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No American statesman has been as revered and as reviled as Henry Kissinger. Once hailed as "Super-K" - the "indispensable man" whose advice has been sought by every president from Kennedy to Obama - he has also been hounded by conspiracy theorists, scouring his every "telcon" for evidence of Machiavellian malfeasance. Yet as Niall Ferguson shows in this magisterial biography, the idea of Kissinger as the ruthless arch-realist is based on a profound misunderstanding. Drawing not only on Kissinger's hitherto closed private papers but also on documents from more than a hundred archives around the world, Ferguson argues that the true foundation of Kissinger's thought is philosophical idealism - combined with history itself.
The first half of Kissinger's life is usually skimmed over as a quintessential tale of American ascent: the Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany who made it to the White House. But in this first of two volumes, Ferguson shows that what Kissinger achieved before his appointment as Richard Nixon's national security adviser was astonishing in its own right. Toiling as a teenager in a New York factory, he studied indefatigably at night. He was drafted into the US infantry and saw action at the Battle of the Bulge - as well as the liberation of a concentration camp - but ended his army career interrogating Nazis. It was at Harvard that Kissinger found his vocation. Having immersed himself in the philosophy of Kant and the diplomacy of Metternich, he shot to celebrity by arguing for "limited nuclear war". Nelson Rockefeller hired him. Kennedy called him to Camelot. Yet Kissinger's rise was anything but irresistible. Dogged by press gaffes and disappointed by "Rocky", Kissinger seemed stuck - until a trip to Vietnam changed everything.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By LHM on 10-19-15
Paradigm Shift Alert!
Not long ago, I read "On China" by Henry Kissinger. I was stunned. As an amateur student of Chinese history, and avid traveler, especially and frequently to Taiwan (and in a couple of weeks, to mainland China for an extended stay), Dr Kissinger's perspective and exposition on China's worldview were, well, simply stunning. So I immediately bought the new Niall Ferguson biography because: (1) I love Mr Ferguson's work having read and thoroughly enjoyed his work before, and (2) I was VERY intrigued, to say the least, about Dr Kissinger's worldview having seen it first hand in "On China." I was NOT disappointed. Mr Ferguson's writing style and scholarship were a perfect fit for Dr Kissinger's style and scholarship. This book is a real keeper - one I will re-read regularly to recalibrate my understanding of geopolitics. I cannot believe I did not discover Dr Kissinger's work before!! Beware, despite Mr Ferguson's clear prose, Dr Kissinger's work is not for those who don't take time to stop and ponder what they've read. But, for me, it has been worth every moment of reflection, and every revisit so far. Highly recommended. BTW: The narrator's performance was First Class. Clear; consistent; entertaining; and professional.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
By Jean on 11-10-15
This volume looks at Kissinger’s life from birth to age 45, about to begin his first stint of full time government service. This is supposed to be the “official biography” but it looks to me like it is also an effort to revise the revisionist. I believe this will be a controversial biography, some people will claim it is a hagiography others will claim it is not. In my opinion it sits on the borderline but Ferguson is quite critical of Kissinger’s theory of limited nuclear war. Therefore one cannot say Ferguson whitewashed Kissinger and makes Fergusons praise all the more creditable. Ferguson is a British historian from Scotland. He is a senior research fellow at University of Oxford; he also holds fellowships at Harvard and Stanford Universities.
Ferguson had access to every part of Kissinger’s vast archive at the Library of Congress, which is enormous; he also combed through 111 archives all around the world. . Ferguson also had access to Kissinger’s personal papers, diaries and letters. Ferguson spent many hours interviewing Kissinger and many of his peers and family. The author said it took him ten years to do the archive research and interviews. The book is well written and easy to read for a non historian.
Ferguson covers the Kissinger family’s experiences under the Nazi before they immigrated in 1938. He also covers their experiences as Jewish immigrates in New York. The author covers Kissinger’s life in the United States Army during World War II. He tells about Kissinger witnessing the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. Kissinger saw action at the battle of the bulge and the liberation of a Belgian town. Ferguson tells of his service after V. E. Day as a Nazi hunter with the Counter –Intelligence Corps. The author tells how Kissinger earned the Bronze Star. Fergusson covers his education on the G.I. Bill to Harvard and becoming an associate professor. The author goes into depth about the papers and books Kissinger wrote while at Harvard.
I was interested in the letter Kissinger wrote to his parents explaining why he would no longer adhere to their strict orthodox Jewish faith. I also was interested in the essay Kissinger had written, “The Eternal Jew” when his was age 22 and an Army Sergeant after witnessing the liberation of a Nazis concentration camp. It shows a different view of Kissinger from the political one I have heard so much about.
Malcohm Hillgartner did an excellent job narrating the book. I am looking forward to volume Two. The book is very long at about 1000 pages and 35 hours long.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful