them into perspective both professionally (global reach of his foreign policy) and personally (his duplicitous nature with people). The chapter serves as a fitting ending to the biography (with Kissinger being alive and active at the time that it was written). In the end, Isaacson readily acknowledges Kissinger's intellectual greatness and his ability to grasp complex geopolitical relationships unlike almost anyone else. But he notes that it came at an enormous cost - a basically amoral philosophy that paid little to no heed for human rights, and did not recognize how much stock Americans put in their morality. This kind of analysis is missing from so many biographies of political figures such as Kissinger, and seems especially to be missing from many presidential biographies. While this book was re-released in 2005, and Isaacson does write a short, new forward to that edition, it would be nice to see him expand and update this book. Since its publication, Kissinger belatedly finished volume III of his memoirs, covering the Ford years. Surely Isaacson would be able to expan upon the chapters dealing with that time period by making use of this book as he has Kissinger's previous works. Also, he could update the chapters dealing with Kissinger's life following his tenure in office, as he has remained remarkably active during the ensuing forty years. And, with the further passage of time, he may be able to provide more context as to how some of Kissinger's policies have impacted the world in the longer term. All in all an excellent and balanced biography of one of America's most controversial political figures. Grade: A

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    This book is sort of an introductory course in American foreign policy in itself. Isaacson delves into Kissinger's philosophy of international relations, its flaws and strengths. But, this book is not a dry academic text by any means. It is a riveting character study of Kissinger and also to a lesser extent of President Nixon. As Kissinger is quoted in the book as saying, personality shapes history. Nixon's and Kissinger's strange clashing and complementary relationship surely shaped history. As This book is sort of an introductory course in American foreign policy in itself. Isaacson delves into Kissinger's philosophy of international relations, its flaws and strengths. But, this book is not a dry academic text by any means. It is a riveting character study of Kissinger and also to a lesser extent of President Nixon. As Kissinger is quoted in the book as saying, personality shapes history. Nixon's and Kissinger's strange clashing and complementary relationship surely shaped history. As Isaacson writes it, it is fascinating, bizarre, disturbing, and even a little sweet. This book is a dynamic account of american politics and foreign policy. Even though I knew what would happen I still got caught up in the great scope and drama of it all. The opening of China, detente with the Soviet Union, the treaty between Israel and Egypt to end the Yom Kippur war, not to mention the bombing of Cambodia and the endless negotiations with the North Vietnamese. Isaacson has a great understanding of the forces that shape the foreign policy of the United States. I loved reading about the bureaucratic rivalries in the State Dept., the National Security Council, and with Congress, Al Haig and Kissinger's clashing, the elaborate system of wiretapping, political theater on Capitol Hill and at the UN. Kissinger is a fascinating man with a fascinating story that I will no doubt read more about in the future. I greatly enjoyed this biography and would recommend it it to anyone interested in American politics and history.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sotiris Makrygiannis

    Short, insecure, a swinger, a global power and protege of Rockefeller that coached Donald Rumsfold. Basically, Nixon strategy found the best player and partner but not sure about who actually gave the call on the Watergate scandal. So much preoccupied with leaks, one could say that was a master of Makiaveli strategy and o global diplomacy

