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The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  1,967 Ratings  ·  68 Reviews
With a new introduction by the authors, this is the classic account of the American statesmen who rebuilt the world after the catastrophe of World War II.The Wise Men introduces the original brightest and best, leaders whose outsized personalities and actions brought order to postwar chaos: Averell Harriman, freewheeling diplomat and Roosevelt’s special envoy to Churchill ...more
Paperback, 864 pages
Published June 4th 2013 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 15th 1988)
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Dec 09, 2014 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I purchased this book at the Friends of the Library used book store at the Public Library in Laguna Beach, California. It is a formidable-looking book. I bought it mainly on the strength of one of its authors, Walter Isaacson. I have read some of his other biographies and found them very engagingly written. There is an inscription on the front flyleaf of my copy that reads, "To George & Julie Merry Xmas 1986 Hope this brings knowledge to your whole family Love Francie". The book had all the ...more
This is the story of what became known as the "American Establishment." "Establishment" was a term that originated in England to describe a circle of powerful men. Richard Rovere has proposed that the two parties in this country are really either populist or establishment, not conservative or liberal.

The American Establishment were "Atlanticists." Their similar schooling gave them an appreciation for Western European values and the perceived benefit of a traditional Europe. They were instrument
Dec 24, 2009 Vivek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in American foreign policy
This book works on two levels. On one, it is an excellent biography of six men dedicated to public service who were involved in American diplomacy during a critical time in the nation's history (WWII & the early Cold War). On another it explains how the powerful ideas (containment, anti-communism) guiding American foreign policy during the Cold War were formed and the force that these ideas took on beyond the control of their creators.

This is the best book I've read about the Cold War. Othe
Steven Peterson
Jul 05, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating "collective biography" of six major, interrelated figures in the American establishment from the 1930s into the 1960s. Some might think of this as another "Best and Brightest," set earlier in time. But Halberstam's use of that term was ironic; here, the authors are not speaking ironically when they refer to the six as "the original brightest and best" (Page 19).

The beginning lays out what follows. Isaacson and Thomas observe that (Page 19): "Six friends. Their lives intert
Aug 26, 2008 Jana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
True statesmen who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations. We need people like this in government today.
Ted Hunt
Oct 03, 2014 Ted Hunt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I purchased this book when it was published in 1986, but never read it because I was unsure about reading a book about the Groton/Yale crowd who became the U.S. foreign policy establishment's "Wise Men." I was not interested in reading about the prep school/Ivy League world that these men emerged from, and, as expected. the book began with a thorough description of that world. However, if one gets through the first hundred pages, with its crew races and polo games, then the reader gets a superb ...more
Mar 11, 2016 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
THE WISE MEN: Six friends and the World They Made. (1986). Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas. *****.
This excellent history was first published in 1986, but was also re-released in 2012. It is perhaps the defining history of the period of American politics in the 1940s and early 1950s as told through the actions of six men with similar backgrounds who served their country during the period that resulted in The Cold War. Each of the men served under Franklin Roosevelt, and, after his death, transiti
Oct 04, 2015 Cliff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is, without a doubt, one of the best, easiest to read yet incredibly deep and detailed, history books I've ever read. Yet it's more than that. It's also book about diplomacy and how it's done, about relationships between friends, foes, rivals, and more. It's about how Washington works, or at least worked, and what it means for those who play the game.

The book undoubtedly admirers the six men involved, Dean Acheson, Charles E. Bohlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, and John
John Ross
Aug 09, 2016 John Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book overall. (However, I didn't realize before I read it -- because I read it on Kindle -- that it was 800+ pages long!) The authors took the biographical approach to six individuals who were the "friends" who influenced on different levels and in different ways the foreign policy of the United States from the eras of Franklin Roosevelt though Ronald Reagan. Treating it as a series of interwoven biographies was an effective approach to the subject and to the men themselves. These a ...more
Aaron Million
Dec 11, 2016 Aaron Million rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Part American WWII history, part Cold War history, part biography, part discussion of the "Establishment" in mid 20th century America combine to form a well-written account of several key players in U.S. foreign policy from the 1930s-70s. Isaacson and Thomas decide to focus on six men who they believe embody the views and actions of foreign affairs during and after WWII, and on into the Vietnam War era. This book is now thirty years old, and was written right when two of the six men had just die ...more
I can't believe it's finally over. I feel like I've been reading this book my whole life. It is so. Darn. LONG. And I like long books! Yeesh.

While interesting and thorough, I felt like I couldn't see the forest because there were just too many flippin' trees. There was just way, way too much detail. This is the second Walter Isaacson book I've read, and his writing philosophy seems to be, "If a point is worth making, it's worth belaboring." Not only was the mind-numbingly comprehensive recitati
Sep 22, 2009 Kent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A portrait of The Establishment: the men--estrogen levels all but undetectable in this circle--responsible for defining the international role America was to play following the second world war. Very well written, and not an easy task, I imagine, intertwining the biographies of six men. It did take me a while to get a handle on the dramatis personae, though. At first, I was a bit dismayed that there was so little reference to the domestic situation of the times until I realized to what extent US ...more
Jan 15, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I read this book a long time ago, and it was interesting to see how my perspective on these men and their effect on foreign policy in particular has changed. This is still, in my opinion, a well researched and well written book, and while not perfectly balanced, Isaacson presents fairly balanced very of men who he clearly admired greatly.

The author does a very detailed job in explaining the webs that connect these men to each other, and to other people of power, and how those webs allowed them
Aug 06, 2016 Kenneth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
Court History that shows that even at the height of democratic success in America (contrary to popular perception) relatively few individuals actually ruled the State in ways largely unbeknownst to the general public (who were mostly content not knowing having “authorized” those in office via elections).

