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The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  277 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
A brilliant and revealing biography of the two most important Americans during the Cold War era—written by the grandson of one of them

Only two Americans held positions of great influence throughout the Cold War; ironically, they were the chief advocates for the opposing strategies for winning—and surviving—that harrowing conflict. Both men came to power during World War II
ebook, 416 pages
Published September 15th 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Mar 08, 2010 Merilee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More like 4.5 stars...

This is a very well-written and interesting joint biography of two of the biggest U.S. players in the Cold War, written by Nitze's grandson (though I could detect no partisanship on his part). These men disagreed on many issues during their long friendship, yet never lost respect for each other. Near the end, Thompson quotes from a speech which Nitze gave at his son's 1953 boarding school commencement, using the image of the tension in a bow or guitar, which could apply as
Feb 11, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Hawk and the Dove was a subject that interested me--the Cold War and George Kennan whom I always liked. I had negative view of Paul Nitze and looked forward to the contrast between him and Kennan.

The book was much more complex than the title would suggest. It's an excellent history. Because Baker is Nitze's grandson, he had access to papers who one else had seen. Some from family sources. Then, at the end of the book, Baker recounts going to visit the school Nitze founded (Paul H Nitze Scho
Nov 11, 2009 Tripp rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Hawk and the Dove is one of the most accessible and enjoyable books about the Cold War to come out in quite awhile. The book's biographical studies of Paul Nitze and George Kennan makes the story engaging and easy to follow. The idea that Nitze was the hawk and Kennan the dove makes stark a more muddled picture, but their relationship nicely highlights philosophical differences in the Cold War. Nitze often pushed the hard line and the militarization of containment, while its author Kennan th ...more
Feb 21, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book has the strength of its limitations; it is biography, not history. It presents history as seen and experienced by Kennan and Nitze. It conveys their personalities, roles, judgments and impacts on the complex and world-threatening era we call the Cold War. The author does this with a clear narrative thread and communicates the person without psychodrama and hagiography. Sensibly, this narrative addresses the history as his dualistic pair saw and experienced it. Accordingly, it omits many ...more
I came across this title in the bibliography for William Lee Miller's Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower and a Dangerous World. Having studied NSC-68 and the Long Telegram back in my college International Relations classes, this concise dual biography seemed like a great way to revisit the figures behind those seminal texts of 20th century US foreign policy.

I had some trepidation on the evenhandedness of the treatment, given that the author is Paul Nitze's grandson, but this turned out to be a ve
James Murphy
Aug 25, 2011 James Murphy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure if the subtitle's claiming this is a history of the Cold War. To my mind it's not. It's certainly a narrative of the service of two men influential in how America competed with the Soviet Union in the Cold War years. The material is biographical and heavily anecdotal rather than analytical. And always interesting.
Andy Lucas
Feb 13, 2016 Andy Lucas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this book quite a lot. It was a very balanced and well researched story about the back and forth of two of the people who helped shape US policy during the Cold War. The thing I really liked in the story was how the two main guys, Paul Nitze and George Kennan, although they were at opposite extremes in polity (Nitze wanted more nukes as a deterrent, Kennan wanted steady disarmament as a gesture to the Russians) there was never a time when they reverted to name calling or doing anything t ...more
Lauren Albert
A fascinating look at two of the most important men involved in cold-war decision and opinion making. Though Thompson is Nitze's grandson, he is very even-handed in his presentation of the two friends and rivals.
Keith McGowan
Written by a grandson of Paul Nitze with access to private papers, this book provides entertaining anecdotes from the Cold War as opposed to a complete history. The narrative is a contrast between two diametrically opposed views of how the United States should relate to the Soviet Union. The hawk, Nitze, recommended a strong military and immediate responses to Soviet provocations while the dove, Kennan, suggested possibly explanations and softened replies to the same.

Perhaps both were necessary
Feb 24, 2011 RUSA CODES rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the 2010 RUSA Notable Books winners. For the complete list, go to
David Schwartz
Oct 15, 2013 David Schwartz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of the Cold War has been told in many ways and through many lenses. Thompson’s well-written 2009 account takes a unique perspective, recounting the story through the lives of two of its major participants – Paul Nitze and George Kennan. Students of the Cold War will not find much new here, but Thompson’s is a unique and compelling perspective, especially since he is Nitze’s grandson. What legitimizes his approach is that Kennan and Nitze worked closely together for a time at the outset ...more
Danny Shelton
Sep 21, 2010 Danny Shelton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thompson sets out to find the frame for the cold war, and find it he does. Both Nitze and Kennan devoted their lives and ideologies to the preservation of America against the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union. Kennan, the dove, was rather warlike for a dove, expunging policies of covert operations and espionage world wide to keep Communism in check, and Nitze, the hawk, knew all to well the terrors of nuclear warfare because he was one of the primary researchers at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ...more
Dorian Santiago
I really wanted to give this one four stars on account of Nicholas Thompson's candid portrayals of and personal access to Paul Nitze and George Kennan (which really helped him), his great command of diction and prose, and the evidence of his not only extensive, but exclusive research. I'm settling for three, though, because I can't hide the fact that reading about missile negotiations and most excerpts that were without these two figures read like legal jargon: important, but boring.

