Volume I : 1923-1968 : the Idealist

Book - 2015
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The definitive biography of Henry Kissinger, based on unprecedented access to his private papers

No American statesman has been as revered or 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 two-volume biography, drawing not only on Kissinger's hitherto closed private papers but also on documents from more than a hundred archives around the world, the idea of Kissinger as the ruthless arch-realist is based on a profound misunderstanding.

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 U.S. 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.

The Idealist is the story of one of the most important strategic thinkers America has ever produced. It is also a political Bildungsroman , explaining how "Dr. Strangelove" ended up as consigliere to a politician he had always abhorred. Like Ferguson's classic two-volume history of the House of Rothschild, Kissinger sheds dazzling new light on an entire era. The essential account of an extraordinary life, it recasts the Cold War world.
Publisher: New York :, Penguin Press,, 2015
ISBN: 9781594206535
Branch Call Number: 973.924092 Kissi -F
Characteristics: xix, 986 pages : illustrations


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Feb 23, 2016

I love biographies, but reading this was quite the bore. Niall Ferguson's desire to outline the tiniest minutiae of Kissinger's life and to excessively retell the historical context in which Kissinger was living deeply withers away Ferguson's noble intent to illustrate the early life influences that made Kissinger into the masterful statesman that he was. On the back of the book are gushy commentaries by former Secretaries of State...worried about seeming less than engaged in reading about one of their former colleagues, these poor souls probably had to plow through this lengthy tome as required reading (or get someone else to do it for them) and it is only up to 1968!

Sep 29, 2015

[UPDATE 3/16: Please see Barrett Brown's outstanding review at - - and attack of nausea - - of Ferguson's godawful bio on his love thing, Henry Kissinger - - the uber fascist who endorsed junior fascist, Hillary Clinton!]
He's baaaaack, Harvard's Niall Ferguson, who gave us that puff piece [two volumes too long] on the Rothschild family, and Harvard's Theory of Money, is now selling Henry the K to us. Like Ferguson's puff piece on the Rothschilds, which too frequently skipped on all the crucial information [e.g., and they appointed Alfred Hartmann - - not mentioning Hartmann's long career with Swiss military intelligence and his affiliation with banks where bankers showed up dead, et cetera], much too much of importance is also skipped here.
Like history? Then skip Ferguson! [Best book on Kissinger is by Greg Grandin of NYU.] Also please never forget Kissinger's long reach - - past associates at Kissinger and Associates were Timothy Geithner, Paul Bremer, et cetera. [The fiction that deep throat was FBI assistant director Feld is humours, as how would he have the access to the Oval Office that Kissinger did, and when Kissinger was at Harvard he routinely would claim academic competitors were commies, and he complained to an FBI agent name . . . Feld!]


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Mar 20, 2017

A very detailed evaluation of Kissinger's life from boyhood to accepting the position of National Security Adviser in the Nixon Administration. Obvously a controversial figure. I think this book pretty much addresses all the major myths/rumors regarding Kissinger prior to Jan 1969, when he became National Security Advisor. The author uses his access both to Kissinger's personal papers and to numerous outside sources to address these. His conclusions seem to be that, while Kissinger was subject to typical human failing, the more sensational accusations during this period do not hold up to serious scrutiny.

What I found particularly intriguing is the insight provided in the development of US security policy during the 1950's and 1960's. The author uses Kissinger's proximity to the many events to describe what was going on leading to things like development of nuclear weapons policy and the build-up to the Vietnam War. Neither of these emerged spontaneously, and the book traces their tortuous development. The book also gives a view of the many personalities, presidents and otherwise, that Kissinger interacted with.

At times, particularly in the latter half of the book, it reads like a spy novel, describing the byzantine undertakings that Kissinger was going through as an ad hoc US Government representative to initiate negotiations with the North Vietnamese.

Despite its length, it is well written, uses exquisite language, and some of the very dry, British (or should I say Scottish?) humor of the author leaks through! A long read: this is an academic book, exquisitely researched and referenced. In my view, well worth it. Can't wait to read the follow-on book, where Kissinger steps into the position of National Security Advisor.

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