The inevitability of tragedy Henry Kissinger and his world

Barry Gewen

Book - 2020

"A fresh portrait of Henry Kissinger focusing on the fundamental ideas underlying his policies: realism, balance of power, and national interest. The Inevitability of Tragedy is a fascinating intellectual biography of Henry Kissinger that examines his unique role in government through his ideas. It analyzes the continuing controversies surrounding Kissinger's policies in such places as Vietnam and Chile by offering an understanding of his definition of realism; his seemingly amoral bel...ief that foreign affairs must be conducted through a balance of power; and his "un-American" view that promoting democracy is most likely to result in repeated defeats for the United States. Barry Gewen places Kissinger's ideas in a European context by tracing them through his experience as a refugee from Nazi Germany and exploring the links between his notions of power and those of his mentor, Hans Morgenthau, the father of realism, as well as those of two other German-Jewish émigrés who shared his concerns about the weaknesses of democracy: Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt"--

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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Company, Inc [2020]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xviii, 452 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781324004059
1324004053
Main Author
Barry Gewen (author)
  • Chile
  • Hitler
  • Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt
  • Hans Morgenthau
  • Vietnam
  • Kissinger in power
  • Kissinger out of power.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The most admired and reviled Secretary of State in recent U.S. history, Henry Kissinger set a standard for his successors. His conduct of the nation's diplomacy during the Vietnam War has led to cries for him to be considered a war criminal. Yet others see him as no less than a visionary for his reinstitution of relations between the U.S. and China, and still others hold him as a virtual savior of the Republic for his steady hand during the collapse of the Nixon Presidency. New York Times Book Review editor Gewen offers a biography focused on the major historical and philosophical influences on Kissinger's approach to diplomacy. In long chapters on Adolf Hitler, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Hans Morgenthau, Gewen analyzes their roles in history and impacts on Kissinger's work. Gewen's analysis of Hitler's rise to power in Weimar Germany insightfully reveals how he skillfully used democratic means to achieve a tyrannical goal. The narrative picks up speed as Kissinger manages the extrication of the U.S. from Vietnam. Gewen sorts out history's ambiguities; yet, in the multitude of details he never loses direction or purpose, and his achievement stands as both diplomatic and intellectual history at its best. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The most admired and reviled Secretary of State in recent U.S. history, Henry Kissinger set a standard for his successors. His conduct of the nation's diplomacy during the Vietnam War has led to cries for him to be considered a war criminal. Yet others see him as no less than a visionary for his reinstitution of relations between the U.S. and China, and still others hold him as a virtual savior of the Republic for his steady hand during the collapse of the Nixon Presidency. New York Times Book Review editor Gewen offers a biography focused on the major historical and philosophical influences on Kissinger's approach to diplomacy. In long chapters on Adolf Hitler, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Hans Morgenthau, Gewen analyzes their roles in history and impacts on Kissinger's work. Gewen's analysis of Hitler's rise to power in Weimar Germany insightfully reveals how he skillfully used democratic means to achieve a tyrannical goal. The narrative picks up speed as Kissinger manages the extrication of the U.S. from Vietnam. Gewen sorts out history's ambiguities; yet, in the multitude of details he never loses direction or purpose, and his achievement stands as both diplomatic and intellectual history at its best. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Gewen, longtime editor of the New York Times Book Review, presents a balanced, erudite biography of former U.S. Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger (b. 1923), asserting that he is the most important diplomat of the nuclear age. Kissinger, as the author lucidly shows, is an advocate of realism, the political school that promotes balance of power and national interest. More than a third of the book is devoted to realism's founders: Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Kissinger's mentor, Hans Morgenthau. All four shared a mistrust of democracy in international relations because of their Holocaust experiences; additionally, all barely escaped Nazi Germany, where Kissinger lost 13 relatives. Kissinger, a master of realpolitik, promoted praiseworthy policies that opened China and established détente with the USSR, but supported less-than-honorable strategies in Southeast Asia that sacrificed Vietnamese and American lives for a face-saving U.S. retreat. Gewen skillfully shows that Kissinger's realism diplomacy accepted evil as something that could not be destroyed, making tragedy inevitable. VERDICT This authoritative and exhaustive biography will challenge general readers, but will find an appreciative audience among political scholars and modern philosophy academics. A solid companion to Thomas Schwartz's Henry Kissinger and American Power (2020).—Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by PW Annex Reviews

America's most celebrated and vilified diplomat was a philosopher-statesman shadowed by his experience as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, according to this trenchant debut. New York TimesBook Review editor Gewen assesses Kissinger, national security adviser and secretary of state to Presidents Nixon and Ford, as an intellectual whose foreign-policy "Realism" cold-bloodedly pursued national interests and an international balance of power while eschewing "idealistic" goals of anti-communist crusading, promoting human rights, or spreading democracy abroad. Gewen first offers a fascinating interpretation of Hitler as a popular democratic politician, then delves into the ideas of philosophers Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt and "Realist" political scientist (and Kissinger friend) Hans Morgenthau, all of them German-Jewish refugees fearful, like Kissinger, that democratic idealism can lose to totalitarianism. Gewen also explores Kissinger's opposition to Chile's socialist president Salvador Allende (in an eye-opening chapter, Gewen paints Allende as a potential dictator and mostly absolves Kissinger and the U.S. of blame for orchestrating the coup that overthrew him) and his détente with Russia and China. Gewen's defense of some of Kissinger's policies, however, including prolonging the Vietnam War for the sake of American "credibility" and "prestige," isn't always convincing. Still, this is a rich, nuanced, thought-provoking reconsideration of Kissinger's worldview and its impact on history. (Apr.) Copyright 2020 Publishers Weekly Annex.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"A fresh portrait of Henry Kissinger focusing on the fundamental ideas underlying his policies: realism, balance of power, and national interest. The Inevitability of Tragedy is a fascinating intellectual biography of Henry Kissinger that examines his unique role in government through his ideas. It analyzes the continuing controversies surrounding Kissinger's policies in such places as Vietnam and Chile by offering an understanding of his definition of realism; his seemingly amoral belief that foreign affairs must be conducted through a balance of power; and his "un-American" view that promoting democracy is most likely to result in repeated defeats for the United States. Barry Gewen places Kissinger's ideas in a European context by tracing them through his experience as a refugee from Nazi Germany and exploring the links between his notions of power and those of his mentor, Hans Morgenthau, the father of realism, as well as those of two other German-Jewish âemigrâes who shared his concerns about the weaknesses of democracy: Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt"--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A revisionist portrait of the diplomatic advisor under the Nixon and Ford administrations illuminates the controversies and fundamental ideas behind his policies, discussing how Kissinger’s views were partly shaped by his experiences as a Jewish-German refugee.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Few public officials have provoked such intense controversy as Henry Kissinger. During his time in the Nixon and Ford administrations, he came to be admired and hated in equal measure. Notoriously, he believed that foreign affairs ought to be based primarily on the power relationships of a situation, not simply on ethics. He went so far as to argue that under certain circumstances America had to protect its national interests even if that meant repressing other countries’ attempts at democracy. For this reason, many today on both the right and left dismiss him as a latter-day Machiavelli, ignoring the breadth and complexity of his thought.The Inevitability of TragedyCrucially, Gewen places Kissinger’s pessimistic thought in a European context. He considers how Kissinger was deeply impacted by his experience as a refugee from Nazi Germany, and explores the links between his notions of power and those of his mentor, Hans Morgenthau—the father of Realism—as well as those of two other German-Jewish émigrés who shared his concerns about the weaknesses of democracy: Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt.The Inevitability of Tragedy