  9. 4 out of 5

    Josh Friedlander

    Kissinger was meretricious, obsequious, craven and amoral, a sociopathic liar and an egomaniac. So how did he become a celebrity, an idol, even a sex symbol? Today, accustomed to anodyne and anonymous DC wonks, we can't even imagine a "superstar diplomat". I think the reason lies in the palpable climate of fear of the Cold War-gripped 1970s. The USSR was, for all people knew, very close to conquering the world, resulting in either nuclear apocalypse or totalitarian slavery. Into that milieu stepp Kissinger was meretricious, obsequious, craven and amoral, a sociopathic liar and an egomaniac. So how did he become a celebrity, an idol, even a sex symbol? Today, accustomed to anodyne and anonymous DC wonks, we can't even imagine a "superstar diplomat". I think the reason lies in the palpable climate of fear of the Cold War-gripped 1970s. The USSR was, for all people knew, very close to conquering the world, resulting in either nuclear apocalypse or totalitarian slavery. Into that milieu stepped Kissinger, with his radiant self-confidence, professorial genius and diplomatic savvy, and became something of a Messiah. One shouldn't understate his actual achievements. His ability to butter up the press and foreign leaders allowed him to conduct Machiavellian intrigues, often with some success. But if we credit him with those successes, we must also hold against him the prolongation of the Vietnam War, the destabilisation of Cambodia and resultant Khmer Rouge terror, and many other horrific failures. Today, people either pillory him (Christopher Hitchens and others on the left), or ignore him. That is fitting - without the threat of nuclear war, we can see more clearly through his bluster and lies. Attention would only feed his overstuffed ego. Kissinger was not exceptional or interesting, except as a self publicist. I came into this book knowing very little about him, and was surprised by the antipathy I developed as I read it. Politics today are still full of prevarication. Even the "experts" usually just hide crystal ball reading behind some trendy jargon. But happily, the prophets of international relations are less revered nowadays than once they were. As for Kissinger himself: knowing how to cling to powerful people might earn column inches, and inspire War and Peace-sized bios like this one, but it doesn't - or shouldn't - earn respect.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Owlseyes

    When I came here in 1938, I was asked to write an essay at George Washington High School about what it meant to be an American. I wrote that . . . I thought that this was a country where one could walk across the street with one’s head erect.—from a Kissinger farewell speech as secretary of state, January 1977 "The statement: Henry Kissinger is a war criminal, is a statement I've been making for many years. It's not a piece of rhetoric, not a metaphor, it's a job description." - Christopher When I came here in 1938, I was asked to write an essay at George Washington High School about what it meant to be an American. I wrote that . . . I thought that this was a country where one could walk across the street with one’s head erect.—from a Kissinger farewell speech as secretary of state, January 1977 "The statement: Henry Kissinger is a war criminal, is a statement I've been making for many years. It's not a piece of rhetoric, not a metaphor, it's a job description." - Christopher Hitchens

