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What made Henry Kissinger the kind of diplomat he was? What experiences and influences shaped his worldview and provided the framework for his approach to international relations? Jeremi Suri offers a thought-provoking, interpretive study of one of the most influential and controversial political figures of the twentieth century.
Drawing on research in more than six countries in addition to extensive interviews with Kissinger and others, Suri analyzes the sources of Kissinger's ideas and power and explains why he pursued the policies he did. Kissinger's German-Jewish background, fears of democratic weakness, belief in the primacy of the relationship between the United States and Europe, and faith in the indispensable role America plays in the world shaped his career and his foreign policy. Suri shows how Kissinger's early years in Weimar and Nazi Germany, his experiences in the U.S. Army and at Harvard University, and his relationships with powerful patrons--including Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon--shed new light on the policymaker.
Kissinger's career was a product of the global changes that made the American Century. He remains influential because his ideas are rooted so deeply in dominant assumptions about the world. In treating Kissinger fairly and critically as a historical figure, without polemical judgments, Suri provides critical context for this important figure. He illuminates the legacies of Kissinger's policies for the United States in the twenty-first century.
Henry Kissinger is arguably the most intriguing and countercultural global political figure of the 20th century...Suri's contribution to Kissinger scholarship is in the precision with which he delineates the influences that shaped Kissinger's world view. Focusing on the concept of Bildung, or inner cultivation that allows the individual to progress toward enlightenment, Suri outlines how Kissinger's intellectual development was informed by his appreciation of such transcendent leaders as Klemens von Metternich, Otto von Bismarck and Winston Churchill.
— Harold Heft
The resulting book, refreshingly short compared with the thousands of pages devoted to the man—most of which he has written himself—is both unusual and fascinating...Suri is not interested in whom Kissinger met with as national security advisor (from 1969 to 1973) or secretary of state (1973 to 1977), when he met them or even the minute details of what was discussed. In fact, he spends few pages on Kissinger's actual time in office. What he wants to get to the bottom of is why Kissinger is Kissinger, or, as he puts it, "I focus not on what Kissinger did, but on why he did it." Suri also tries to put the man in context, explain how the demands of the Cold War world facilitated the rise of such an outsider to American power...Given how hard Kissinger has tried to obscure his origins and make himself and his ideas seem exceptional, it's a little jarring to realize how much he is simply the result of historical circumstances that shaped not only him but millions of others of his generation, as well...One can probably do no better than Suri's portrait of Kissinger's mind.
— Gal Beckerman
A useful, idiosyncratic study...Suri's Kissinger is an academic rumination on the cerebral Harvard professor-turned-showboating national security adviser that, while intentionally narrow in scope, is bold in its reach.
— David Greenberg
This is a readable and provocative book that successfully explores the formation of its subject's worldview and rise to power. Suri is at his best when demonstrating the roots of Kissinger's distrust of mass democratic politics, his obsession with strong leaders, his emphasis on the limits of American power and his disdain for the "insular self-righteousness" and "utopianism" of reformers "advocating a vision of global democracy."...[A] timely book.
— Eric Arnesen
Nobody will ever accuse Jeremi Suri of lacking style or insight. His study of Henry Kissinger's personality and place in history offers piercing originality—so much so that laying down Dallek for Suri feels rather like that moment in The Prince and the Showgirl when Laurence Olivier, after telling all and sundry that they have too little love in their life, meets his ex-mistress...and realizes that she has too much.
— David Frum
Offer[s] some fresh glimpses of [Kissinger's] motives and personality on display in high office.
— G. John Ikenberry
An interpretation of his life that stands out among recent books on the subject for the extent and the depth of the author's research. Unlike Hitchens (to say nothing of Robert Dallek and Margaret Macmillan, two other writers who have recently published books critical of Kissinger), Suri has done some real digging before rushing into print...This is surely the best book yet published about Henry Kissinger...Unlike so many previous writers—particularly those journalists steeped in the blood of the Nixon administration—Suri actually makes an attempt to understand his subject in the appropriate historical context rather than simply joining in the never-ending hunt for "smoking gun" quotations.
— Niall Ferguson
This provocative, evenhanded study examines how Henry Kissinger's background—particularly youthful memories of the failure of German democracy to respond to Nazism—influenced his diplomacy.
— A. J. Dunar
[Suri] argues that Kissinger was the first true global diplomat...This is a thoughtful and readable biography of a hugely influential statesman.
— Bruce Elder
University of Wisconsin historian Suri (Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente) endeavors to explore the philosophical roots of Henry Kissinger's actions as national security adviser and secretary of state under President Nixon, finding those roots in a Jewish boy's experiences of a weak Weimar regime's fall to genocidal Nazism. At the end of the day, in Suri's account, Kissinger's philosophy boiled down to the need to back democracy with muscle. "America, alone of the free countries," said Kissinger, "was strong enough to assure global security against the forces of tyranny. Only America had both the power and the decency to inspire other peoples who struggled for identity, for progress and dignity." But Kissinger's expressed idealism leads Suri to downplay the consequences of Kissinger's actions, including his role in subverting the democratically elected government of Chile's Salvador Allende. Kissinger did not support the brutality of the "regimes he supported in Chile, South Africa, and other parts of the Third World," Suri writes. But, the author acknowledges, he did "nurture personal relations with their leaders as strongmen who could mobilize force effectively against threats to themselves and the United States." At the close of that statement, Suri stumbles into the unpleasant truth of Kissinger's realpolitik. Illus. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Suri (history, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison; Power and Protest) here turns his attention to archetypal power broker Kissinger during his years in government service, ending in 1977. Throughout, the author bears in mind how Kissinger was influenced by his youth in Germany and by postwar America generally (thus distinguishing this book from Jussi Hanhimaki's Flawed Architect, which does not analyze such influences). Suri argues that the weak response of the democratic states as well as public acquiescence to the rise of the Nazis left Kissinger convinced of the need to use any means necessary to defeat evil. Suri specifies the social changes in postwar America that opened doors for those outside the traditional elites and points to Kissinger's ability to bridge previously separate worlds, which enabled him to get full benefit of these changed conditions. The author is less positive about the success of Kissinger's approach in Vietnam and the Middle East, where Kissinger's preference for dealing between nation-states, rather than with insurgencies and nonstate actors, was not an option. The archival research is extensive and the analysis thought-provoking. Although there are numerous studies of Kissinger, as well as his own memoirs, Suri's is the best at studying the man in terms of the social surroundings that influenced him. Recommended, especially for academic libraries.-Marcia L. Sprules, Council on Foreign Relations Lib., New York
List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Making of the American Century
1. Democracy and Its Discontents
2. Transatlantic Ties
3. The Cold War University
4. A Strategy of Limits
5. A Statesman's Revolution
6. From Germany to Jerusalem