[Kissinger] has surely enjoyed success — secretary of state, winner of the National Book Award and the Nobel Peace Prize — yet always in chorus with charges of sin ... Barry Gewen tackles the contradictions, and offers absolution in...a timely and acute defense of the great realist’s actions, values and beliefs ... Gewen’s book is a thoughtful rumination on human behavior, philosophy and international relations, not a womb-to-tomb biography ... What Gewen focuses on, and excels at, is the story of how the rise of gangster dictators left an irradicable impression on the Jewish intellectuals who escaped Nazi Germany before World War II ... Often, Gewen is persuasive — and often persuasively reasonable. He endorses Kissinger’s realism, but he is not an absolutist ... Kissinger and his kindred spirits may be right to alert us to the shortcomings of faith, hope and democracy. But for all of the merits that Gewen identifies in Kissinger, realism, too, is no guarantee against delusion.
Gewen...has written a sterling, highly readable intellectual biography of Henry Kissinger. Although the former U.S. secretary of state has been out of office for more than 40 years, Gewen convincingly argues that a full appreciation of Kissinger’s realist philosophy is now more important than ever, as the United States rethinks its role in the world ... But the profound pessimism of Kissinger’s view of history and his deep ambivalence about democracy—forged by a childhood under Nazism—will be new to many readers. The book does not attempt to render a judgment on Kissinger’s policies in government and his abiding influence thereafter. Gewen is obviously an admirer, but he is also unflinching in portraying Kissinger’s deviousness, thin skin, and overweening ambition.
... a manifesto or summa of his efforts to convert Kissinger’s critics and would-be prosecutors into his students ... What Gewen doesn’t say is that some high policymakers have found...Kissinger’s 'grim vantage point' perversely reassuring because it reinforces presumptions of their own dark omniscience, unappreciated by the rest of us. The inevitability of tragedy helps them to excuse their blunders and outrages as necessary costs of braving what Donald Rumsfeld memorably called the 'unknown unknowns' that bedevil all grand strategists ... Gewen acknowledges that serious, well-informed people have condemned Kissinger’s work as immoral and destructive. But he mentions many of the most substantial charges only very briefly on his way to rebutting or mitigating them ... Gewen’s rendering of Kissinger’s Realpolitik leaves very little room for democracy.
Gewen presents a vivid, insightful, but unsparing portrait of Kissinger’s intellectual development and boundless ambition as he journeyed from Nazi Germany, to the U.S. Army, to academia, to the inner circles of power in Washington.
...[a] meticulously researched, consistently stimulating and deeply insightful intellectual biography ... Through detailed analyses of Kissinger’s policy decisions on Vietnam and Chile, the influence of his personal life on his professional worldview, and the views of other Jewish European refugee intellectuals, Gewen offers a better understanding of Kissinger’s ability to challenge people to rethink their assumptions ... This beautifully written and engaging gem is an exciting, exhilarating must-read for anyone interested in international relations, American foreign policy or the ideas of Kissinger, whether you agree with him or not.
This authoritative and exhaustive biography will challenge general readers, but will find an appreciative audience among political scholars and modern philosophy academics. A solid companion to Thomas Schwartz’s Henry Kissinger and American Power.
...Gewen offers a biography focused on the major historical and philosophical influences on Kissinger’s approach to diplomacy ... Gewen sorts out history’s ambiguities; yet, in the multitude of details he never loses direction or purpose, and his achievement stands as both diplomatic and intellectual history at its best.
Masterly work on the making of Henry Kissinger—and what American foreign policy can learn from his dark experience and pessimistic outlook ... deeply thoughtful, meticulously researched work ... Gewen has used the distance from events to refine his research into an elegant, elucidating study of comparative statecraft.
...[a] trenchant debut ... Gewen’s defense of some of Kissinger’s policies, however...isn’t always convincing. Still, this is a rich, nuanced, thought-provoking reconsideration of Kissinger’s worldview and its impact on history.