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shridhar Sp

    While the book comes out to be subjective assessment of Kissinger by Walter Isaacson, the reason for me picking it was to see what is it that makes Kissinger. It is at times extremely critical of Kissinger an his actions. But his actions are also part of his philosophy as has been discussed in the book, of realpolitik. Totally loved the book. Look forward to pick another biography by the master. Going to pick 'Kissinger - The negotiator' next. While the book comes out to be subjective assessment of Kissinger by Walter Isaacson, the reason for me picking it was to see what is it that makes Kissinger. It is at times extremely critical of Kissinger an his actions. But his actions are also part of his philosophy as has been discussed in the book, of realpolitik. Totally loved the book. Look forward to pick another biography by the master. Going to pick 'Kissinger - The negotiator' next.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Aside from a gnarly chapter on US-Soviet nuclear reduction programs, it's required reading for pretty much anyone interested in international diplomacy and power dynamics. Aside from a gnarly chapter on US-Soviet nuclear reduction programs, it's required reading for pretty much anyone interested in international diplomacy and power dynamics.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This book is a 1991 bio of Kissinger by Isaacson that was re-released in 2005. I have been interested in diplomacy and diplomatic history since the time when Kissinger was first practicing his craft with Nixon. His life and accomplishments have been chronicled by many, including HK himself. Given his prolific writing and the importance of his tenure, I wondered whether there was value in reading Isaacson’s bio nearly sixty after his entry into prominence during the Vietnam war. I think there is, This book is a 1991 bio of Kissinger by Isaacson that was re-released in 2005. I have been interested in diplomacy and diplomatic history since the time when Kissinger was first practicing his craft with Nixon. His life and accomplishments have been chronicled by many, including HK himself. Given his prolific writing and the importance of his tenure, I wondered whether there was value in reading Isaacson’s bio nearly sixty after his entry into prominence during the Vietnam war. I think there is, although it is not an obvious case. Issacson’s bio is quite good and provides a lot to think about and reflect upon even today when the Cold War has ended, the world political order has moved in troubling directions, and even the potential for power politics and personal diplomatic brilliance seems dubious at best, especially since 2016. Some issues to consider include: 1) Was Kissinger as skillful as all the accounts suggests? Yes, and the results he was associated with have proven valuable and lasting (somewhat). He would certainly tell you that but others would too. 2) Was Kissinger indispensable to the Nixon/Ford accomplishments and more important than the other actors? HK certainly thought so but perhaps not. The presidents were critical actors. The US counterparts in other nations had something to do with the success, as did the support staff, columnists, and other popularizers. The move away from Maoism by Deng and others has lifted more out of poverty than the US even did and HK cannot claim that credit. The other leaders had more than a little skill of their own. Besides, the situation/context in which even limited peace was brokered needed to fit with and be conducive to the power political strategies of HK. It helped for there to be a Cold War (and there to have been WW2) and a generally understood view of the world into which clever US strategies could fit. The fundamental attribution error suggests that it was not just Kissinger and that context really mattered in how US diplomacy worked out. 3) Is Kissinger’s legacy still relevant today? Again, tactical details are nice to remember and self-confidence/arrogance will get individuals a long way, but … the world has changed! Balance of power politics/realism suggests a plan of working to restore equilibrium through the resolution of crises in pursuit of national interests. But what if the underlying world system changes such that a very different equilibrium (or even no equilibrium) is reestablished. Could Kissinger strategies work in a non-ergotic world system? 4) What does Kissinger’s legacy mean in a world of populist governments and Executive actors that eviscerate the State Department and the Intelligence Agencies? What happens when experts are distrusted and vilified while the informational basis of policy is degraded; and truth is negotiable? 5) While Nixon/Kissinger/Ford enjoyed good results in their foreign policies, is there a risk in reifying those policies because of their positive results? How does one craft a US foreign policy today in a fractured but interconnected world where the importance of physical place can be questioned relative to networked systems that can be hijacked and corrupted? Sure, I have to hope that productive policies are plausible, but this is not the same environment in which HK rose to fame. 6). It would have been good to have more consideration of the consequences of the reemergence of moralism over pragmatism under Reagan and subsequent administrations. The odd inversion of war and politics during the Gulf War under the neocons also deserved some discussion - although the timing on that was not fortunate even given the rerelease? We have just left an Administration for which ethics and principles were completely foreign, so just establishing some relationship between power, politics, and principles will be a nice accomplishment for Biden’s team. Revisiting the relationship of Kissinger and ethics at any level is likely a bridge too far right now but there is always the possibility for hope, right? Kissinger’s notorious neglect of economic issues received little attention in the book and technological issues would likely join economic ones in a more thorough rethink. There is much more to discuss. Isaacson’s book is fine as far as it goes but prompts more questions today than it did when it was released. His book on Doudna was superb, but HK poses different intellectual issues than does gene editing in the time of COVID-19. Still, Isaacson’s book is certainly worth a read if you have some time on your hands.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Barry

