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A captivating blend of personal biography and public drama, The Wise Men introduces the original best and brightest, leaders whose outsized personalities and actions brought order to postwar chaos: Averell Harriman, the freewheeling diplomat and Roosevelt's special envoy to Churchill and Stalin; Dean Acheson, the secretary of state who was more responsible for the Truman D A captivating blend of personal biography and public drama, The Wise Men introduces the original best and brightest, leaders whose outsized personalities and actions brought order to postwar chaos: Averell Harriman, the freewheeling diplomat and Roosevelt's special envoy to Churchill and Stalin; Dean Acheson, the secretary of state who was more responsible for the Truman Doctrine than Truman and for the Marshall Plan than General Marshall; George Kennan, self-cast outsider and intellectual darling of the Washington elite; Robert Lovett, assistant secretary of war, undersecretary of state, and secretary of defense throughout the formative years of the Cold War; John McCloy, one of the nation's most influential private citizens; and Charles Bohlen, adroit diplomat and ambassador to the Soviet Union.


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A captivating blend of personal biography and public drama, The Wise Men introduces the original best and brightest, leaders whose outsized personalities and actions brought order to postwar chaos: Averell Harriman, the freewheeling diplomat and Roosevelt's special envoy to Churchill and Stalin; Dean Acheson, the secretary of state who was more responsible for the Truman D A captivating blend of personal biography and public drama, The Wise Men introduces the original best and brightest, leaders whose outsized personalities and actions brought order to postwar chaos: Averell Harriman, the freewheeling diplomat and Roosevelt's special envoy to Churchill and Stalin; Dean Acheson, the secretary of state who was more responsible for the Truman Doctrine than Truman and for the Marshall Plan than General Marshall; George Kennan, self-cast outsider and intellectual darling of the Washington elite; Robert Lovett, assistant secretary of war, undersecretary of state, and secretary of defense throughout the formative years of the Cold War; John McCloy, one of the nation's most influential private citizens; and Charles Bohlen, adroit diplomat and ambassador to the Soviet Union.

30 review for The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made

  1. 5 out of 5

    John

    I purchased this book at the Friends of the Library used book store at the Public Library in Laguna Beach, California. It is a formidable-looking book. I bought it mainly on the strength of one of its authors, Walter Isaacson. I have read some of his other biographies and found them very engagingly written. There is an inscription on the front flyleaf of my copy that reads, "To George & Julie Merry Xmas 1986 Hope this brings knowledge to your whole family Love Francie". The book had all the appe I purchased this book at the Friends of the Library used book store at the Public Library in Laguna Beach, California. It is a formidable-looking book. I bought it mainly on the strength of one of its authors, Walter Isaacson. I have read some of his other biographies and found them very engagingly written. There is an inscription on the front flyleaf of my copy that reads, "To George & Julie Merry Xmas 1986 Hope this brings knowledge to your whole family Love Francie". The book had all the appearance of never having been read, so I suspect George, Julie, and their family were never enlightened as Francie hoped. It is unlikely that Francie, whoever she is, will ever read this review, but, Francie, if you do, rest assured that at least one person gained much from reading your gift. I was born when Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, just a week shy of one year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. I don't remember anything about FDR and very little about his successor, Harry Truman. I do remember Eisenhower being elected in 1952 and I've been interested in our country's government ever since. I lived through most of the time period during which the subjects of this book were active in government. Before reading this book I had only heard of 2 of the 6, Averell Harriman and Dean Acheson. So The Wise Men was for me kind of a trip down memory lane. It was fascinating to me to learn some of the insider information on the decisions that lead to such historic events as dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, the Cuban missile crises, and the Vietnam War among lesser events. Walter Isaacson and his co-author, Evan Thomas, did an excellent job of portraying these events in an interesting and readable manner.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    This is the story of what became known as the "American Establishment." "Establishment" was a term that originated in England to describe a circle of powerful men. Richard Rovere has proposed that the two parties in this country are really either populist or establishment, not conservative or liberal. The American Establishment were "Atlanticists." Their similar schooling gave them an appreciation for Western European values and the perceived benefit of a traditional Europe. They were instrument This is the story of what became known as the "American Establishment." "Establishment" was a term that originated in England to describe a circle of powerful men. Richard Rovere has proposed that the two parties in this country are really either populist or establishment, not conservative or liberal. The American Establishment were "Atlanticists." Their similar schooling gave them an appreciation for Western European values and the perceived benefit of a traditional Europe. They were instrumental in shepherding the Marshall Plan through a hostile Congress. They felt a cosmopolitan duty to preserve the culture and civilization of the West. This was to become a problem many years later as Asia became the focus of U.S. concern. Francophile Acheson was fundamental in recommending support for France in its futile attempt to preserve the colonial empire. Acheson's efforts resulted in an avalanche of U.S. funding, ultimately supplying France with far more than we spent on them during the entire Marshall Plan. The establishment is profiled through the careers of Robert Lovett, John McCloy, Averell Harriman, Charles Bohlen, George Kennan, and Dean Acheson. They were all intelligent, educated at elite private schools, and most came from wealthy families. The six were not ideologues, preferring to adopt a pragmatic outlook, holding moderate views and they believed in consensus. Unfortunately, their sensible world view was translated by more simplistic minds in the fifties into being "soft on communism." They were not highly visible to the public (except when McCarthy made them targets), but preferred to persuade leaders privately and intellectually. They were fervent capitalists which made McCarthy's charges against them ludicrous. They believed in a strong link between free trade, free markets and free minds. Isaacson and Thomas fill the book with marvelous anecdotes and they describe the unique characteristics of the six lucidly and with humor. For example, Dean Acheson resigned as Under Secretary of the Treasury under FDR in a dispute over whether the United States could legally buy gold at a price higher than that set by Congress. The authors explain differences among the six this way: "Acheson's friend Harriman would never have gone to the mat over a matter of principle with a President, he would likely have sidled away from the conflict to work on problems that he would be left to solve on his own. Lovett would probably have worked out some compromise, making any mountainous dispute seem suddenly like a small bump. So, too, would have John McCloy, the legal workhorse; like Bohlen, he would have been willing to go along. Kennan would no doubt have agonized about resignation only to become lost in philosophical brooding." I had for many years vastly misunderstood George Kennan's role in the development of the cold war. The famous "X" article, which provided the foundation for containment, was misinterpreted to create the underpinning for Nitze's NSC-68 and development of the arms race. Kennan was really arguing for a non-military, less aggressive stance. Ironically, Nitze, icon of the modern American military was adamantly opposed to U.S. entry into Vietnam because he was aware of the limited resources of the United States. Prophetic indeed. We may owe current European unity to the efforts of John McCloy who, as High Commissioner of Germany, and its virtual czar, was an exceptionally sincere and honest broker among the war-torn nations of Europe. His word was taken with equal faith in all the capitals and he laid the foundation for the economic miracle that was to take place. (There is a new biography of McCloy out recently - it's on my list.) By the late seventies and early eighties the Establishment was out of favor. It was blamed for the cold war, Vietnam, and assorted other blunders; but its replacement, the self-centered, undisciplined, partisan, non-professional politicians-diplomats of the Reagan-Nixon era- has historians and revisionists yearning for the old order which had been, at least, consistent, selfless, and devoted to the national interest. "There was a foreign policy consensus back then, and its disintegration during Vietnam is one of the great disasters of our history," said Henry Kissinger. "You need an Establishment. Society needs it. You can't have all these assaults on national policy so that every time you change presidents you end up changing direction." These men were responsible for building a coalition that resulted in 40+ years of Pax Americana. "They were public servants, not public figures, and did not have to read the newspapers to know where they stood....In their sense of duty and shared wisdom, they found the force to shape the world."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    This book focuses on the Wise men in Truman Administration who were architects of US policy for the cold war. These men in addition pretty much molded cold war institutions and are the quintessential figures of the foreign policy establishment. Their most important period is the early years of the cold war during the Truman presidency although their influence would still matter throughout the cold war and Kenan outlived the Soviet Union. The book was written in the 1980s or the late stages of th This book focuses on the Wise men in Truman Administration who were architects of US policy for the cold war. These men in addition pretty much molded cold war institutions and are the quintessential figures of the foreign policy establishment. Their most important period is the early years of the cold war during the Truman presidency although their influence would still matter throughout the cold war and Kenan outlived the Soviet Union. The book was written in the 1980s or the late stages of the Cold War under Reagan. If it were written a decade later or now it may be a different book. It is fairly sympathetic to this group of men who represented the cream of the old WASP ascendancy but even the most sympathetic will have mixed feelings about the way they handled the cold war. In the early phases, all eyes were on Europe and the wise men were caught off guard by the events in Korea and probably didn't foresee that much of the cold war would be fought in dirty little proxy wars in what would be termed the third world. It wasn't the twilight struggle in Europe it was a lot of ugly proxy wars in newly decolonized countries that would have lasting impacts for a large chunk of humanity. Still, these men stopped WWIII and that is not nothing. This book does a good job of describing these men and their background and times which they lived and shaped.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    A fascinating depiction of a world both ancient and modern, and that lies in sharp contrast to our current situation. First of all, one notes that this was written by the elite, about the elite. The authors are both Harvard alumni, and most of the subjects went to Yale. They served in government partly out of personal satisfaction, partly as noblesse oblige. While the authors occasionally insert mild criticisms, this is almost a hagiography for six statesmen of the cold war. Nevertheless, the boo A fascinating depiction of a world both ancient and modern, and that lies in sharp contrast to our current situation. First of all, one notes that this was written by the elite, about the elite. The authors are both Harvard alumni, and most of the subjects went to Yale. They served in government partly out of personal satisfaction, partly as noblesse oblige. While the authors occasionally insert mild criticisms, this is almost a hagiography for six statesmen of the cold war. Nevertheless, the book obviously took years of intense scholarship. It offers a detailed picture of the development of American foreign policy over several decades. In a way, the shared aristocracy and educational background of authors and subjects enables the writers to enter the mindset of Acheson et al, and fine writing enables readers to go there with them. Second, my own reflections as I read were immensely widened because I was reading Thucydides’ The Peloponnisian Wars simultaneously. Yes, once again I coincidentally found myself tackling parallel books. Wise men: Russia and the United States, after long battles against a deadly mutual foe in WWI, try to expand the number and loyalty of their subject states. They are countries with fundamentally different mentalities and governments. The US has nuclear weapons and the USSR wants them. The US assesses the strength and paranoia of their recent ally, and decides it must get tough. Various statesmen offer opinions on how to deal with the Soviets, ranging from treaties and talk to arms buildups. Great speeches and influential articles come forth. Attempts at negotiation sometimes work, mostly fail. Bluffs, backdowns, alliances, a proxy war that nears disaster but ends in stalemate. A hero general takes a war into his own hands, disastrously. McCarthy forever poisons American politics with lies, hysteria and fear mongering. The US is lured into Vietnam, in part due to fear of appearing soft on Communism, and in a faraway country meets disaster. The six patricians look on as protestors and presidents they can’t abide change their world. Greece: Athens and Sparta unite to defeat the Persians, then negotiate a peace treaty betwen themselves that lasts a few decades. Sparta, eying Athens growing empire and vast naval advantage, decides it can’t allow this to go on. It rallies its own allies and initiates twenty six years of war. Great speeches abound. Statesmen urge opposing policies and strategies. Allies and potential subject states are wooed, intimidated, defended. Allies switch sides at the drop of a helmet. Sparta builds up its naval capacity in part through its allies. The Athenian Alcibiades is a five or six times traitor as he repeatedly switches sides, makes side deals with the enemy, and generally finds no action to low. Athens is lured into a war of its allies in far-away Sicily. It depletes its treasury and almost its entire military force is destroyed. Back in its own seas, fighting for its life, it agrees to give up its democracy for an oligarchy and contemplates an alliance with the Persians. Back to the Wise Men. Isaacson and Thomas are very skilled at following the threads of six lives and keeping their men’s personalities and actions distinct but related. These men were loyal friends, who all had some eperience in dealing with the Soviets early in their careers. Most served the State Department in some capacity there before World War II. This gave them varying, but well-founded, opinions on what the Soviet leadership might be up to in the subsequent decades. Kennan is perhaps the most intriguing, as his early caution gave way to an earnest desire for peaceful co-existence later. Acheson is a key player throughout, although he was side-lined in the fifties after running afoul of McCarthy. Harriman is portrayed as the little boy with his hand in the air all the time eager to be called on to answer the question, serve as ambassador, negotiate with the Russians, be Secretary of State. He is portrayed as a skillful negotiator, but never got his chance as Secretary. Bohlen, Lovett, and McCloy I knew next to nothing about, but found they played essential roles in building air power, shaping and running the Marshall Plan, and generally advising on everything to president after president. The patrician aspect of the authorial enterprise becomes problematic as we enter the sixties. There is no quarter given to LBJ. He is portrayed as a bellicose low-class grotesque. who single-mindely rejects the growing sentiment among not just the students in the streets but even these creators of the cold war that it is time to withdraw. No doubt there is a great deal of truth to this, but there is no credit given for Johnson’s other accomplishments or his complex character. A small problem, in an engaging, well-written, and very educational book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jana