It doesn't
Jun 11, 2011 Marks54 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book leading up to Thanksgiving of 2009. My car was being repaired and I got to spend lots of time with the book. This is a dual biography, tracing the lives and careers of George Kennan and Paul Nitze. These two men were arguable two of the leading intellectual lights of the US Defense establishment but were on opposite ends of the intellectual spectrum, with Nitze being the more militaristic and conservative (the Hawk) and Kennan being the wise State Department old head who was rea ...more
Dec 09, 2010 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beginning with "The Long Telegram" sent by George Kennan from Moscow in 1946 "The Hawk and The Dove" traces the duel and dueling careers of Paul Nitze and George Kennan. The book is not a complete history of the Cold War, but it does provide some wonderful insights from two of the periods most thoughtful contributors. Nitze, the hawk, argued through most of his career that the United States must pursue arms and stand toe to toe with the Soviets to avoid destruction. Kennan was thoroughly convinc ...more
Oct 18, 2015 Peter rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is very interesting, sweeping historical narrative done in parallel, by the grandson of Paul Nitze. At first I thought the juxtaposition was a bit contrived, but later realized it was a fascinating way of viewing the history of US-Soviet relations and more broadly, foreign policy from the pre-WWII period to the present day. It seemed to be very well researched and referenced. So much so in fact, that we really got to see the warts and foibles of both men, as well as their great strengths. I ...more
Nov 05, 2015 Haggai rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Hawk and the Dove is about the lives of two very interesting men, George Kennan and Paul Nitze, both of their lives being tied up closely with the history of the Cold War. It is a great example of how smart, sharp and passionate individuals can affect the history of the entire world, as well as a look into how ideological debates, academic thinking and politics all combine to form foreign policy and strategy. Recommended to anyone who wants to see what happened behind the stage of the Cold W ...more
Ian Divertie
Mar 17, 2015 Ian Divertie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely critical to understanding the Cold War. How these two remained friends is an absolute mystery to me for all those years. Kennan ultimately proved right and I think at some level Nitze eventually knew that. Just an opinion.
Mar 22, 2011 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Paul Nitze and George Kennan are the focus of this history. The author, Nicholas Thompson is the grandson of Paul Nitze. He is an award winning author in his own right.Throughout the book I keep in mind that the author was related to one of the characters. Nicholas Thompson showed very little bias in presenting the story of these two men. His presentation was well written and professional.

This is both a history of the cold war and a biography of two me who contributed so much to the foreign po
Jan 27, 2011 rafaela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people that like things about the holocaust
Recommended to rafaela by: the holocaust saction
I really liked the book. There are wonderful anecdotes and it the focus on the perspectives of the two men is illuminating. Although both men are legend in international relations, neither was ever really satisfied in their career, feeling they had been shut out of where they should be. There is sad moment where Nitze thinks he will get a plum spot in the Carter administration only to find himself without any job at all. a great read. Watch out, though, for the occasional lapse into conspiracy t ...more
Comparing the lives of Paul Nitze and George Kennan, Thompson shows how their experiences and personalities pushed and pulled them from allies to adversaries in the debate of the policies of the Cold War. Written by Nitze's grandson.

Why I started this book: My brother recommended this to me. And while I knew who George Kennan was, I wasn't as familiar with Paul Nitze.

Why I finished it: I tend to think of history as a series of grand overarching events that shape the lives of everyone on the plan
Ron Spiegelhalter
Fascinating read of Cold War tensions through the lens of two very different men with very opposing world views.
Manish Katyal
Feb 11, 2015 Manish Katyal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A behind the scenes look at the two opposing philosophies and the cold war.
Suprisingly readable biography of two critical figures in US national security and diplomatic policy for much of the Cold War.

The author effectively combines descriptions of their personalities with their work to create an often moving story.

It should be noted that for students of national security policy, this does not go into the detail and analysis of other works on national security policy, especially the many devoted to Kennan's "Containment" policy. Still, it is an excellent companion pi
May 09, 2012 Jim rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
i wanted to hear this book. so much so though i bought another tantor recording. this makes six out of the seven i've bought that won't play. they have fantastic history books from the descriptions on the back of the cd boxes, but the cds are all junk.
bought from three different half-price bookstores.
i'm currently listening to (instead of this one) a fourth Great Courses series, and just finished a chris seay book and twilight zone collection, there's nothing wrong w/my cd player. just tantor
John DeRosa
Jan 09, 2016 John DeRosa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arms-control
A holistic account of the Cold War through the lives of its two enduring figures
Tony Taylor
Jan 03, 2010 Tony Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a dual portrait of influential Cold War advocates, Paul Nitze and George Kennan, written by Nitze's grandson. It offers an insight into their opposing stances on such topics as the arms race, diplomacy, and foreign affairs.

This is a very readable book that I would recommend to anyone who has an interest in contemporary history, specifically The Cold War which ran from the end of WWII until1989 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Richard Agemo
Thompson does a great job with this dual biography of Paul Nitze (the Hawk) and George Kennan (the Dove), providing two contrasting perspectives of the history of the Cold War. I believe, however, that George Kennan would strongly disagree with the author's thesis that Nitze's approach to the Soviet Union, based on the idea that the US could win an all-out nuclear war against its adversary, was "complementary" to, rather than opposed to, Kennan's theory of containment.
Sep 04, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent history of the cold war, as seen through the experiences of George Kennan and Paul Nitze. The title actually does a bit of a disservice to both men, as they are much too complex to be so simply characterized. The complexities of the issues they dealt with are equally complex and the book makes for absorbing reading. The author is actually Paul Nitze's grandson, but you would never know that from reading the book. Continually fascinating - I highly recommend it.
High level coverage of the careers of Paul Nitze and George Kennan. While this is a decent coverage, it's not very deep: while it does talk about the men it really doesn't dive deep into their personas or motivations. Indeed the impact Paul Nitze had on neocon thought was almost not even mentioned.

Was there anything truly new in this book? no. Was it a decent overview of two of big cold war players? Yes.
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