    When Bernie Sander's ferociously challenged Hillary Clinton willingness to take input from Henry Kissinger, I was astonished. Bernie said "I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend," Sanders said angrily, when he raised the issue in the debate. "I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger." why? I have held the opinion that Kissinger was one of the most effective Secretaries of State and Foreign policy experts America has ever produced . What was Sanders talking about??? A quick goo When Bernie Sander's ferociously challenged Hillary Clinton willingness to take input from Henry Kissinger, I was astonished. Bernie said "I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend," Sanders said angrily, when he raised the issue in the debate. "I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger." why? I have held the opinion that Kissinger was one of the most effective Secretaries of State and Foreign policy experts America has ever produced . What was Sanders talking about??? A quick google scan , showed some folks viewed Kissinger as a war criminal- they blamed him for (among other things) the murders committed by the Khmer Rouge because of the US secret bombing Cambodia in a time of undeclared war in Viet Nam when the policy was find those who are attacking us , no matter where they were. In my view , this was like blaming Abe Lincoln for the post war murders of the KuKlux Clan because Lincoln decided to pursue the Civil War.Sure sounded like a silly opinion held by unserious people. I needed to know more. I turned to this book, because of my respect for Walter Isaacson, its author, he is a serious biographer with , in my view great integrity and credibility..Isaccson pointed out the wondrous and the awful of Kissinger. Issacson made clear that Kissinger was brilliant, and he often used that skill when he lied, disobeyed the President and was generally un- Democratic in the pursuit many of his initiatives.Kissinger often acted in an infantile way, and had an ego that got in the way. He circumvented the State Department , and mis-led many of those he dealt with. Kissinger's central theme , per Isaccson ,that would recur throughout his career: tension often exists, at least in his view, between morality and realism. Survival, he noted, sometimes required a disregard for moral standards that was “inconceivable” to those who had led “sheltered” lives. Kissinger contrasted the cold realist, who survives, with “the men of high morals,” who, in brutal situations, have no chance ( Think Ned Stark in Game of Thrones) Pick any Secretary of State and ask what they accomplished ( including Hillary?) His successes dwarf the acheivements of virtually all others Here is a partial Kissinger scorecard of achievements- brokered the First Strategic Nuclear Arms Limitation Agreement( SALT) , the opening of China for US relationships fron dialog to trade, a Berlin accord, a Moscow summit, and eventually a peace treaty for Vietnam. He also brokered as peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel -the triumph of October 1973 was that he was able to maintain good relations with the Soviets while simultaneously reducing their influence in the Middle East .Kissinger and others helped to create a new global balance during the 1970s, one that preserved American influence By playing China and Russia off each other-he helped to preserve American influence in the post-Vietnam era and eventually contributed to the end of the cold war There is more- In a Gallup poll in 1972, he had ranked fourth on the list of “most admired” Americans, after Nixon, Billy Graham, and Harry Truman; in 1973, he ranked first (Nixon had fallen to third after Graham, and Truman had died). He achieved an unprecedented nine-to-one ratio between those who viewed him “favorably” versus those saying “unfavorably.” Congressman Jonathan Bingham proposed a constitutional amendment to allow foreign-born citizens, such as Kissinger, to run for president. He became the most popular political figure at Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London, and the contestants in the Miss Universe pageant overwhelmingly voted him “the greatest person in the world today.” The book is an in depth documentary, my summary is incomplete. My conclusion Kissinger was a flawed man who did great things. I think he shares that with most of the Giants of history.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Counsel182

    It is too bad this book was written in 1995....would have liked to read of Isacson's take on Kissinger's view of the aftermath of 9/11 but that of course can undoubtedly be gleaned elsewhere. This book still represents a remarkable work attempting to take on one of the most enigmatic characters of recent years. This exhaustive and plainly well documented book leaves me a bit awed by Isacson's research capabilities. It is at times a bit redundant and perhaps 'preachy' in advocating various points It is too bad this book was written in 1995....would have liked to read of Isacson's take on Kissinger's view of the aftermath of 9/11 but that of course can undoubtedly be gleaned elsewhere. This book still represents a remarkable work attempting to take on one of the most enigmatic characters of recent years. This exhaustive and plainly well documented book leaves me a bit awed by Isacson's research capabilities. It is at times a bit redundant and perhaps 'preachy' in advocating various points of view (perhaps even Mr. Isacson's) but still quite an enjoyable book. It is frankly amazing that someone like Kissinger came along when he did--for good and for ill. Isacson's avoids the trap of many bibliographers of "falling in love" with their subjects. This book seems fairly balanced in viewing the Kissinger mystic and what may have propelled him. The audacity at tomes of ordering the bombings in Cambodia, negotiating with the Soviets, Chinese and Vietnamese etc.--often without consulting the president( (let alone any Congressional members) was tenuous at best but given that most of these dealings were during the Nixon presidency an argument can be made that such actions were necessary? Frankly, once the book gets beyond the Nixon years and Kissinger initially seems more relieved in dealing with a "saner" man in Gerald Ford the book gets boring. But then the issues of real politik that Kissinger advanced and the need for so-called "transparency" (before that word came more recently in vogue) and need to view foreign policy in light of "human rights" began to clash. Isacson's advances the idea that Kissinger looked more to what was good for the United States and--for the most part--the rest of the world be damned. But of course that is short sighted and not a full telling of the story. Kissinger felt that our foreign policy should not be impacted by how a foreign country treated its own citizenry...our interests must seemingly come first...be it in dealing with the Soviets in restricting Jewish passage to Israel or the Chinese in treating protestors in Teneman Square. This all began to unravel in dealings in Africa most famously in Angola and Rhodeshia. Isacson's also dwells a bit too much on the salacious aspects of the Kissinger mystic....once Ford was defeated and Kissinger relegated to "a private life" Isacson's relentless litany of companies Kissinger's consulting group represented and people who attended his countless cocktail parties seemed rather ridiculous and time consuming. However, in dealing with the political aspects Isacson has a fine ear....one telling story is in negotiating with the Soviets Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft went on "a hunting expedition" with Leonid Brezhnev. This also included a visit to the Communist General Secretary's dacha and a hydroplane ride. During this interlude Brezhnev asks Kissinger what the hydroplane would cost in the U.S. Kissinger too quickly responds, "$400,000." Scowcroft picks up on Brezhnev's downcast eyes and quickly leaps in, "No, it is more like $2 million!!!" It is one of the few instances in the book where Kissinger didn't mind being corrected by "an underling." He and Scowcroft later commented with rich Communists like this...these were plainly people they could do business with...perhaps a valuable lesson still valid with other regimes today.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ubaid Dhiyan