    True statesmen who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations. We need people like this in government today.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Part American WWII history, part Cold War history, part biography, part discussion of the "Establishment" in mid 20th century America combine to form a well-written account of several key players in U.S. foreign policy from the 1930s-70s. Isaacson and Thomas decide to focus on six men who they believe embody the views and actions of foreign affairs during and after WWII, and on into the Vietnam War era. This book is now thirty years old, and was written right when two of the six men had just die Part American WWII history, part Cold War history, part biography, part discussion of the "Establishment" in mid 20th century America combine to form a well-written account of several key players in U.S. foreign policy from the 1930s-70s. Isaacson and Thomas decide to focus on six men who they believe embody the views and actions of foreign affairs during and after WWII, and on into the Vietnam War era. This book is now thirty years old, and was written right when two of the six men had just died and two others were still living, so the passage of time that so often helps us to better evaluate and judge the actions and motivations of those in high political office is somewhat missing. But that does not dim the story nor many of the conclusions that the writers focus on. Even with it being written in 1986, almost all of the events that are covered occurred decades before. Dean Acheson Along with Averell Harriman, Acheson does seem to be the main character in this book. Perhaps because he was involved in so many important decisions, and held powerful positions both in the Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman administrations, this makes sense. The authors treat Acheson (and just about everyone) fairly, making sure to point out the reasons why they think he deserves so much attention as well as his personality flaws that seriously hampered his authority as Secretary of State. Acheson had a weakness for flattery and vanity, and often indulged in these vices, much to his friends' chagrin at times. Was he responsible for setting in motion the eventual tragedy of the Vietnam War just based on his almost sole focus on Europe and his belief that the Russians controlled all Communist countries? Or did he help architect a winning strategy in an increasingly scary world full of nuclear threats abroad and witch hunts at home? Averell Harriman Harriman manages to come off as both a dedicated public servant, logging a staggering amount of miles in airplanes on trips around the world - trips that never seemed to end, and a political opportunist who continually tried (and often succeeded) in injecting himself into important political matters and cozying up to world leaders. This mixture of sacrifice to the public good along with personal gain would play much more cynically in today's world: Harriman had numerous conflicts of interest due to his business dealings, yet paid no heed to such matters. He never achieved the one position that he really wanted (Secretary of State) but he managed to have a lasting impact on American foreign policy. John McCloy Like Harriman, McCloy had conflicts of interest as well but he much less disposed to seek out government positions. Instead, positions seemed to find him. While I generally agree with most of the analysis provided by the authors, I do differ strongly on one point concerning McCloy. Assistant Secretary of War during WWII, McCloy had a hand in implementing the horrible order to intern thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent. War hysteria and over-reactions led to this, and McCloy did nothing to stop it. Actually, he further muddied the waters as everyone in a high government position punted the responsibility for making this appalling decision somewhere else. The authors write, on page 197: "Much of the fear was understandable, at least in those jittery times." Forcibly targeting American citizens based solely on their race, and virtually imprisoning them for the duration of the war, was a black mark on everyone associated with the decision, and reflected poorly on the country, even if it was not looked at as so at that time. Robert Lovett Lovett and McCloy were so often lumped together that at times throughout the first half of the book, it was difficult to distinguish between the two. Like McCloy, Lovett typically did not seek out positions of power in the government. He preferred to make money on Wall Street and work behind the scenes when he could. But he became trusted adviser during the Truman years and also particularly to President Kennedy later on. Notably, he avoided Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War like the plague. Because of that, Lovett pretty much disappears in the last quarter of the book. George Kennan A tortured soul, Kennan for a time was considered the leading authority on all things Russia. He never seemed to be comfortable with himself: always being on the outside at dinner parties, and being on the fringes of government, yet seeming to relish this self-imposed isolation. Kennan is commonly referred to as the mind behind the containment doctrine, yet as he aged he came to view the Soviet Union differently, preferring to push for peace when possible. One interesting thing that the authors mention is Kennan's discovery of U.S. minister's notes from the early 1800s, describing the Russian people even back then as being paranoid. This helped to form Kennan's own image of the Soviet Union and how the U.S. could best coexist with it. Chip Bohlen Bohlen seems like he was thrown in as an extra. He is more of a supporting character here than a major player. For long stretches, he is not in the narrative at all. And even when he, it is usually as a counterbalance to Kennan. Throughout the first half of the book, Henry Stimson seems to be featured more than Bohlen; Paul Nitze in the second half. It would have been interesting for Isaacson and Thomas to have explored further the time that Bohlen was detained in Japan during WWII (and Kennan in Germany as well). Overall an excellent review of the making of American foreign policy during the crucial period just after WWII and into the Vietnam era. Chock full of personal anecdotes thanks to the authors being able to interview most of their subjects themselves, and in cases where that was not possible (Acheson and Bohlen), many people who knew them intimately. This time of bipartisanship is now a bygone era in foreign policy. Grade: A-

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This is a fascinating "collective biography" of six major, interrelated figures in the American establishment from the 1930s into the 1960s. Some might think of this as another "Best and Brightest," set earlier in time. But Halberstam's use of that term was ironic; here, the authors are not speaking ironically when they refer to the six as "the original brightest and best" (Page 19). The beginning lays out what follows. Isaacson and Thomas observe that (Page 19): "Six friends. Their lives intert This is a fascinating "collective biography" of six major, interrelated figures in the American establishment from the 1930s into the 1960s. Some might think of this as another "Best and Brightest," set earlier in time. But Halberstam's use of that term was ironic; here, the authors are not speaking ironically when they refer to the six as "the original brightest and best" (Page 19). The beginning lays out what follows. Isaacson and Thomas observe that (Page 19): "Six friends. Their lives intertwined from childhood and schooldays, from their early days on Wall Street and in government. Now they were to be destined to be at the forefront of a remarkable transformation of American policy." They (Page 19) ". . .knew that America would have to assume the burden of a global role." And, say the authors, their (Page 19) ". . .outsized personalities and forceful actions brought order to the postwar chaos and left a legacy that dominates American policy to this day." Those are some powerful statements. Does the book back these up? To a considerable extent, yes. But these six can hardly be said to have been the orchestrators. They were surely players, but to say that they were the architects of the American century (the title of the chapter in which these quotations are embedded) is too strong a statement. Who were those among this sextet? George Kennan, Dean Acheson, Charles ("Chip") Bohlen, Robert Lovett, Averell Harriman, and John McCloy. From their youth, they were trained to expect doing large things. For instance, Harriman took over his father's economic empire and grew it. Later in his life, he was elected as governor of New York (only to be defeated by Nelson Rockefeller after serving one term). The story shows the interconnections among them. Harriman coached Acheson in rowing at Yale, for instance. As they matured, they sought careers in business. Later, all became interested in public service under the FDR Administration. The book chronicles their achievements (and some failures) in considerable detail from FDR's term on. The friction that flared among some from time to time is also discussed. They played major roles in the Truman Administration. Later, when Lyndon Johnson tried to dissect what to do in Vietnam, he held a number of meetings, in which many of the "wise men" participated. Given Halberstam's discussion of the "best and brightest" who got the country into Vietnam and couldn't figure out how to succeed there, the "wise men" were opposed and raised their questions with Johnson. Then, their final years and their fates. . . . I think that there could be a somewhat more critical cast to the work, but it does a great job of portraying these eminent players in American politics. If there has been an "establishment," they were surely part of that in their time. I think that the authors may overestimate their impact, but they surely made a difference.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ted Hunt

