Strolling across Harvard Yard one fine day in 1954, 31-year-old Henry Kissinger bumped into Arthur Schlesinger Jr, the historian already close to renown, who would become Kissinger’s lifelong friend. Kissinger had a newly minted PhD, but despite his obvious brilliance and prize-winning dissertation, the university had not offered him an expected associate professorship; nor had he been invited to join the Society of Fellows. Kissinger was adrift.
According to Niall Ferguson’s monumental first volume of Kissinger’s life (at almost one thousand pages, ‘monumental’ in the sense of ‘very large’), the chance conversation with Schlesinger set Kissinger in a new direction that would eventually take him far from the ivy-covered compounds of American academe. He had already travelled a fair distance. Born in Fürth, Germany, in 1923 and raised within the Orthodox strictures of the town’s close-knit Jewish community, Kissinger emigrated with his family to the United States in 1938, only months before Kristallnacht. At least thirteen of his relatives eventually perished in the Holocaust.
The Kissingers settled in the German-Jewish neighbourhood of upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights, where Henry attended a secular high school and where he gradually transferred his sports enthusiasm from soccer to baseball. In 1940, he switched to night school so he could take an $11-per-week job in a shaving-brush factory on