Fast read despite the length. Covers the full gamut of history in the 20th century. The first chapters, in particular, are of interest in explaining the rise to power of the six men discussed, es
Ellis Katz
May 20, 2013 Ellis Katz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
What a great book! The authors give us a sympathetic, yet frank study of the six men who dominated American foreign policy making from the 1930s through the 1950s. Dean Acheson, Chip Bphlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett and John McCloy constituted a foreign policy elite that crossed institutional lines to shape our policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War Era. This is not to say that thy always agreed with each other. Indeed they they had some pretty nasty fights, bu ...more
Jan 14, 2015 Zach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Truly, a remarkable tour de force by Isaacson and Thomas about the six men that shaped the post-World War II world and the Pax Americana. If one wants to find out how the world got to where it was during the Cold War, read this book. For a Cold War enthusiast like myself and someone who wrote their master's thesis on NATO, this book really allowed me to see deeper into how these six men pushed America to become the indispensable nation that it is today. There are great thinkers in foreign policy ...more
Apr 10, 2007 Christopher marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
DAVID GERGEN: Let me ask you this in terms of thinking back over then of that period of American foreign policy in the last forty or fifty years, one of the ironies here is that in an age of information you suggest we have too little wisdom.
GEORGE KENNAN: Yes, I do, and one of the things that bothers me about the computer culture of the present age is that one of the things of which it seems to me we have the least need is further information. What we really need is intelligent guidance in what
Chris Bartholomew
Jan 29, 2014 Chris Bartholomew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exceptionally good book about a group of men in positions of power and influence from the close of WWII up until the Nixon years. It mostly revolves around Dean Achenson, George Kennan, John McCloy, Averell Harriman and Charles Bolhlen. All were instrumental in reshaping both U.S. policy and the future of Europe after the war. They remained over sized figures through both the Korean and Vietnam wars. The authors did a great job covering a lot of ground.
Washington Post
A study of the men who advised Harry Truman about how to rebuild Europe and contain communism in the years after World War II.

“Washington was filled with excitement that sunny Monday: Dwight Eisenhower, the returning hero, was greeted by the largest crowds in the city’s history as he paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue. Wedged into Truman’s afternoon schedule — between lunches and dinners and other ceremonies honoring Eisenhower — was the meeting on Japanese strategy.”
Leah W
Aug 15, 2009 Leah W marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
1/17/09: I haven't finished anything to justify starting another (huge!) book, but I'm reading this in celebration of smart people being involved in government again (and for that matter, as a reminder that smart, well-meaning people in government can't always guarantee the outcome you'd like to see).
Kevin Sheives
Oct 29, 2012 Kevin Sheives rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic, gripping portrayal of the key post Cold War foreign policy establishment. Love how Isaacson and Thomas weave friendship and policy together. Always nice to read a bio where Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower play secondary roles to underbelly of US foreign policy during those turbulent times.
Jan 25, 2009 Cathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am fascinated by Isaacson's in-depth details of pre- and post- WWII government in the U.S. He takes six men who were highly instrumental in rebuilding post-war Europe and gives really good details of both their successes and failures as well as their personal background. You also get a glimpse into Turman's courage in some of his decisions.
Jun 16, 2014 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fascinating collective biography of such establishment figures as Dean Achison and George Kennan teaches a LOT of history, from WW I through the early 1980s. I listened to this book, despite the rather annoying narrator.
Prudy Gourguechon
Apr 13, 2013 Prudy Gourguechon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely worth reading. Authors take a rather unsympathetic view of the sensitive George Kennan but otherwise do a masterful job of history thru the lives of exceptional men.
Aug 16, 2012 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Given to me by Jenny Laws (she bought it at Truman's Little White House in Key West). Tale of six men that formulated foreign policy during the Cold War. Very insightful.
Feb 18, 2016 Abby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book to do research, and loved it for that purpose. I imagine that anyone interested in the real US history versus the textbook edited version would love it also.
Cormac Healy
Jan 19, 2017 Cormac Healy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really interesting read for anyone interested in American politics in the early years of the Cold War. It gives some great background to the dynamics of the state department and their dealings with the Soviets.

I would say a little background knowledge is assumed by the writers, so maybe not w book for an absolute beginner to the subject, but certainly an enjoyable one for the basic enthusiasts out there.

The main reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that it never really seemed clear why these 6
Oct 19, 2016 Doreen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A comprehensive read

I decided to read this book as I wanted a long view of the history that has unraveled in my life. It was fascinating to see the men behind the policies that shaped twentieth century America. A good read, dense,so don't expect to zip through. But well written. Thoroughly researched. I highly recommend.
Sandra Ross
Jun 21, 2016 Sandra Ross rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you want to understand American politics and policy - foreign and domestic - today, this book is a must-read. It opens the door of how we got from there (the 1930's) to here now, and shows the still-strong undertones - however misconstrued and perverted from its original intent and context - of everything America does policy-wise in its relationships internally and externally.

In elaborate detail, Isaacson shows how a core group of six men (Dean Achelon, George Kennan, Averill Harriman, Bob Lo
Mar 14, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I rarely re-read books. But, having read this one probably 20 years ago, I decided it was time. So glad I did. Fascinating. Great story-telling. Educational without being overly didactic. Makes you wonder how history teachers ever succeed in making history boring. Also, it has many lessons for our own time, including (as obvious as this sounds) why it's important to think hard about policy and draw fine distinctions and not over-simplify foreign policy (or, by extension, any policy). Hawks vs. d ...more
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Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of "Time" magazine. He is the author of "Steve Jobs"; "Einstein: His Life and Universe"; "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life"; and "Kissinger: A Biography," and the coauthor of "The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made." He lives in Washington, DC.
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