    I purchased this book when it was published in 1986, but never read it because I was unsure about reading a book about the Groton/Yale crowd who became the U.S. foreign policy establishment's "Wise Men." I was not interested in reading about the prep school/Ivy League world that these men emerged from, and, as expected. the book began with a thorough description of that world. However, if one gets through the first hundred pages, with its crew races and polo games, then the reader gets a superb I purchased this book when it was published in 1986, but never read it because I was unsure about reading a book about the Groton/Yale crowd who became the U.S. foreign policy establishment's "Wise Men." I was not interested in reading about the prep school/Ivy League world that these men emerged from, and, as expected. the book began with a thorough description of that world. However, if one gets through the first hundred pages, with its crew races and polo games, then the reader gets a superb view of how much this group of men helped to shape the foreign policy of the United States in the middle half of the 20th century. Familiar stories are retold, but through the lens of the story of these men, whose names are so familiar, yet whose full stories are not usually fully explored. The subject matter raises some interesting questions: was it wise to have at the center of American foreign policy so many men whose backgrounds were so similar to each other? Was the country better served by these very well educated and very affluent men than the people we get today in the upper echelons of power, whose motivations are often self-serving and political? Did these men help to create the Cold War or did they provide for us the strategy that won it (or both)? My only complaint about the book is that it tends to skip over the events (like the Bay of Pigs) where their imprint was not felt, even if those events had a profound impact on subsequent foreign policy decisions and crises. The bottom line is that, for these men, their particular political party affiliation and that of whoever was President at the time did not matter as much as serving their country. They truly possessed the quality of "civic virtue" that our Founders felt would be essential to the success of the republic, and which seems to be in short supply today.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Vivek

    This book works on two levels. On one, it is an excellent biography of six men dedicated to public service who were involved in American diplomacy during a critical time in the nation's history (WWII & the early Cold War). On another it explains how the powerful ideas (containment, anti-communism) guiding American foreign policy during the Cold War were formed and the force that these ideas took on beyond the control of their creators. This is the best book I've read about the Cold War. Other bo This book works on two levels. On one, it is an excellent biography of six men dedicated to public service who were involved in American diplomacy during a critical time in the nation's history (WWII & the early Cold War). On another it explains how the powerful ideas (containment, anti-communism) guiding American foreign policy during the Cold War were formed and the force that these ideas took on beyond the control of their creators. This is the best book I've read about the Cold War. Other books might focus on the theories and implementation of Cold War strategy (John Gaddis' excellent Strategies of Containment A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War for example), but by focusing on six men who were in the thick of it, this book gave me a better understanding of how and why these strategies were formed.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Sciuto

    "The Wise Men: Six Friends and The World They Made," is an extraordinary, thought-provoking, and captivating look at the six men, most of whom were graduates of the famous Groton school and later graduates of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton who helped shape American foreign policy for way over fifty years. Often working in the private sector as bankers, Wall Street Insiders, and Railroad Tycoons they immediately responded to the call whenever their government and president sought their advice and c "The Wise Men: Six Friends and The World They Made," is an extraordinary, thought-provoking, and captivating look at the six men, most of whom were graduates of the famous Groton school and later graduates of Yale, Harvard, and Princeton who helped shape American foreign policy for way over fifty years. Often working in the private sector as bankers, Wall Street Insiders, and Railroad Tycoons they immediately responded to the call whenever their government and president sought their advice and council... Taking government jobs as Secretary of State, Ambassadors, Secretary of War, and National Security Advisor... Working for Presidents FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, and Ronald Reagan. They differed in political philosophy, some leaning left while others leaned right; yet together they were the chief architectures of the Marshal Plan, convincing President Truman about the importance of rebuilding Western Europe after World War 2, despite Congressional and public reluctance to the idea, keeping lines of communication open with the Soviet Union, despite its aggressive takeover of Eastern Europe, building the alliance that came to be called NATO, and which was a major deterrant to Soviet aggression and fighting Communism wherever it spread leading us into two unpopular wars in Korea and Vietnam. The six men, Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, John McCloy and Charles Bohlen are hardly household names, even to individuals who think of themselves as knowledgable about American history, but their contributions to American greatness and America's status as a World Power is undeniable and as a nation we should be thankful for their unselfish duty to country... even if at times their philosophy and policies lead us down the wrong path. A must read. Highly recommend.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    I can't believe it's finally over. I feel like I've been reading this book my whole life. It is so. Darn. LONG. And I like long books! Yeesh. While interesting and thorough, I felt like I couldn't see the forest because there were just too many flippin' trees. There was just way, way too much detail. This is the second Walter Isaacson book I've read, and his writing philosophy seems to be, "If a point is worth making, it's worth belaboring." Not only was the mind-numbingly comprehensive recitati I can't believe it's finally over. I feel like I've been reading this book my whole life. It is so. Darn. LONG. And I like long books! Yeesh. While interesting and thorough, I felt like I couldn't see the forest because there were just too many flippin' trees. There was just way, way too much detail. This is the second Walter Isaacson book I've read, and his writing philosophy seems to be, "If a point is worth making, it's worth belaboring." Not only was the mind-numbingly comprehensive recitation of detail tedious, it was exacerbated by a lack of overarching analysis and connective tissue. The tactical perspective was crystal clear, but the strategic viewpoint was fuzzy at best, and nonexistent at worst. I really enjoyed the early parts of the book that focused on their roles in WWII and the immediate post war period. Then as it got into the Korean War, it started getting bogged down. And then the epilogue was really snobby and dismissive of public servants since those six men moved on. Moral of the story - get the abridged version.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Hiebner

    This is an amazing story about the origins and early years of the Cold War as told through the lives of six individuals who shaped US foreign policy during the 1930s - 1960s. The book begins with a brief biography of all six and identifies their relationships with each other from college days on. These six men; two bankers, two lawyers, and two diplomats not only shaped US foreign policy but implemented it as well. Their Cold War policy went from wartime collaboration with the Soviets to a polic This is an amazing story about the origins and early years of the Cold War as told through the lives of six individuals who shaped US foreign policy during the 1930s - 1960s. The book begins with a brief biography of all six and identifies their relationships with each other from college days on. These six men; two bankers, two lawyers, and two diplomats not only shaped US foreign policy but implemented it as well. Their Cold War policy went from wartime collaboration with the Soviets to a policy of firmness to confrontation and distrust to containment to reduction of armaments and to flexible response. However, when it came to the Vietnam War the “Wise Men” were not so wise as they were seemingly handicapped by their Cold War mentality. It was in Vietnam that the Cold War mentality of containment ended. Isaacson and Thomas are amazing story tellers describing events, the interaction of the main players and behind the scenes strategizing that took place between the US and USSR. The authors accurately explain why there was a transition from the “Wise Men’s” foreign policy bipartisan consensus to a “raw new order” and a decline in US foreign policy making. These six men believed they were not only saving the world but shaping a new world order as well. A great read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Book Dragon

    This book provides a good overview of American foreign policy. These wise men who became part of the establishment dedicate themselves to public service and help navigate United States foreign policies through World War II, Soviet containment during the Cold War years, Arab Israeli conflict and the Vietnam war. After reading this book one may be more appreciative of the effort put forth by public service personnel to make any policy a “fait accompli”. A country’s political dogma needs to be flex This book provides a good overview of American foreign policy. These wise men who became part of the establishment dedicate themselves to public service and help navigate United States foreign policies through World War II, Soviet containment during the Cold War years, Arab Israeli conflict and the Vietnam war. After reading this book one may be more appreciative of the effort put forth by public service personnel to make any policy a “fait accompli”. A country’s political dogma needs to be flexible with changing times, but at the same time it should not be disdained all together with each change in the administration. While I enjoyed reading about the different events that led to the policy at the time, the read was a bit cumbersome. I got a bit bogged down because there were a lot of moving parts given it’s a six person biography. I’d like to give this book a 3.5 stars if Good reads allowed it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    Isaacson traces the careers and personalities of six men of the "political establishment." Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, John McCloy, and Charles Bohlen served 4 administrations and advised 2 more. Their outlook, assumptions and experience shaped the American century, rebuilt Europe and mired the country in 2 land wars in Asia. Why I started this book: The title caught my eye as I was browsing my library's Overdrive collection. After waiting on hold for months, it Isaacson traces the careers and personalities of six men of the "political establishment." Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, John McCloy, and Charles Bohlen served 4 administrations and advised 2 more. Their outlook, assumptions and experience shaped the American century, rebuilt Europe and mired the country in 2 land wars in Asia. Why I started this book: The title caught my eye as I was browsing my library's Overdrive collection. After waiting on hold for months, it was my turn to power thru. Why I finished it: At 33 hours and 27 minutes this was not for the faint of heart or the casual interest. And yet for all that, with 6 main leads there was lots of times when I wanted more depth about subjects that I knew about... and parts that I wanted to skip completely because who cares? Interesting to relearn the moments of decision and see it thru a prism of friendship and old boy networks.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sean O

    Right now it's a lot about "Look at this six rich white men and how they got that way" (spoiler: they were mostly born rich white men.) I will be more interested once they get into their "let's stop the USSR" jobs, but right now I'm a little bored with it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jared

