George F. Kennan: An A...
John Lewis Gaddis
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George F. Kennan: An American Life

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  467 ratings  ·  71 reviews
Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Biography Widely and enthusiastically acclaimed, this is the authorized, definitive biography of one of the most fascinating but troubled figures of the twentieth century by the nation's leading Cold War historian. In the late 1940s, George F. Kennan--then a bright but, relatively obscure American diplomat--wrote the "long telegram" and...more
ebook, 800 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Penguin Books (first published 2011)
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It's a pity, as with so many modern biographers who seek to be definitive, that Gaddis could not have done the short version for those of us with a job and a life. Having said that, I was engrossed from beginning to end, and couldn't bear to skip even one of the 700 pages, despite the book consuming all my free time for weeks. Gaddis writes well; Kennan wrote with a wonderful, powerful, novelistic excellence - even in his diary. And there's so much here: run-ins with Martha Gellhorn in Prague ju...more
Fred R
Kennan's major claim to fame is to have anticipated by several years the American response to post-war Soviet expansionism, and to have given that response an intelligent and articulate high-brow exposition. On any given foreign policy issue, however, he was no more likely than chance to be correct, and his increasingly shrill denunciations of the folly and stupidity of American policy-making as the book progresses were born only out of an enormous vanity. Those presidents who consulted with Ken...more
For those of us who are interested in global affairs, John Lewis Gaddis has written a marvelous biography of the diplomat George F. Kennan. A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Kennan, an expert on that country, died in 2005 at the age of 101, having served his country in various diplomatic posts, including Moscow and Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia.

We have almost forgotten how terrifying were the 1960's and other years in the long Cold War with the Soviet Union. The world came perilously close...more
I don't generally enjoy biographies, but Gaddis sure did a terrific job with this one.

It puts the spotlight on a key figure in American foreign policy. Even though Keenan was often critical of the United States and of particular political administrations, he has to be ranked as a dedicated public servant and statesman. It is not just a matter of agreeing or disagreeing, but of noting his life-long labors in foreign policy.

Gaddis provides us with a superb sense of Kennan's remarkable personality...more
This is a fabulous biography of one of the most influential US diplomats ever that was written by the best and most readable historian of the Cold War. That made me wait attentively for this book to come out. It is a long book - nearly 700 pages - but it reads easily and I ended up not wanting to quit. The book works on many levels.

First, on a personal level, it is the story of a middle class kid from Milwaukee, with language aptitude, who ends up at Princeton and then joins the State Department...more
James Murphy
I came to this biography of George Kennan through my interest in international relations and the history of the Cold War but also as one who admires good biography. I expected satisfaction on both counts and got it first because Kennan is well-known as one of the more influential voices for the policy of containment which drove our actions in regard to the Soviet Union and secondly because Gaddis has written one of the handful of outstanding biographies I've read in recent years.

In describing Ke...more
Great biography that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in U.S. foreign policy or diplomatic or Cold War history. Kennan was a career Foreign Service Officer when he wrote his long telegram on how to handle relations with the Soviet Union shortly after the end of WWII. He more than anyone else articulated what became the U.S.'s containment strategy that allowed us to successfully navigate the Cold War with only a few misadventures (most of which were contrary to Kennan's advice). He w...more
Michele Weiner
A very interesting look at an American original- a diplomat who wanted to be a writer, a historian who couldn't help but meddle in world affairs, especially anything Russian. In his originality and universalism, as well as his love of women, he reminded me of Einstein, but while the latter was sunny of disposition, Kennan tended to be depressed, especially in writing. Kennan relied on history to teach him and often referred to the classics to explain current events, and in that way reminded me o...more
Rachel Bayles
Fabulous. I learned more from this book about people, human nature, international affairs, and myself, than from the accumulated wisdom of 50 others.
(FROM MY BLOG) "Norwegians don't enjoy, they endure." So replied a woman of Norwegian background when I asked her if she had enjoyed the experience she was describing to me.

George F.Kennan was Scots-Irish in ancestry, but he married a Norwegian, spent holidays in Norway, and might as well have been Norwegian. As told by his biographer, John Lewis Gaddis, Kennan merely endured his 101 years of diplomatic service, historical scholarship, world travel,consultations with presidentsand secretaries of...more
Advice by and for the Middle-aged former Liberal Arts Major

Nobody warned me about growing older, which is to say, of course they did, I just didn't listen. In any case, I don't think any of the advice was very practical. I write you today in part to repair this lamentable situation.