    My impression of Henry Kissinger has long been that he was an incredibly manipulative and cold man who conducted foreign policy with a ruthless disregard for morality. Sideshow by William Shawcross that I read recently only reinforced that view. Walter Isaacson's biogarphy helps to put the man in perspective, and though Kissinger doesn't quite come out here as an an angel of peace and mercy, his accomplishments as a statesman get equal footing with his shortcomings as a decent human being and po My impression of Henry Kissinger has long been that he was an incredibly manipulative and cold man who conducted foreign policy with a ruthless disregard for morality. Sideshow by William Shawcross that I read recently only reinforced that view. Walter Isaacson's biogarphy helps to put the man in perspective, and though Kissinger doesn't quite come out here as an an angel of peace and mercy, his accomplishments as a statesman get equal footing with his shortcomings as a decent human being and political leader. Shallow, manipulative and insecure, Kissinger found in Nixon a politician with much the same failings as his own and they reinforced each other's paranoia. The biography is detailed, well researched and seemingly fair. It comes to many of the same conclusions on Cambodia as does Shawcross in Sideshow. Much to my surprise, this biography is really funny, both because of Nixon's nutty behavior and Kissinger's bizarre obsession with secrecy. The former Secretary of State's wit gets a lot of airtime as do his incisive pronouncements on realpolitik. Recommended.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alana

    Lots of information to unpack in this one. I didn't enjoy it as much as Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, but I don't know if that's because I found the subject matter less interesting, or didn't relate to it as much because the events were before my memory, or just that his writing style improved and developed in the twenty years between the books... or more likely, a combination of the three. I knew very little about Kissinger, other than the name and that he was influential in politics at so Lots of information to unpack in this one. I didn't enjoy it as much as Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, but I don't know if that's because I found the subject matter less interesting, or didn't relate to it as much because the events were before my memory, or just that his writing style improved and developed in the twenty years between the books... or more likely, a combination of the three. I knew very little about Kissinger, other than the name and that he was influential in politics at some point. I didn't know he was a Holocaust refugee, or which administrations he'd been involved with, or even what his actual position was. Isaccson appears to try to balance out the opinions of the man Kissinger was, taking interviews and documentation from friends and enemies/rivals alike, and sifting the information through what must have been a laborious process. He admits that trying to find the truth in the reams of documents created by and about the man is very difficult, considering that misleading information was something at which Kissinger was very adept. Whether his assessment of the man is accurate, who knows, but he seems to have made an attempt to give as honest a perspective as possible. I'm sure historians for decades will waffle over whether he had a positive or negative effect on American and world politics, and most likely will decide he was a combination of both, much like Isaacson.

  18. 5 out of 5

    David Manley

    An exceedingly thorough biography of a very interesting man. Kissinger's towering intellect, combined with his charm and wit made him an incredibly effective diplomat. On the other hand, his personal insecurity and scheming made him a toxic person to work with, and his amoral approach to international relations led to some extremely unfortunate outcomes. It seems clear that his brilliance, as well as his penchant for realpolitik was more suited to a world in which leaders are not answerable to th An exceedingly thorough biography of a very interesting man. Kissinger's towering intellect, combined with his charm and wit made him an incredibly effective diplomat. On the other hand, his personal insecurity and scheming made him a toxic person to work with, and his amoral approach to international relations led to some extremely unfortunate outcomes. It seems clear that his brilliance, as well as his penchant for realpolitik was more suited to a world in which leaders are not answerable to their people, as his canny maneuvering is worked better for navigating the psychology of individual personalities, as opposed to the moods of whole populations. Kissinger has led a fascinating life and although this biography cuts off in the early 90s, I suspect not much could be added, beyond further (probably embarrassing) texture from the declassified Nixon White House tapes. The book is quite long, but the stories of his years of diplomacy require a fair amount of context and elaboration to have much value, so its length may be necessary.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Tran

