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Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  270 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
Acheson (1893–1971) was not only present at the creation of the postwar world, he was one of its chief architects. He joined the Department of State in 1941 as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and, with brief intermissions, was continuously involved until 1953, when he left office as Secretary of State at the end of the Truman years.

Throughout that time Ac
Paperback, 848 pages
Published September 17th 1987 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1969)
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Published in 1969, this lengthy memoir of Acheson's time in the State Department has avoided imposing contemporary terms and concepts onto previous decision-making. As a matter of fact, the author, aided by his own memory and access to his old files, largely presents history as he saw it at the time: as Assistant Secretary of State for economic matters from 1941-1945, as Undersecretary of state from 1945-1947, and as Secretary of State from 1949-1953. While he does tend to understate his own unc ...more
I was thrilled to receive this book from the collection of one of my favorite history professors who was retiring at the time he gave it to me. Now, having finished reading this incredible memoir, I now realize what a wonderful gift this was to receive at all. Mr. Acheson's recollection of his years in the State Department from 1941 to 1953 is incredibly concise, but hardly ever boring. There are a few key aspects of this book that make it so wonderful to read: first, since Mr. Acheson chose to ...more
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excruciating details and long descriptions almost prevent this book from rating five stars. The details and care are so rich, and the events described so important to understanding the development of the US foreign policy in the post-world-war II era, that they outweigh the heft of this book.

Occasionally, Acheson's wry observations of personality conflicts, bureaucratic infighting, diplomatic negotiations, and executive branch engagement with congressional leaders delightfully entertain and edu
Tommy Powell
A well written and thoroughly enjoyable look inside the machinery of U.S. Government monetary policy coming out of WW II -and the birth of the IMF, World Bank and the WTO.
Bill Manzi
Mar 24, 2018 rated it liked it
The Dean Acheson memoir, published in 1969, has a title that is actually very appropriate. Acheson was a State Department official serving under FDR, and later under Harry Truman, eventually rising to the position of Secretary of State. This memoir takes us on a tour of some of the most difficult, and momentous, times in American diplomatic history.

Acheson covers the critical post war period, offering first hand insights even for the period that he was out of government. That time presented tru
Joseph Millo
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In 1969 Dean Acheson published this book as memoirs of his tenure in the State Department from 1941 to the end of the Truman presidency in 1953. My original intent in reading this 800 page tome was to become better informed about a man whose name constantly pops up when reading about the first post-WWII decade of world affairs. While the book will give you a detailed understandingly Acheson’s personality and character, it is more a history of international affairs from 1941 through 1952. One of ...more
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Former Secretary of State, in a detailed fashion, writes of his 12 years in the State Department. I learned a lot from reading this book. He has points of view, so those come through clearly; but his specific recollections of events and discussions are very helpful.
Very, very boring for the most part, but highly detailed. My primary interest in reading this book was Acheson's "insider" account of U.S. policy toward France and the so-called Associated States (Viet Nam, Cambodia & Laos) during the First Indochina War. The majority of this memoir dealt with other matters in great and lengthy detail, which I found difficult to struggle through even though Acheson's extremely clear writing style made the task easier than it might have been. I have to say, ...more
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Often I couldn't put this down. Working in a fortune 500 fabless semiconductor company in 2013, I could identify with the wrangling to garner support, countering opposition without alienating, clarifying policy and all the beaurocratic wrangling. This book provided a foundation in understanding Russian diplomacy (and how even to this day they negotiate like 3 year olds who must check with Moscow before every little decision), the formation of the EU (NATO) and the seeds of middle east insanity. ...more
Erika RS
Dec 24, 2013 added it
Shelves: owned
Those of you who know me, know that I am not much of a history person, and this book contains some quite heavy history (~740 pages of it). Despite my general aversion to history, I found the book quite interesting. This was aided, in part, by the engaging material. It was further aided by Acheson's writing style. The book was peppered with amusing anecdotes that made historical figures seem like real live people (wax earplugs are not to be eaten). The book was also very well organized. My favori ...more
Mel [profile closed]
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
You need to know your American History for this one, but if you do, it's a truly fascinating read. Acheson was the Secretary of State in the late 40s and early 50s and was indeed "present at the creation" of every major U.S. Policy of the time, from the Marshall Plan to the policy of containment used for the Soviet Union. This is an "in the beginning" book, that let's you understand how things got this way.
Kaitlin Oujo
This was a serious commitment, but worth every second. I read straight through and thought I would be punishing myself, but I really enjoyed the experience of being taken through this man's career from his perspective. Really fascinating, a true must-read if you are a foreign policy junkie.
Curtis Bentley
Nov 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Full of information and insight. An absolute chore to get through. I made it most of the way through, but I had to come back to it 3 times over the course of two years. Tough even for one accustomed to pushing through dry nonfiction.
Matt Simmons
Aug 02, 2007 rated it liked it
I started this book while on a trip to China. It has some of the best descriptions of how U.S. foreign policy and government function, but parts of it are pretty dated. Definitely more fun to read when you're traveling the world than when you're sitting at home.
Aug 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Well, an amazing book, about the bureaucracy and workings of the state department. Yes, those two word, "amazing" and 'bureaucracy" are not too often found together in the same sentence, and if one does not like reading about a bureaucracy, then one will
Aug 19, 2010 rated it liked it
Dean Acheson's voice in this book is salty in the way you might enjoy reading but it's clear he was a real dick IRL. (The book begins with an Apologia Pro Libro Hoc. I mean.)
Sep 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Pretty tedious, but some great historical anecdotes along the way.
Mar 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've been halfway through this book for the last two years. Still, that's halfway farther than most people get, right?
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Dean Gooderham Acheson was an American statesman and lawyer. As United States Secretary of State in the administration of President Harry S. Truman from 1949 to 1953, he played a central role in defining American foreign policy during the Cold War. Acheson helped design the Marshall Plan and played a central role in the development of the Truman Doctrine and creation of the North Atlantic Treaty O ...more
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