    WHAT DID THE WISE MEN DO? - Yet collectively, this small group of men, and those who emulated their example, brought to the immense task just the right mixture of vision and practicality, aggressiveness and patience. They came together at one of those moments in history when time and place, upbringing and character, fuse into a kind of critical mass, and give ordinary men the power to forever change the way things are. - The motives and wisdom of the old foreign policy elite can be fairly debated, WHAT DID THE WISE MEN DO? - Yet collectively, this small group of men, and those who emulated their example, brought to the immense task just the right mixture of vision and practicality, aggressiveness and patience. They came together at one of those moments in history when time and place, upbringing and character, fuse into a kind of critical mass, and give ordinary men the power to forever change the way things are. - The motives and wisdom of the old foreign policy elite can be fairly debated, but its impact is undeniable. More than any others, this small group of men made the U.S. assume the responsibility of a world power and defined its global mission. And without doubt the Marshall Plan remains their purest and greatest achievement, power used to its best end. ORIGIN OF USE OF TERM ‘WISE MEN’ - In his memoranda over the next year, Bundy began referring to Acheson, McCloy, Lovett, and other old statesmen brought in to counsel the President from time to time as “the Wise Men.” The term was not altogether reverent. DIVERSITY OF THOUGHT - These men did not adhere to a single ideology, nor was ideology a driving force in their lives—Ideological fervor was frowned upon; pragmatism, realpolitik, moderation, and consensus were prized. - There were, however, some basic tenets these men shared, foremost among them an opposition to isolationism...Their other basic tenet was the doctrine of containment. BENEFITS OF PRIVILEGE - Presidents need men and women who are confident enough—independent enough—to level with them. No one would argue that the president’s top advisers should be chosen from an elitist club of Anglo-Saxon white males who graduated from certain schools (the parody version of the Wise Men; also the reality). But it would serve the country to have public figures with the confidence to rise above party or the search for celebrity. The self-confidence of the Wise Men was liberating—it gave them the freedom to be creative and bold. CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH - It was important, he felt, that the new recruits, whatever their background, be the type who would adopt the values of the old club. - As his fellow students discussed whom they knew in the State Department, it belatedly dawned on him that college provided not just an education, but a network of professional and social contacts. - Kennan wrote home excitedly: “I’m beginning to appreciate more than ever the value of a Princeton diploma; it’s helped me out about ten times just since I’ve been in Washington.” GEORGE KENNAN - One of the most influential relatives in Kennan’s life was a man he met only once...to visit a cousin of George’s grandfather, a man also named George Kennan. Born in Ohio in 1845, the elder George Kennan had at age twenty explored Alaska and Siberia for a telegraph company and written a popular book called Tent Life in Siberia...During his stay with his distinguished relative, the younger George Kennan became fascinated by Russia. - As Kennan’s academic expertise grew, so did his intellectual arrogance, particularly about his intuitive judgments. When the legation’s counselor asked him about the sources for one of his reports, Kennan replied: “But I’m the source.” - Kennan understood that Communism was not monolithic. - The fact is that Kennan throughout his own career was more intuitive than logical. KENNAN’S ‘LONG TELEGRAM’ - the Long Telegram was viewed by those who read it in February of 1946 as having two main messages: the U.S. must forcefully draw the line against further expansion of Soviet influence, and it should unabashedly forge an alliance with Britain and other Western nations for this purpose. - What made the Long Telegram so immensely influential was not what Kennan said (for he had said the same often before) but what Washington was willing to hear. - One significant result of the Long Telegram was that it unified the thinking of the various advocates of firmness. CONTAINMENT - Kennan had even given the new policy a name: containment. - It was beginning to dawn on him that the article was taking on a meaning and a life of its own, one disturbingly different from the intent of its author. - Lippmann attacked the “containment doctrine” as a “strategic monstrosity.” To try to “confront the Russians with unalterable counterforce at every point” was folly. It would mean propping up puppet regimes all along the Soviet periphery. The result would inevitably be to “squander our substance and our prestige.” The U.S. should devote its resources to restoring Western Europe, not mucking about in Asia or the underdeveloped world. CONFRONTING THE RUSSIANS (NOT NECESSARILY WITH MILITARY) - Kennan concluded in his War College lecture: “There is no reason, in theory, why it should not be possible for us to contain the Russians indefinitely by confronting them firmly and politely with superior strength at every turn.” - To an audience of Foreign Service officers, he said of Soviet leaders: “While they are political gamblers, they are not gamblers when faced with the reality of military force.” - The tendency to “see things precisely in black and white terms,” he added was “the great American temptation.” - Asked at the War College in 1946 if the U.S. did not have something more constructive to offer than military force, Kennan groped uneasily. “I would be happier,” he said, “and I think we would be on sounder ground if we had things that were constructive to offer people in fields beside the military fields. I am still trying to think it out. . . . I just don’t know.” - In later years, Kennan remained mystified that he was unable to get across his argument that the main Soviet threat was political, not military. DEMOCRACIES SEE CONFLICT AS ‘ON OR OFF’ - Not only was the military chain of command “addicted to doing things only in the most massive, ponderous, and unwieldy manner,” but so was the American public. “A democracy,” Kennan wrote in a note to himself, “is severely restricted in its use of armed forces as a weapon of peactime foreign policy. It cannot manipulate them tactically on any extensive scale, for the accomplishment of measures short of war.” - A democracy is suited only to all-out wars. “It soon becomes a victim of its own propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value, which distorts its own vision of everything else. Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side, on the other hand, is the center of all virtue.” EVOLVING PERSPECTIVES - Bohlen’s and Kennan’s hostility toward Stalin and his system might seem quite unremarkable in retrospect, but at the time it was a stark departure from official U.S. thinking...President Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, and Secretary of State Hull. Even the American public, despite deep currents of anti-Communist sentiment, was fascinated by press accounts portraying Russia as a potential trading partner and ally. - “Such was the cast of the military mind that the full potential of air power as an independent, offensive weapon had not penetrated the domain of artillery and battleships,” - “At irregular intervals in history,” Lovett told the old artillery colonel, “some new development has altered the art of war and changed the fate of peoples and the world.” THE RUSSIANS - “The Russian mind, as Dostoyevski has shown, knows no moderation; and it sometimes carries both truth and falsehood to such infinite extremes that they eventually meet in space, like parallel lines, and it is no longer possible to distinguish between them.” - What Bohlen concluded from his analysis was that it was foolish to base a policy toward the Soviets on anything other than an appeal to their self-interest. Any alliances the Kremlin made would be temporary and cynical, forged solely on the basis of transitory needs rather than true understandings. As he said in a 1938 cable: “The Kremlin does not envisage cordial relations with the capitalist governments on any permanent basis but rather as a temporary expedient.” RUSSIAN EXPANSION (?) - The thorniest problem of all was Harriman’s old domino dilemma. Given a friendly sphere (either “open” or “closed”), would the Soviets set their sights on the next layer of countries? - In addition, the Soviets had created a crescent of crises stretching from Trieste to Teheran, sparking brush fires that made their expansionist motives seem quite clear. - What had happened? “Suddenly the atomic bomb appeared,” Harriman wrote “This must have revived their old feeling of insecurity . . . As a result it would seem that they have returned to their tactics of obtaining their objectives through aggressiveness and intrigue.” - But for most U.S. policy makers, the root causes of Moscow’s belligerent attitude remained an enigma. - In reality, “the Soviet party line is not based on any objective analysis of the situation beyond Russia’s borders.” What actually motivated Russia’s rulers, Kennan argued, was a “centuries-old” outlook: “At the bottom of the Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity.” - What role, then, did ideology play? Marxism was mainly a “fig leaf” for Russia’s current rulers, one that served to justify police-state tactics, a closed society, and expansionist ambitions. WHAT THE RUSSIANS REALLY WANTED THROUGH EXPANSION - The most prescient part of Kennan’s analysis was his awareness, not shared by Willett or Forrestal or many others, that the real threat from Moscow was not the ideology of Marxism. What the Kremlin sought, he said, was not more Communism but more Soviet control, the establishment of “governments amenable to their own influence and authority.” They had “no desire” to see countries move toward a socialist system “except under the guidance of persons who recognize Moscow’s authority.” THE TRUMAN DOCTRINE - “It is the policy of the United States to give support to free peoples who are attempting to resist subjugation from armed minorities or from outside forces.” At Acheson’s direction, this passage was lifted almost verbatim from the report and put in the President’s address. It became known as the Truman Doctrine. - Kennan came over from the War College to the State Department to have a look. He was appalled. He immediately seized on the open-ended commitment to aid “free peoples” everywhere. - When he finished announcing that the United States was undertaking the role of world defender of democracy, he was greeted not with applause but with stunned silence. - Walter Lippmann. The distinguished columnist, sniffing the flaw in the Truman Doctrine, had warned in a column that the U.S. was in danger of violating one of his favorite precepts, the balance of resources and commitments. The U.S. would face the Soviets, Lippmann feared, with “dispersed American power in the service of a heterogenous collection of unstable governments.” - Kennan felt unjustly accused. He had, in fact, strongly and repeatedly opposed the sweeping language of the Truman Doctrine, both to his students at the War College and to Acheson personally. In May, for instance, he had complained to Acheson that “the Truman Doctrine is a blank check to give economic and military aid to any area of the world where the Communists show signs of being successful.” THE MARSHALL PLAN - Marshall’s invitation had been open-ended. It was not limited to Western Europe. The Soviet Union and their satellites were free to join in the recovery plan, if they so desired. Inviting Russia was “a hell of gamble,” Bohlen realized; Soviet acceptance would doom the whole exercise. - The Soviets, Kennan explained, could not afford to accept. They would not dream of opening up their books to an international recovery plan, or of loosening control over their satellites by letting them trade freely with the West. - but if the Russians did, they would be expected to contribute money to the plan, not withdraw it. - The Marshall Plan was, said Winston Churchill, the “most unsordid act in history.” Bob Lovett said he was proud of the Marshall Plan on other grounds: it was a government program that stayed within its original cost estimates, and when it had outlived its usefulness, it ended. RUSSIAN RESPONSE TO MARSHALL PLAN - To be encircled by capitalist countries was in fact Stalin’s worst nightmare. - “the Russians saw [the Marshall Plan] as a declaration of war by the U.S. for control of Europe.” - Stalin’s reaction to the Marshall Plan. Not unreasonably, given Soviet history, he saw a restored Europe, and especially a rebuilt Germany, as a threat to Soviet security. EAST/WEST GERMANY SPLIT ENSURED DUE TO CURRENCY REFORM - Currency reform may sound like a technical exercise, but it meant the end of any semblance of U.S.-Soviet cooperation in Germany. It signaled the great divide between East and West. BERLIN AIR LIFT - Keeping Berlin alive required 4,000 tons a day, or a C-54 every three minutes and forty-three seconds. - To accommodate more transports, another airfield was built by twenty thousand Berliners with their bare hands. - The Soviets began to look like barbarians, bent on starvation, while the Americans seemed like saviors. NSC-68 - George Kennan was dead set against the writing of NSC-68. He did not believe there was a need for a massive military buildup. - Too much emphasis was put on the enemy’s capacity, not enough on his intentions. - He argued for “drastic measures to reduce the exorbitant cost of national defense.” That was precisely the opposite of what Nitze was saying. - The real question was whether Congress and the Administration would pay for it. The public had to be persuaded. The way to do that, Nitze knew from experience was to scare them: to tell them that the Soviets were intent on world domination, that they were poised to attack, and that the U.S. had to meet them everywhere. - NSC-68 greatly exaggerated Soviet superiority. FLEXIBLE RESPONSE - The most important new idea was a concept later to be known as “flexible response.” - This was the nub: The U.S. had to be able to fight small conventional wars, and fight them anywhere, or one day it would find the Red Army in Paris. There was no effort to distinguish between vital and peripheral interests. “The assault on free institutions is worldwide now, and in the context of the present polarization of world power, a defeat of free institutions anywhere is a defeat everywhere.” KOREA - all in agreement: the U.S. had to intervene to save South Korea from the Communists. So total was the support that the Administration did not even bother to get any congressional resolution or declaration of war. - “The Kremlin did not intend to bring about a general war or to involve itself in a showdown with the U.S.,” he wrote Acheson a few days later. Rather, the Soviets preferred to see the U.S. get bogged down in a “profitless and discreditable war” or to “acquiesce in Communist seizure, thus suffering a tremendous prestige defeat everywhere.” - “We had the clearest idea among ourselves of the utter madness and folly of what MacArthur was doing up north.” Yet, as he later wrote Richard Neustadt, “We sat around like paralyzed rabbits while MacArthur carried out this nightmare.” VIETNAM - “We are getting ourselves into the position of guaranteeing the French in an undertaking which neither they nor we, nor both of us together, can win.” - By 1960, there were only two officials who could even speak Chinese in the State Department. Significantly, there were no experts on Vietnamese culture and history at all. - Then the South Vietnamese balked. Secretly encouraged by Nixon to hold out for a better deal from a Republican Administration, Thieu refused to sit down at the same table with the NLF. - For weeks the talks hung in limbo while the different sides squabbled over the shape of the table. Should it be two-sided, with the U.S. and South Vietnam on one side and the NLF and North Vietnamese on the other? Three-sided, without a seat for the NLF? Four-sided? Round? - Through November and December on into January, the shape-of-the-table quarrel dragged on. - The South Vietnamese finally agreed to sit down with the Communists (the NLF as well as the North Vietnamese) on January 16—four days before Richard Nixon’s inauguration. THE LAST DAYS OF THE WISE MEN - The moment was as significant for their role in America as it was for America’s in the world. By dismantling their own creation, they were as well diminishing their own raison d’être. Never again would a President put such faith in the collective wisdom of the Establishment. For the Wise Men, this dinner was, in a sense, the last supper. - Smarting from its quiescence in Vietnam, no longer willing to be used by Presidents as a passive instrument, Congress in the early seventies had begun to assert itself in foreign policy. - Foreign policy, Kennan believed, had become political theater. By sacrificing realism to polemics, consistency to opportunism, America had forfeited its role as world leader. “For a country to be ruled this way,” declared Kennan in an interview with historian Ronald Steel in the fall of 1984, “disqualifies it from active participation in the world.” AMERICAN POLICY OPINION MOVES TO THE EXTREMES AFTER VIETNAM - deep splits that cracked apart the foreign policy Establishment in the 1970s. For two decades, the Establishment had held sway by sitting squarely astride the middle ground of “informed” public opinion. But by the seventies, the center no longer held; Vietnam had shattered the post-World War II consensus. Power swung to the extremes. - Vietnam forced nearly everyone, even the old guard, to choose sides between “hawk” and “dove.” - “There was a foreign policy consensus back then, and its disintegration during Vietnam is one of the great disasters of our history,” states Kissinger. “You need an Establishment. Society needs it. You can’t have all these constant assaults on national policy so that every time you change Presidents you end up changing direction.” FALL OF STATE DEPARTMENT/ RISE OF NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER - When Carter formed his government in January of 1977, Brzezinski maneuvered to insure that the real insider, the President’s true counsel, was not the Secretary of State but the National Security Adviser; not Vance but himself. - “If I had gotten in the way of the relationship between the President and the Secretary of State,” he told friends, “I would have been fired, and properly so.” - When Carter ignored Vance’s warnings and took Brzezinski’s advice to launch the hostage rescue mission that failed so ignominiously in the Iranian desert, Vance resigned from office, defeated and discouraged. THE COGNITIVE ELEMENT - All in all, German production in 1944 was three times what it was at the beginning of the war. Especially fruitless had been the attempt to destroy German morale by the bombings; there were no signs that this occurred. - “We must understand that we are not going to have negotiations,” he told the President. “When these fellows decide they can’t defeat the South, then they will give up. This is the way it was in Korea. This is the way the Communists operate.” - It was the battle reports from the field commanders that had the deepest impact on Acheson, his son, David, recalled. They conveyed to him an impression of suicidal determination by the enemy, and of confusion and low morale on the American side. - Though the North Vietnamese had been badly bled by Tet, and needed time to regroup and recover, they accurately perceived that Tet had been a tremendous psychological victory, that it had sapped the will of the American people.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cliff