    I've been reading Kissinger books since 2017. As someone who has been very curious about the new rising force China, about international relations, about the balance of power, I find his writing insightful. This book is about Kissinger as a person and as a politician, depicting the personality ("mixture of charm and seduction, flattery and duplicity"), his approach on Foreign Affairs (which is considered cold, calculating, manipulating, morally flawed by his critics and creative by his supporters I've been reading Kissinger books since 2017. As someone who has been very curious about the new rising force China, about international relations, about the balance of power, I find his writing insightful. This book is about Kissinger as a person and as a politician, depicting the personality ("mixture of charm and seduction, flattery and duplicity"), his approach on Foreign Affairs (which is considered cold, calculating, manipulating, morally flawed by his critics and creative by his supporters), his relationship with Nixon ("never personal friends, always mixing wariness and codependency") and his tremendous fame in Washington even after retirement (probably the only one relatively unscathed from the Watergate scandal). Walter Isaacson does know about to write a good biography, I can image Kissinger desperately disappointing face when he realized this book is a vindication of history rather than a lengthy praise of his achievement.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Grace Taylor

    I had no idea who Kissinger was when I started this book - nor how massive the book was - but I enjoyed this author's bio of Steve Jobs and figured I'd try this too. So much great history! Most of the action took place during the Nixon administration when Kissinger was Secretary of State and I learned a lot about the Vietnam war, about which I was woefully ignorant. Kissinger's rise was impressive, from German immigrant, fleeing Nazi Germany as a teenager, to high-level American statesman in the I had no idea who Kissinger was when I started this book - nor how massive the book was - but I enjoyed this author's bio of Steve Jobs and figured I'd try this too. So much great history! Most of the action took place during the Nixon administration when Kissinger was Secretary of State and I learned a lot about the Vietnam war, about which I was woefully ignorant. Kissinger's rise was impressive, from German immigrant, fleeing Nazi Germany as a teenager, to high-level American statesman in the President's inner circle. He was an interesting man and a very effective negotiator, always walking the tightrope between diplomacy and duplicity. A fascinating book, especially for lovers of American history/politics.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ernest Wolfe

    I went into this with lower expectations than usual when starting an Isaacson biography, but I left pleasantly surprised with the intricate stories not only of Kissinger the politician in government but also of Kissinger the intellectual in school. Alternatively, there's also Kissinger the intellectual in government and Kissinger the politician in school. Regardless, Kissinger proved more worthy of a Kissinger bio than I anticipated and lived quite the life, leaving his imprint everywhere he wen I went into this with lower expectations than usual when starting an Isaacson biography, but I left pleasantly surprised with the intricate stories not only of Kissinger the politician in government but also of Kissinger the intellectual in school. Alternatively, there's also Kissinger the intellectual in government and Kissinger the politician in school. Regardless, Kissinger proved more worthy of a Kissinger bio than I anticipated and lived quite the life, leaving his imprint everywhere he went.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I bit off a lot more than I wanted to chew with this one, but I'm glad I did. I learned about Kissinger but I also learned a lot about fascinating historical events from the 70s that I had never heard of (as well as the major events of the time). I also feel like I'm finally understanding why Nixon was the way he was. After I finished I read up on Kissinger's views on current political events (he's still alive). He still has opinions on everyone's motives and reasons for why they do what they do I bit off a lot more than I wanted to chew with this one, but I'm glad I did. I learned about Kissinger but I also learned a lot about fascinating historical events from the 70s that I had never heard of (as well as the major events of the time). I also feel like I'm finally understanding why Nixon was the way he was. After I finished I read up on Kissinger's views on current political events (he's still alive). He still has opinions on everyone's motives and reasons for why they do what they do (both individuals and nations). Very interesting.

