SPECTATOR, NEW STATESMAN, TELEGRAPH, SUNDAY TIMES and FINANCIAL TIMES BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2015
No American statesman has been as revered and as reviled as Henry Kissinger. Hailed by some as the "indispensable man", whose advice has been sought by every president from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush, Kissinger has also attracted immense hostility from critics who have cast him as an amoral Machiavellian - the ultimate cold-blooded "realist".
In this remarkable new book, the first of two volumes, Niall Ferguson has created an extraordinary panorama of Kissinger's world, and a paradigm-shifting reappraisal of the man. Only through knowledge of Kissinger's early life (as a Jew in Hitler's Germany, a poor immigrant in New York, a GI at the Battle of the Bulge, an interrogator of Nazis, and a student of history at Harvard) can we understand his debt to the philosophy of idealism.
And only by tracing his rise, fall and revival as an adviser to Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller and, finally, Richard Nixon can we appreciate the magnitude of his contribution to the theory of diplomacy, grand strategy and nuclear deterrence.
Drawing not only on Kissinger's hitherto closed private papers but also on documents from more than a hundred archives around the world, this biography is Niall Ferguson's masterpiece. Like his classic two-volume history of the House of Rothschild, Kissinger sheds dazzling new light on an entire era.
In the first of a planned two-volume Henry Kissinger biography, Harvard historian Ferguson (Civilization: The West and the Rest) traces Kissinger's life from his birth in Germany in 1923 through his service in WWII and growing career as a foreign policy expert, culminating in his 1968 appointment as national security advisor to newly elected President Richard Nixon. To readers' benefit, this is as much a history of post-WWII and Cold War foreign policy as a biography of Kissinger. Jumping off from Kissinger's high-level involvement in the 1961 Berlin Crisis and his role as an advisor in the early years of the Vietnam War, Ferguson offers a detailed and provocative examination of how foreign policy is developed in the midst of theoretical and political crosscurrents. Kissinger's views on Vietnam and his involvement in several failed Johnson administration Vietnam peace initiatives provide a deeper dimension to the complexities of American Vietnam policy. Ferguson also takes ample time to describe the Machiavellian jockeying for influence and power among high-end government officials. There is little discussion of Kissinger's personal life, and readers looking for such detail or psychological speculations will be disappointed. Some may see this complicated, generally admiring view of Kissinger as overly generous, but Ferguson endeavors to provide nuance around Kissinger's approaches to the challenges of Cold War foreign policy. Agency: Wylie Agency.