When you reach a certain age you realize, on your way to your job at the Olive Garden, that you haven't thought about certain historical figures in months, even years. Soon after, you realize that your knowledge of sa...more
Apr 19, 2012 Trice is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trice by: Pulitzer Prize:
I don't know - Kennan is so good at speaking for himself, that it's a bit hard to imagine the need for a non-auto biography. But I'm still interested. Maybe when I make it all the way through Kennan's own writings.
Wittgenstein's Mistress
Strangely, most reviews of this book center on Kennan instead of Gaddis. In any case, the biography is informative and sympathetic, making allowances for Kennan's solipsism while never excusing his errors and misconceptions. It sits with American Prometheus as the best biographies I have had the pleasure or reading.
George Frost Kennan is one of the most prominent figures in Cold War diplomacy. Author of the “Long Telegram” and Foreign Policy’s “X article;” the State department and US presidents, scholars, and the international public strongly considered Kennan’s ideas and his chief contribution of the principle of Containment when confronted with the prospects of Soviet aggression and the spread of Communism. A prolific speaker and writer himself, Kennan’s authorization of John Lewis Gaddis’ biography of h...more
This book has been erected as the monument of George Frost Kennan and that is how one should go into reading it. John Lewis Gaddis is attempting to make an authorized and impacting statement that would succeed the life of his subject. The fact that this has become a Pulitzer Prize winning book says that he has accomplished this task.

My personal interest in reading this book is simply that I wanted to read another full length bio on the life of a diplomat. 'Napoleon's Master' by David Lawday is t...more
Kennan was one of the most influential statesmen of the 20th century, a skilled writer and teacher, a politely curmudgeonly genius of diplomatic strategy, and the theoretic architect of the Cold War containment policy that guided American presidents from Truman to Reagan and ultimately led to the collapse of the Iron Curtain and European communism forty plus years after he laid the groundwork for resistance without a third world war. Kennan worked for the State Department for decades, served at...more
Kennan was a curious creature - he was a diplomat with a historian's detached analysis, and a solitary artistic, almost melancholic, frame of mind. He devoured novels, composed poetry, and once, in a fit of despair, asked the Foreign Service to give him suicide pills. His diaries and memoranda are almost literary exercises.

Yet in turns, he was a brilliant, if curmudgeonly and distant figure in American foreign affairs. He was one of the first to recognize the discordant foreign actions of the So...more
Eric Emma
The first biography that I have read since Bruce Campbell's If Chins Could Kill in high school so it's a new genre to delve into. Gaddis does a wonderful job of painting who George F. Kennan is. He captures what catapulted him to greatness, but also what would keep him forever feeling isolated from the rest of the foreign policy world: his ability to see and understand the other side. The detriment of the book however is that Kennan was a thinker rather than a man of action. The most insightful...more
Gerry Connolly
In Gaddis' monumental biography of George F Kennan the vastness of Kennan's career is striking (he dies at age 101),spanning the entire 20th century. Credited as the architect of containment and lauded as a prophetic voice of and for diplomacy Kennan gets a lot wrong. He opposes NATO, misreads Soviet intentions in Korea, fails spectacularly as Truman's ambassador to Moscow (lasting less than a year), and does little better as Kennedy's envoy to Tito's Belgrade. He is a better academic than pract...more
George Kennan and his long telegram turn up sooner or later in any political science or international relations curriculum. Unfortunately, for most students, his legacy and life don’t become more than a few paragraphs on Cold War containment theory. John Lewis Gaddis has filled the gulf between man and mention with his masterful treatment of a foreign policy master who lived long enough to see his many of his forecasts and theories come to fruition and often to naught. Kennan grew from his Milwa...more
Glenn Hyman