    This is, without a doubt, one of the best, easiest to read yet incredibly deep and detailed, history books I've ever read. Yet it's more than that. It's also book about diplomacy and how it's done, about relationships between friends, foes, rivals, and more. It's about how Washington works, or at least worked, and what it means for those who play the game. The book undoubtedly admirers the six men involved, Dean Acheson, Charles E. Bohlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, and John This is, without a doubt, one of the best, easiest to read yet incredibly deep and detailed, history books I've ever read. Yet it's more than that. It's also book about diplomacy and how it's done, about relationships between friends, foes, rivals, and more. It's about how Washington works, or at least worked, and what it means for those who play the game. The book undoubtedly admirers the six men involved, Dean Acheson, Charles E. Bohlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett, and John J. McCloy, but it doesn't shy away from their limitations, particularly later on once their day had passed. The author makes a strong case, perhaps too strong, that they were all wrong about Vietnam for various reasons. But by that time, their place in history as great men was already well earned. The role they played in the end of World War 2, the reconstruction of Europe, and the building of alliances and mollification of rivalries that would last till the end of the Cold War, was unparalleled. Beyond that though, it shows, I thought, why the separation of powers works so well. Each man had limitations, severe in some ways. Yet they managed to balance each other out, even serving in different ways in different places and times. Kennan's pessimism could easily have been disastrous, but for Harriman's relative optimism. Acheson's haughtiness could have caused bigger problems if not for others being there to provide different perspectives and put different skill sets to the problem. Anyhow, I doubt I can really say much about this book that hasn't already been said. It's worthy of its reputation and will probably be worth a re-read. I'm sure I'll thumb through it from time to time. It's a tome that has more wisdom than 10 more like it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Ross

