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Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist by Niall…

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist

by Niall Ferguson

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A very interesting read about a man I knew little about. The early Cold War and Vietnam eras are the two parts of history that I know the least about. Kissinger is considered one of the great foreign policy thinkers of the period, and I was really interested to know more about him and his story.

This book is the first of a planned two volume history. It covers his life from his youth up to being about National Security Advisor for President Nixon. The next volume will cover his work for Nixon up to the present.

The detail is the book was simply overwhelming for me. There were so many people and groups discussed that it was difficult for me to keep track. I think I would have been better off reading more basic biographies of Kissinger or history books of the period to have a better understanding of the history before reading this book. Ferguson breaks down the nuances of Kissinger's foreign policy ideas for hundreds of pages that cover only very short time periods of weeks and months. It made the going slow for me as a reader.

It is difficult to criticize the book for these reasons as they are likely more about me than the author. I will certainly read volume 2 when it is published, and I think I will probably enjoy that volume more as it will cover Kissinger during a time period where he had actual power. ( )
  msaucier818 | Apr 9, 2018 |
This is a phenomenal book, tracing the early life, education, and rise of one of America's most influential statesmen. This book, part 1, ends with Kissinger accepting Nixon's offer to become his National Security Adviser - part 2 will cover his public life in office.

Niall Ferguson slays several great myths, refuting the prominent and wide-spread beliefs that: Kissinger's worldview was entirely shaped by his early life under Nazi Germany (instead it clearly seems his experience in post-war Counterintelligence, transitioning from investigating Nazis to stemming the flow of Communist influence was far more influential), that he single-handedly ruined the 1968 peace talks by leaking information to the Nixon campaign (more detailed information was available to the press, not to mention the interaction between Pres Johnson and all of the presidential candidates), and, as his main thesis, that Kissinger was not a dyed-in-the-wool Machiavellian realist ab ovo -- instead chronicling how, at each stage of his life, his almost naive idealism was tested and weakened. Throughout, Ferguson highlights the major developmental advances in Kissinger's thought, not an easy task for a subject whose lengthy undergraduate thesis caused a word-count precedent still enforced at Harvard today.

Whether you like or dislike Henry Kissinger, believe he was a great statesman or war criminal, you should read this book. You will learn much the man and the times that shaped him. ( )
1 vote chaz166 | Oct 13, 2015 |
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Ferguson is Kissinger’s authorized biographer, and in 1,000 pages he begins the task of rescuing his subject’s tarnished reputation. It is a steep climb. The foreign policy chief for Presidents Nixon and Ford has been portrayed in dozens of books and by countless witnesses as a coddler of dictators, a cynical practitioner of realpolitik, a war-monger, a suck-up to superiors, and a tyrant to subordinates—his genius and wit matched only by his underhandedness.
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A definitive portrait of the American statesman, based on unprecedented access to his private papers, challenges common misconceptions to trace Kissinger's beliefs to philosophical idealism.

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