Brilliant book. Gaddis does a masterful job of combining Kennan’s personal and public life. On the personal side, he was complicated, and his ego often got the better of him. He was married to an extraordinary woman, yet could not remain faithful to her. The book does not say what his kids thought of him, but they were very likely shortchanged and did not receive the attention children need because he was involved in so many things. Family life must surely have suffered. On the public side, his...more
It feels strange to me actually to have read this book. The author was a professor of mine in college, and I took his (excellent) seminar on the art of biography, a class he was teaching in preparation for writing this book. Now the book is written and it's won the Pulitzer, and I couldn't be happier for Professor Gaddis.
The book was intriguing -- Kennan's long life provides an excellent lens through which to view the Cold War from its prehistory to its aftermath. As a top-notch writer and faith...more
Yes, it's essential reading for students of mid-20th Century American History, foreign policy, the cold war, and post-war Europe. Kennan's fabled "long telegram" and "x article" were critical in forming a coherent US approach to Russia that navigated a course between appeasement and confrontation - poles that had twice in the preceding years proven fruitless with dire consequences; poles that cast a longer, darker shadow as the sun rose, and threatened to set, on a nuclear, soon to be thermonucl...more
Herb Hastings
Excellent biography of an interesting man.
Kennan was a throwback to the well read, deeply thoughtful public servant. He worked as a foreign service officer and later in his career as an Ambassador. He was considered as the US's leading expert on Russia and was a top adviser to General Marshall when he was Secretary of State. He is credited as the intellectual father of the Marshall Plan and the policy of Containment. After falling out of favor he retreated to academia and wrote histories of the...more
Skuli Saeland
Í sannleika sagt var ég við það að leggja bókina frá mér eftir fyrstu kaflana.
Þetta er hins vegar góð umfjöllun um George Kennan sem segja má að hafi verið áhrifamesti einstaki aðilinn í að móta utanríkisstefnu BNA í kalda stríðinu.
Höfundurinn John Lewis Gaddis skrifar söguna línulega og byrjar á mjög ítarlegri umfjöllun um barnsæsku Kennans og þar sem bókin er mikil vöxtum þá var ég að gefast upp á óáhugaverðu efninu. Þetta skánaði þó mikið eftir að Gaddis komst í umfjöllun um sérsvið sitt se...more
Joseph Steinberg
Reading John Lewis Gaddis‘ George F. Kennan: An American Life was a depressing experience for a number of reasons. Reading biography has a singular drawback, that plumbing the depths of an individual whose work or experience prompted admiration would reveal some noxious secret that ultimately undermines the original cause for exploring a life. It’s not so much that I don’t admire George F. Kennan now, but that his long, eventful life casts his perspective on realism and containment in less favor...more
Chris Appel
John Lewis Gaddis has written a superb biography of George Kennan.

The narrative begins with Kennan's youth in Wisconsin and dovetails quickly to his formative years at Princeton and in the Foreign Service. The bulk of the book describes Kennan's extensive diplomatic experience from the onset of WWII through his service as Ambassador of Yugoslavia during the Kennedy administration.

Kennan epitomizes the quintessential "wise man" public servant of the post-WWII generation. His lamentation of Americ...more
George F. Kennan was the leading Russian diplomat as Russia went from a backwater country to the leader of the U.S.S.R. This change and Kennan's understanding of it's implications propelled him to be the advisor to presidents from Truman to Clinton.

Why I started it: The Cold War is something that I have studied in pieces, and it was fascinating to learn about it at an individual level.

Why I finished it: Kennan was a deep and poetic man, but it was also interesting to learn about the procrastinat...more
The access that Gaddis had to Kennan's papers, diaries included, makes for a fascinating look at one man's life. Regardless of what he did in his career, this kind of insight was interesting.

I was a little amused to hear what parts of history Kennan got wrong, and what parts he thought he'd missed and hit instead, as well as whatever he got right and knew it. In the final chapters, his seemingly complete misreading of Ronald Reagan was astounding.

That said, Kennan's personality was intensely glo...more
Stephen King
A masterful biography of a hugely significant figure in US diplomacy, celebrated for the 'Long telegram' which outlined the case for 'containment' of the Soviet Union in the late 1940's. Caddis is an insightful yet gentle biographer who clearly has great respect and affection for his subject. He paints a picture of an intelligent, yet insecure individual who struggled between a desire for appreciation and recognition by Secretary of States and Presidents and a wish for anonymity. A hugely enjoya...more
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“But when Christopher mentioned that he and Talbott had been trying to package post-Cold War policy in a single phrase, Kennan said they shouldn't. "Containment" had been a misleading oversimplification; strategy could not be made to fit a "bumper sticker." The president laughed when Talbott told him what had happened: "that's why Kennan's a great diplomat and scholar but not a politician.” 0 likes
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