Books! A hawk and a dove walk into a bar … #cbr4

and the Cold War starts and ends and throughout they remain friends.

The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War by Nicholas Thompson is a fabulous double biography of two of the most influential thinkers during the Cold War. We see Kennan as he develops his strategy of containment as a young FSO in Moscow and then Nitze as he subverts it with NSC-68. We see Nitze becoming a forceful anti-Soviet crusader while Kennan becomes the more passive but eloquent anti-nuclear sage.

Thompson covers their lives from their early careers to their very last days while keeping the reader’s eye on the bigger story of the Cold War. Unlike Gaddis’ biography of Kennan, we aren’t immersed in the minutiae of the two men as much and Thompson does a great job setting the stage for readers who might be unfamiliar with details of the period. Even if you aren’t a Cold War history buff or a fan of these two men, the story of the Cold War is accessible as told by Thompson.

I have to mention my favorite line from Kennan, which Thompson quotes. You need to understand that Kennan was a fabulous and prolific writer in addition to being an authority on Russia. He wrote after the Cold War that “The suggestion that any Administration had the power to influence decisively the course of a tremendous domestic upheaval in another great country on another side of the globe is simply childish.” (pg 331)

I so wish Kennan were still around today …

Books! The very long life of George F. Kennan #cbr4

Sadly it looks like I won’t make my goal of 52 books this year for Cannonball Read. I might still be able to read close to that number (maybe) but I don’t know that I can force out all of the reviews I have let slide. This book, in my opinion, should count for 3 or 4 books though!

As an ex-Political Scientists I’ve read Kennan’s X article in Foreign Affairs several times. The article argues for an approach to the Soviet Union that would contain its expansive tendencies. This later became “containment” and official policy of the United States, a slight distortion as he was arguing primarily for diplomatic containment and not military.  Kennan’s ideas and writings were complex and, as John Lewis Gaddis in George F. Kennan: An American Life shows, sometimes contradictory, which tended to lead to Kennan’s own frustration when his ideas were put into policy.

Gaddis succeeds at showing us the full picture of the man through this expansive biography. He had access to all of Kennan’s writing, letters, and diaries and even the family. At times I wished for more discussion of the events of the day, but this is again a biography and not a history.

Although the work isn’t for the casual Cold War era reader, it is worth the effort if you want to know more about Kennan’s development as a public intellectual and his influence on the events of the 20th century.  Gaddis has created a biography of which Kennan could be proud.