George Kennan


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A Study of Character

John Lukacs

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A profoundly moving biographical study of George Kennan by the fine historian John Lukacs

A man of impressive mental powers, of extraordinary intellectual range, and—last but not least—of exceptional integrity, George Frost Kennan (1904-2005) was an adviser to presidents and secretaries of state, with a decisive role in the history of this country (and of the entire world) for a few crucial years in the 1940s, after which he was made to retire; but then he became a scholar who wrote seventeen books, scores of essays and articles, and a Pulitzer Prize–winning memoir. He also wrote remarkable public lectures and many thousands of incisive letters, laying down his pen only in the hundredth year of his life. Having risen within the American Foreign Service and been posted to various European capitals, and twice to Moscow, Kennan was called back to Washington in 1946, where he helped to inspire the Truman Doctrine and draft the Marshall Plan. Among other things, he wrote the “X” or “Containment” article for which he became, and still is, world famous (an article which he regarded as not very important and liable to misreading). John Lukacs describes the development and the essence of Kennan’s thinking; the—perhaps unavoidable—misinterpretations of his advocacies; his self-imposed task as a leading realist critic during the Cold War; and the importance of his work as a historian during the second half of his long life.

John Lukacs is an internationally read and praised historian, the author of more than twenty books, a winner of prizes, past president-elect of the American Catholic Historical Association, and member of the Royal Historical Society of the United Kingdom.

"[An] elegant and elegiac biography. . . . Lukacs artfully braids the life and the work in this consciously old-fashioned 'study of character.' He is honest about Kennan's defects of thought."—James Traub, New York Times Book Review

"Lukacs continues to produce excellent works that reflect his impressive historical mind as well as a deep understanding of the contemporary world; he has a deserved worldwide reputation as one of our major modern historians. With his new study of George Kennan, Lukacs has added a well-crafted and well-written assessment of one of this nation's most famous diplomats, scholars, and thinkers. . . . Lukacs's short book is definitely worth the relatively cheap price. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"An intellectual biography with a special sensitivity toward its subject's character traits. . . . It serves as a wonderful introduction to the importance and interest of Kennan's writings. . . . Suffused with respect and friendship, Lukacs' book is perhaps the best way for new readers to approach Kennan. . . . There's far more to George F. Kennan than the man we thought we knew."—Ian Garrick Mason, San Francisco Chronicle

"Prominent and popular historian Lukacs' incisiveness will be of vital assistance to students of Kennan."—Booklist

"Mr. Lukacs ranks Kennan above Henry Adams as a historian and autobiographer and above Ernest Hemingway as a writer about Europe. Kennan emerges, toward the end of this impassioned work, as the conscience of his country. . . . Profound respect for Kennan the man and the writer is writ large on every page of this crystalline book."—Carl Rollyson, New York Sun

"Mr. Lukacs is one of the more incisive historians of the 20th century, and especially of the tangled events leading to World War II."—Joseph C. Goulden, Washington Times

“In this short, brilliant study of a long, prodigious life, John Lukacs has demonstrated, yet again, his genius for capturing, with gimlet-eyed economy, the essence of the pivotal events and careers of history.  In the shelves of books that have been written by and about George Kennan, this one deserves a place of honor.”—Strobe Talbott, President, The Brookings Institution


“John Lukacs has managed to capture the essence of the whole person more successfully than any of the earlier commentators on Kennan. He has done this in an admirably compact and readable volume.”—The Honorable Jack F. Matlock, Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.S.S.R., Former George F. Kennan Professor, Institute for Advanced Study

"John Lukacs' illuminating George Kennan makes a valuable contribution that focuses on Kennan as writer and thinker. . . . Mr. Lukacs writes both as Kennan's long-time friend and a leading historian of the 20th century, and he gracefully sketches a portrait worthy of his subject. . . . He also offers a useful guide to Kennan's writing and voluminous private papers. While Mr. Lukacs makes no claim to offering a comprehensive biography, his book whets the appetite for more comprehensive studies on Kennan's life and work."—William Anthony Hay, Washington Times

"John Lukacs is the perfect writer to provide an assessment that is insightful, respectful and cautionary. A distinguished historian and political philosopher in his own right, Lukacs was a friend and longtime correspondent of Kennan . . . and they shared an aversion to populism and a preference for rule by enlightened elites. . . . Lukacs's literate, elegant and slim volume is more of an appreciation than a biography. Yet in that regard, it is both useful and timely, especially as the United States begins yet another century of trying to weave together its national interests, which Kennan understood so well, and its moral impulses, which he did not."—Walter Isaacson, Washington Post Book World

"Kennan was a fascinating subject to study, and Lukacs' portrait is very well-written—in the Kennan tradition."—Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret News

"George Kennan is not a biography because it does not feign objectivity. It is a panegyric, Kennan's friend's deeply personal appeal to a country that insufficiently appreciates one of its great sons. . . . And so with a literary style reminiscent of a deferential, omniscient narrator, Lukacs tells Kennan's story. . . . It is a study of character that portrays a man whose own contribution to history inspires vigorous contemplation of 'the problems of foreign policy before us today.'"—Sean R. Singer, The National Interest

"This beautiful little book is suffused with the love and respect that Lukacs has for his subject, whom he knew and revered as that rare breed: the foreign-policy expert who becomes a true statesman."—Atlantic Monthly

"Lukacs himself has not attempted to give us a complete lexicon of Kennan's life; instead he has provided in this short book a Rosetta Stone with which to decipher the true character of the man and his thought amid the litter of slogans and hype that muddies public discourse. . . . Lukacs sketches his subject's life and career succinctly and effectively; his book serves as a marvelous introduction to Kennan."—Daniel McCarthy, The American Conservative

"In this wise and succinct book Lukacs does a great deal to recall for Americans one of the more remarkable products of our native soil. . . . Highly recommended."—Alan W. Bock, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA)

"What makes Lukac's study valuable is that he has a historian's feel for what made Kennan such a distinctive figure...He presents a compelling picture of a remarkable man." -Christopher Coke, Literary Review

"Masterfully written and supremely literate."—Stephen Blank, The Russian Review

"Well-written and well-argued. . . . This agile but incisive excursion into the real life of one of the most studied personalities of American history ranks high among the most recent contributions in the field of American foreign policy, and will be hard to beat in the already vast and ever growing literature centring on the figure of Kennan."—Emiliano Alessandri, The International Spectator

"[A] superb biography. . . . Lukacs has an extraordinary reputation as a historian. It is absolutely justified. . . . Lukacs has written a splendid book, balanced and thoughtful, laudatory where appropriate and critical where necessary. He is in a masterclass of biographers."—Stephen Loosley, The Weekend Australian

Selected as a 2008 AAUP University Press Book for Public and Secondary School Libraries.
ISBN: 9780300122213
Publication Date: April 24, 2007
224 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
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