  23. 4 out of 5

    David Highton

    A comprehensive review of Kissinger covering the period up to 1991, but substantially focusing on his position in the Nixon/Ford presidencies. A confirmed balance-of-power diplomat. His secretive approach was sometimes a double-edged sword. A man with a large ego.

  24. 5 out of 5

    D. Parker Samelson

    The detailed accounting of Kissinger’s bewildering successes and complex personality are overwhelming. So many decades without having an official government post only make it more impressive that he has maintained a larger than life clout.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Kissinger This biography main,y focuses on his government work, especially in the Nixon Administration. It contains a lot of information but I thought it was pretty dull in its writing. Kissinger still remains an enigma.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Pete Zilla

    I really liked this book for many reasons. It gave fantastically detailed insight into historical events, persons, and decisions by weaving historical records, interviews, and even explanations from Kissinger about himself and his actions. I learned a lot not just about the man but about the period, the wars, the presidents, and more. Also some great insight into Kissinger and Nixon on how NOT to be a leader and warnings for those in positions of power in government. Really enjoyed it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

    As with so many biographies, with this one of Kissinger is hard to rate because the story that's told is distinct from the telling of it. That said the telling of this one is, itself, telling. Walter Issacson, like Chernow and Caro, is a spectacular biographer, and this is a heavily researched work that does it's best to be fair to Kissinger though the prejudices of the author do come out. More interesting than the prejudices of the author however, are the biases of the time. The book was writte As with so many biographies, with this one of Kissinger is hard to rate because the story that's told is distinct from the telling of it. That said the telling of this one is, itself, telling. Walter Issacson, like Chernow and Caro, is a spectacular biographer, and this is a heavily researched work that does it's best to be fair to Kissinger though the prejudices of the author do come out. More interesting than the prejudices of the author however, are the biases of the time. The book was written in 1993 during the period of American triumphalism that followed the end of the cold war. Thus the book mocks Kissinger for being wrong when he warned of the risks of militant Islamic fundamentalism undermining middle eastern states and threatening the west or that aggressive incorporation of Eastern Europe into the Western system would threaten and antagonize Russia and undermine its democratic forces which would be consequential for the US. These notions seemed preposterous to the author in 1993 but, from the vantage point of 2020, are remarkably prescient. As a person who has been reading everything Kissinger has published since his magisterial "Diplomacy" and who has also read his PhD thesis "A World Restored" it was nonetheless helpful to me to read a book that is significantly more critical of Kissinger than I have been. It was equally helpful to understand his experience of the Weimar and early Nazi periods in Germany and also to understand his military service and work in the de-Nazification process which he both advanced and criticized as it was implemented. He acquired extraordinary power over the lives of his former tormentors early in life and also watched as his own side adopted some of the tactics that his tormenters used on him. His rise in academia and his movement into politics by cultivating powerful people, most notably Nelson Rockefeller was also very interesting and his relationship with Nixon, while fascinating, seems too complex for Issacson to really get at it. He's also hampered by the fact that he both seems to loathe Nixon and is also reliant on interviews with Nixon for much of his critical appraisal of Kissinger. There are two elements of the Nixon years that are highlighted at the expense of other elements, perhaps justly but also perhaps because the reflect the views of the author. The first is the Nixon habit of wiretapping people and the second is the invasion of Cambodia. The discussions of wiretapping are meant to paint Kissinger, who Issacson admits was a marginal figure in them, as scheming and duplicitous. Fair enough, he clearly was that, but this seems a strange way to address it, by tarnishing him with actions driven primarily by Nixon. The Cambodia argument, which is what draws the most hatred for Kissinger in contemporary discourse is that somehow, but or US actions against NVA sanctuaries in Cambodia, that the Cambodian monarchy would somehow have survived the collapse of South Vietnam and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge would never have happened. This view has been popularized by books by left leaning journalists like "Sideshow" and is the opinion of Prince Shianouk himself, a source for the book, but seems to me totally divorced from reality. The US bombing and invasion of Cambodia were in response to Vietnamese infiltration of and, for all practical purposes governance of, large sections of Cambodia for the purpose of undermining the government of South Vietnam and the American forces stationed there. This was a clear provocation and the Cambodian monarchy refused to even concede that this was happening much less take action against it signifiying that it had in large measure already lost its sovereignty to the Communists. The idea that somehow what empowered the Communists in Cambodia was the American effort to expunge them beggars belief but it remains a core staple of left critique of the Kissinger effort and it is asserted as fact in the book, it's largest failing in my view. In any case, Henry Kissinger was and remains one of the most pivotal figures of the twentieth century and, in my opinion, the greatest international statesman America has ever produced. It is precisely because his realism departed from the liberal internationalism that Issacson asserts is the proper method for conducting US policy that he was able to achieve so much. He successfully split the Communist world into Chinese and Soviet factions, expelled the Soviets from the middle east, extracted America from Vietnam, began the SALT nuclear arms reduction regime, initiated detante, and constructed the policy framework for maintaining American influence in the world despite the fact that the American public lacks the will for long sustained foreign engagement from which American Presidents have departed at their peril. Given this, an incisive and critical biography of the man is extremely helpful in understanding what true leadership and statesmanship, two features never common and at the moment desperately needed, require.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    If it weren't for the parallels between our current presidency and that of Richard Nixon I would never have picked this up. And I have to admit that I lost interest after Nixon was helicoptered away (and I didn't actually read clear to the end.) But what an eye opener about what was really going on behind the scenes in foreign relations during that period. If it weren't for the parallels between our current presidency and that of Richard Nixon I would never have picked this up. And I have to admit that I lost interest after Nixon was helicoptered away (and I didn't actually read clear to the end.) But what an eye opener about what was really going on behind the scenes in foreign relations during that period.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Heath Salzman

    This book provides a fascinating view into the life of the greatest negotiators and diplomats of the 20th century. It also serves as a great introduction to the history of American Foreign Affairs over the last 70 years. I would highly recommend this volume, especially in concert with some of Kissinger’s own works, namely “On China” and “World Order”. At times, the author seems overly critical of Kissinger, and at other times his criticism is warranted.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Albert W Tu

    Does this book really need to be this long?? Well kind of yes, there's alot of ground to cover. Isaacson does a tremendous job assembling all of the different, often conflicting, versions of events in Kissinger's career (all pivotal events in American foreign affairs) into a coherent narrative. The reader gets a real sense of how duplicitous and deceiving Kissinger could be, and yet how instrumental these qualities were in his success. Nixon and Kissinger, strangely twin-like in their paranoia an Does this book really need to be this long?? Well kind of yes, there's alot of ground to cover. Isaacson does a tremendous job assembling all of the different, often conflicting, versions of events in Kissinger's career (all pivotal events in American foreign affairs) into a coherent narrative. The reader gets a real sense of how duplicitous and deceiving Kissinger could be, and yet how instrumental these qualities were in his success. Nixon and Kissinger, strangely twin-like in their paranoia and urge to subterfuge, achieved some great things not in spite of their character flaws but in a sense because of them. The bureaucracy at State and Defense would have never provided the drive to make fundamental changes in policy for Russia, China or Vietnam. The book does feel long as Isaacson takes great care to document all the details of their conspiracies. The greater point is worthwhile however: given the opportunity Kissinger always chose the more secretive, complicated and conspiratorial route, often to his detriment. Telling Kissinger's story requires making judgements and Isaacson does a great job. He does not shy away from describing morally questionable behavior but makes sure to show how complicated the context often was. Important to his thought and actions are his European background. This person at the center of American history was in an important way, not of our kind. His thinking was firmly realist in a country that is deeply imbued with a sense that our morality must motivate our foreign policy. The Wilsonian urge has been both America's great strength and weakness. In Kissinger's era, the US achieved some great things when policy was driven by realism but American's still remain deeply uncomfortable with these successes. Rereading this after a 15 years was a fascinating experience. I was struck then by Kissinger's surety even at an early age. I was in awe of his 350 page senior thesis, "The Meaning of History" and always remembered this lines: "In the life of every person there comes a point when he realizes that out of all the seemingly limitless possibilities of his youth he has in fact become one actuality...No longer is life a broad plain with forests and mountains beckoning all-around, but it becomes apparent that one's journey across the meadows has indeed followed a regular path, that one can no longer go this way or that" "The desire to reconcile an experience of freedom with a determined environment is the lament of poetry and the dilemma of philosophy"

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