George F Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis - review by Michael Burleigh

Michael Burleigh

His Marvellous Medicine

George F Kennan: An American Life


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 784pp £30

Contemporary American political biography is a remarkably distinguished genre, whether one thinks of presidential lives (David McCullough on Truman, Stephen Ambrose on Eisenhower and Robert Dallek on Kennedy and Johnson) or dual or group portraits, such as Kai Bird on the brothers Bundy, and Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas on the foreign policy ‘Wise Men’ – including George Frost Kennan – who guided the US through the early Cold War. Scholars such as Richard Immerman have also done much to correct caricatures of Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.

A book originally mooted in the early 1980s has taken over thirty years to be published. The result of such patient labour is a truly remarkable work, in which John Lewis Gaddis, an eminent historian of the Cold War, has mined 20,000 pages of Kennan’s diaries as well as a

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