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About the Author

Greg Grandin is professor of history at New York University. He is the author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fail of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City and Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, among other books.

Includes the names: Grg Grendln, Greg Grandin (Author)

Works by Greg Grandin

Associated Works

The Contours of American History (1966) — Introduction, some editions — 138 copies


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Grandin, Greg
Short biography
Greg Grandin is the author of a number of prize-winning books, including most recently Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan 2009). A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, as well as for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Fordlandia was picked by the New York Times, New Yorker, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and NPR for their “best of” lists, and Amazon.com named it the best history book of 2009. Grandin is also the author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Empire (Metropolitan 2005), The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America During the Cold War (University of Chicago Press 2004), and Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation (Duke University Press, 2000), which won the Latin American Studies Association’s Bryce Wood Award for the best book published on Latin America in any discipline.

A professor of history at NYU and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Grandin writes on US foreign policy, Latin America, genocide, and human rights. He has published in The New York Times, Harper’s, The London Review of Books, The Nation, The Boston Review, The Los Angeles Times, and The American Historical Review. He has been a frequent guest on Democracy Now! and has appeared on The Charlie Rose Show. Grandin also served as a consultant to the United Nations truth commission on Guatemala and has been the recipient of a number of prestigious fellowships, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. His most recent book, edited with Gil Joseph, A Century of Revolution: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Violence during Latin America’s Long Cold War, will be published by Duke University Press in September.




very interesting-didn't know the amazon had excercised it's famous and deadly pull on Ford as well
picturing the square dances and white picket fences in the heart of the jungle was fun-though I doubt living there was
cspiwak | 31 other reviews | Mar 6, 2024 |
This is the second book I've read on Kissinger, (the first being Niall Ferguson's "Kissinger: The Idealist"). It is also the second book I've read by Greg Grandin (the first being "The End of the Myth," about frontier colonialism in the United States).

As I mentioned in my other review, a friend prompted: "we can all agree that Kissinger was evil; but would worse evils have been perpetrated if Kissinger hadn't done what he had done?" This book isn't interested in answering that question.


Although such an argument is somewhat cliché at this point, I do agree that nuclear weapons were a turning point in the history of civilization, and that they've intensified an ethos of impossible choices. With a clash of great empires, like between the USA and the USSR in the Cold War, all roads lead to violence. Either both nations are more or less in balance (this balance maintained by "small wars" in other countries), or one nation becomes dominant, in which case there is much hardship in the nation that has fallen behind.

In other words, there is a system of a balance of violence (“balance of power” is the more domestic term). If you follow this logic (as Kissinger does), then anti-war protests, denuclearization, and any form of "backing down" come across as not only naïve, but downright perverse and suicidal. Peace activists may think of themselves as bringing about peace, but from Kissinger's view, this is only possible because they've failed in their objectives. If they were successful, the USA would become a Russian territory.

You could say, "but what about Russian peace activism? If both movements were successful, couldn't this ensure world peace?" One of the challenges here is that there hasn't yet been devised a "global balance of peace" system. Russia was pro-denuclearization. Why? Because they saw the ways in which the US populace would hold their government accountable in a way which the government in the USSR would simply disregard. There's a quote in the book, when Chairman Mao is chatting with Kissinger. He says something to the effect of, "why is this Watergate thing such a big deal?" In the context of the Chinese Communist Party, citizens are accountable to the government, not the other way around. And so the concept of a populace holding their government "to account" just comes across as absurd. Why would any leader be willing to submit to such shackles?

To fast forward to the present day, Xi in China, Putin in Russia, and Modi in India have all been consolidating power and building an autocracy. Trump was doing the same. Biden has kept in place many of Trump's autocratic systems rather than dismantling them, and Trump may be re-elected at the end of this year to pick up the project again.

To restate the argument here: if you believe, as Kissinger did, that foreign empires will play a no-holds-barred game for global domination, then any kind of deescalation is a form of self harm and the best we can hope for is a rough balance of violence.

It is challenging to square such rhetoric in a democratic context. If you're playing a game where agility is your friend and rules or limits are your enemy (such as in war), autocracies have a lot to recommend themselves. In this context, democracies become games of convincing the populous of beliefs that benefit your positions as a leader. In other words, voters become instrumental cogs to be manipulated, both domestically and through campaigns of cross-border propaganda. If you have an autocracy facing off against a democracy, democracy becomes a liability for the latter and an advantage for the former. All else being equal, the autocracy will prevail.

