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The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made

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4.05  ·  Rating details ·  2,261 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
A captivating blend of personal biography and public drama, The Wise Men introduces the original best and brightest, leaders whose outsized personalities and actions brought order to postwar chaos: Averell Harriman, the freewheeling diplomat and Roosevelt's special envoy to Churchill and Stalin; Dean Acheson, the secretary of state who was more responsible for the Truman D ...more
ebook, 864 pages
Published February 28th 2012 by Simon Schuster (first published 1986)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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John
Mar 01, 2008 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
Eric_W
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
...more
Caroline
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A fascinating depiction of a world both ancient and modern, and that lies in sharp contrast to our current situation.

First of all, one notes that this was written by the elite, about the elite. The authors are both Harvard alumni, and most of the subjects went to Yale. They served in government partly out of personal satisfaction, partly as noblesse oblige. While the authors occasionally insert mild criticisms, this is almost a hagiography for six statesmen of the cold war. Nevertheless, the boo
...more
Aaron Million
Dec 11, 2016 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
Vivek
Oct 25, 2009 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
...more
Steven Peterson
Jul 05, 2009 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
...more
Jana
Aug 25, 2008 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
Aug 17, 2014 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
Nicole
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
...more
Maria
Isaacson traces the careers and personalities of six men of the "political establishment." Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, John McCloy, and Charles Bohlen served 4 administrations and advised 2 more. Their outlook, assumptions and experience shaped the American century, rebuilt Europe and mired the country in 2 land wars in Asia.

Why I started this book: The title caught my eye as I was browsing my library's Overdrive collection. After waiting on hold for months, it
...more
Tony
Mar 11, 2016 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
...more
Cliff
Oct 04, 2015 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
...more
John Ross
Mar 27, 2015 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
Kent
Oct 31, 2008 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
Sarah
Dec 06, 2013 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
...more
Kenneth
Jul 10, 2012 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
...more
Ellis Katz
May 20, 2013 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
Harold
Sep 26, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I bought this because it is co-written by Walter Isaacson, who wrote the Jobs biography, and a wonderful book on Kissinger.

I got about half way through. It is the six biographies of men I vaguely remember as being aging luminaries when I was a child. Unfortunately the idea of a 6 person biography (instead of a diplomatic history of the period) doesn't work. None of them was important or interesting enough for me to want to read about their formative years (but I did). And as adults, I couldn't k
...more
Zach
Oct 02, 2014 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
Christopher
Apr 10, 2007 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
...more
Chris Bartholomew
Nov 19, 2013 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
Jul 29, 2008 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 21, 2012 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.
Cathy
Jan 25, 2009 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.
Lance Halley
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An insight-filled look at the rise and beginning wane of "The American Century." The role these six men played in forming the world we occupy today is impressive and a bit unnerving at the same time.
Susan
May 18, 2014 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
Feb 20, 2013 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.
Andrew
Aug 16, 2012 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.
Abby
Jan 17, 2016 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.
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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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