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I met George Kennan twice, once in 1982 and again in about 1998. On both occasions, I found him tough to read. He was a very dignified man—I want to write "correct"—but also quite distant, even cerebral. Now that I've read Nicholas Thompson's very writerly and engaging The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War (Henry Holt, 2010) I can see that my impressions were largely correct. He was distant, cerebral, and, well, a bit hard to read. Not so the other protagonist in Thompson's tale of two key personalities of the Cold War. Paul Nitze—who was Thompson's grandfather—was a sort of "hail fellow well met," the kind of backslapping, can-do guy that Americans like to think characterizes the "American Spirit." Thompson skillfully weaves Kennan's ying and Nitze's yang into the story of America's long struggle to come to terms with the Soviet Union and its "ambitions" (or lack thereof). In my humble opinion, Nitze comes off a bit better than Kennan, and not because of any bias on the author's part; he's quite even-handed. But they were both remarkable figures, and the book is a suitable testament to their achievements (and, I'm quick to add, foibles). The world they lived in—a time when a few ambitious men who had gone to the right schools, met the right people, and were given the power to chart the nation's course—is largely gone. We're fortunate that Thompson has so admirably brought it, and the world it made, back to life.
20th Century, Bolsheviks, Capitalism, Cold War, Communism, Foriegn Policy, Historians, Intellectuals, Marxism, Neoconservatism, Nuclear Disarmament, Politics, Public Intellectuals, Russia, Russian Empire, Socialism, Soviet Union, Sovietology, Stalin
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