I'm not suggesting that I endorse such a perspective. I'm simply pointing out that, if you start where Kissinger began, there is nothing surprising about where he ended up.


One of Kissinger's core tenants was that good diplomacy is a combination of incentives and threats (and that the threats must be regularly exercised to remain sharp). At base, this is a behavioral theory; it takes the other party and looks at them from an exterior perspective.

On the other hand, we hear that Kissinger had a human side in his negotiations. To the shame of many Americans, Kissinger sidled up alongside many a dictator and treated them with respect. He was fascinated with their interior world. This kind of empathy is the opposite of the behavioral diplomacy described above.

All of this has me wondering—what are other paradigms of diplomacy, and if we're employing a multi-modal diplomacy, what is the hierarchy (e.g. does empathy trump behavioralism, or is it the other way around)?


Kissinger's core epistemology was intuition. He spoke a lot in his later years of the "interdependence" of nations. He snubbed the "fact men," myopically fixated on their statistics. Iain McGilchrist, whose research has focused on brain hemispheres, would say that this is a "right hemisphere" approach aligned with gestalt perception. Grandin implies that he is critical of this capacity, but I wouldn’t say that on its own, it is a problem.

Kissinger's core cosmology was nihilism. In the 1950s, Kissinger spoke of a "spiritual crisis" in the West. This may be true, but with such a comment Kissinger reveals his own spiritual vacuity. Kissinger never managed to mature beyond this spiritual poverty, and spent his days in a state of perpetual adolescence (as do many Western leaders). This is a left-hemisphere-dominant dynamic.

What happens when you combine these two attributes? You get a great diplomat, but a poor leader.


Ferguson notes: Kissinger had statistically exceptional qualities, but was not able to create bureaucratic systems that mentored a future generation of his equals (not that that would necessarily be a good thing, but it didn’t happen, regardless). Rather, what remains are his precedents of spontaneous wars and an expansion of Executive Branch power. Grandin points out that neoconservatives (such as Dick Cheney with the Iraq War) and liberals alike (such as Barack Obama’s drone killings in Yemen) readily adopted precedents set by Kissinger for unaccountable war.

While on the subject of Dick Cheney, it is worth noting that in Adam McKay’s film, “Vice,” he presents essentially the same thesis about Cheney that I’ve noted Kissinger would argue about himself—worse evils would have occurred were it not for the actions they took.

There is a poignant quote in the book, a letter of advice from a colleague to Kissinger’s when he received high level security clearances, speaking about the emotional rollercoaster. His colleague notes the humility at realizing you’ve been criticizing leadership for decades with extremely partial information—often missing the key information about what was actually going on. But on the other hand he speaks of a risk that you yourself begin to discount anyone’s observations if they don’t have the same clearances you do. The colleague advises humility here too; that we can still learn from others, even if they don’t have the full picture.

All of this reminds me of the “wall facers” in Cixin Liu’s “Remembrance of the Earth’s Past,” series. These are individuals that, for reasons of alien surveillance technology, cannot disclose anything about their plans to anyone else, otherwise the enemy would have valuable intelligence. So they go about, executing grand plans, without any explanation to the vast armies they’ve rallied to serve under them. As an aside, I’ll note that this is Xi’s fantasy, and the series wouldn’t be China’s most-ready work of sci-fi without Xi’s endorsement. But that aside, I think that on a more poetic level, there is something fundamental here: that we can never fully understand nor fully comprehend each other or the world around us. A schizophrenic approach to this quality of reality is to scrabble for an ineffable control. A wiser path forward is to marvel in mystery and wonder, and to do the best with our sense of a given situation.

In closing, I’ll say that you’re welcome to condemn Kissinger, and I too have done the same. In the same breath though, we might remember that, in the world we’ve created of impossible choices, inevitably there will be people that need to make these choices, and they will be demonized.
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willszal | 15 other reviews | Mar 1, 2024 |
This was a very interesting & readable book by an actual historian that defines the frontier, describes how Americans have used the term "frontier," and asserts how Americans have imagined various meanings and qualities included in the term.
RickGeissal | 8 other reviews | Aug 16, 2023 |
Started slow. I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to understand it. It built in intensity and got easier and easier to read--and made me more uneasy. I learned a lot about the border and about US policy in both Democratic and Republican adminstrations. NAFTA was a huge mistake. Everything is scarier now.
spounds | 8 other reviews | May 24, 2023 |



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