    An excellent book overall. (However, I didn't realize before I read it -- because I read it on Kindle -- that it was 800+ pages long!) The authors took the biographical approach to six individuals who were the "friends" who influenced on different levels and in different ways the foreign policy of the United States from the eras of Franklin Roosevelt though Ronald Reagan. Treating it as a series of interwoven biographies was an effective approach to the subject and to the men themselves. These a An excellent book overall. (However, I didn't realize before I read it -- because I read it on Kindle -- that it was 800+ pages long!) The authors took the biographical approach to six individuals who were the "friends" who influenced on different levels and in different ways the foreign policy of the United States from the eras of Franklin Roosevelt though Ronald Reagan. Treating it as a series of interwoven biographies was an effective approach to the subject and to the men themselves. These are men whose names I recall hearing for many, many years (I'm 68 years old now) and it was good to have their contributions to our country delineated in such a readable and understandable fashion. (In fact, Dean Acheson was the keynote speaker at my college graduation and it is only now that I fully appreciate what a significant historical figure he was, a mere 45 years after the event!) Overall, I'm glad I read the book and I'd recommend it for anyone interested in U.S. Foreign Policy from WWII through the Cold War and the Viet Nam era. It will underscore many aspects of those periods, and, in particular, how much in terms of "wisdom" and most other virtues we've collectively lost, related to our country's foreign policy.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kent

    A portrait of The Establishment: the men--estrogen levels all but undetectable in this circle--responsible for defining the international role America was to play following the second world war. Very well written, and not an easy task, I imagine, intertwining the biographies of six men. It did take me a while to get a handle on the dramatis personae, though. At first, I was a bit dismayed that there was so little reference to the domestic situation of the times until I realized to what extent US A portrait of The Establishment: the men--estrogen levels all but undetectable in this circle--responsible for defining the international role America was to play following the second world war. Very well written, and not an easy task, I imagine, intertwining the biographies of six men. It did take me a while to get a handle on the dramatis personae, though. At first, I was a bit dismayed that there was so little reference to the domestic situation of the times until I realized to what extent US foreign policy makers of the post-war era were impervious to local politics. The authors obviously admire their subjects yet offer up a largely dispassionate and impartial analysis. They do a fine job of examining the evolution of America's cold war foreign policy and vividly depict how the Establishment sowed the seeds of its own destruction. All in all, a work worthy of that old chestnut of back-cover blurbs: "a remarkable achievement."

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I read this book a long time ago, and it was interesting to see how my perspective on these men and their effect on foreign policy in particular has changed. This is still, in my opinion, a well researched and well written book, and while not perfectly balanced, Isaacson presents fairly balanced very of men who he clearly admired greatly. The author does a very detailed job in explaining the webs that connect these men to each other, and to other people of power, and how those webs allowed them I read this book a long time ago, and it was interesting to see how my perspective on these men and their effect on foreign policy in particular has changed. This is still, in my opinion, a well researched and well written book, and while not perfectly balanced, Isaacson presents fairly balanced very of men who he clearly admired greatly. The author does a very detailed job in explaining the webs that connect these men to each other, and to other people of power, and how those webs allowed them to influence policy, government and move back and forth in between government and the private sector. These are the sorts of ties and movements that we look at today with askance - and in more extreme cases conflict of interest and questioning their legality - but in the rough and tumble intra-war and post-WWII years, these ties were seen as natural and convenient. This remains a great book for anyone interested in pre-and post WWII foreign policy development in the US.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth

    Court History that shows that even at the height of democratic success in America (contrary to popular perception) relatively few individuals actually ruled the State in ways largely unbeknownst to the general public (who were mostly content not knowing having “authorized” those in office via elections). Fast read despite the length. Covers the full gamut of history in the 20th century. The first chapters, in particular, are of interest in explaining the rise to power of the six men discussed, es Court History that shows that even at the height of democratic success in America (contrary to popular perception) relatively few individuals actually ruled the State in ways largely unbeknownst to the general public (who were mostly content not knowing having “authorized” those in office via elections). Fast read despite the length. Covers the full gamut of history in the 20th century. The first chapters, in particular, are of interest in explaining the rise to power of the six men discussed, especially McCloy. Elihu Root and Henry Stimson were the de facto "godfathers" of Harriman & company, who then went on to rule the post-war or cold war world. Written for those who predominantly want to admire the characters involved, with only rare criticism or editorializing.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ellis Katz

    What a great book! The authors give us a sympathetic, yet frank study of the six men who dominated American foreign policy making from the 1930s through the 1950s. Dean Acheson, Chip Bphlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett and John McCloy constituted a foreign policy elite that crossed institutional lines to shape our policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War Era. This is not to say that thy always agreed with each other. Indeed they they had some pretty nasty fights, bu What a great book! The authors give us a sympathetic, yet frank study of the six men who dominated American foreign policy making from the 1930s through the 1950s. Dean Acheson, Chip Bphlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett and John McCloy constituted a foreign policy elite that crossed institutional lines to shape our policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War Era. This is not to say that thy always agreed with each other. Indeed they they had some pretty nasty fights, but there is no denying their impact on America, and on the world. The book is very readable and provides so much information that I simply did not know. I am glad I read the book and recommend to all readers.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Harold

    I bought this because it is co-written by Walter Isaacson, who wrote the Jobs biography, and a wonderful book on Kissinger. I got about half way through. It is the six biographies of men I vaguely remember as being aging luminaries when I was a child. Unfortunately the idea of a 6 person biography (instead of a diplomatic history of the period) doesn't work. None of them was important or interesting enough for me to want to read about their formative years (but I did). And as adults, I couldn't k I bought this because it is co-written by Walter Isaacson, who wrote the Jobs biography, and a wonderful book on Kissinger. I got about half way through. It is the six biographies of men I vaguely remember as being aging luminaries when I was a child. Unfortunately the idea of a 6 person biography (instead of a diplomatic history of the period) doesn't work. None of them was important or interesting enough for me to want to read about their formative years (but I did). And as adults, I couldn't keep them straight. About half way through the book, I admitted defeat. I picked up 6 Characters in Search of an Author instead. (Just kidding.)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    Truly, a remarkable tour de force by Isaacson and Thomas about the six men that shaped the post-World War II world and the Pax Americana. If one wants to find out how the world got to where it was during the Cold War, read this book. For a Cold War enthusiast like myself and someone who wrote their master's thesis on NATO, this book really allowed me to see deeper into how these six men pushed America to become the indispensable nation that it is today. There are great thinkers in foreign policy Truly, a remarkable tour de force by Isaacson and Thomas about the six men that shaped the post-World War II world and the Pax Americana. If one wants to find out how the world got to where it was during the Cold War, read this book. For a Cold War enthusiast like myself and someone who wrote their master's thesis on NATO, this book really allowed me to see deeper into how these six men pushed America to become the indispensable nation that it is today. There are great thinkers in foreign policy now, but none that rival the likes of Acheson, McCloy, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, and Lovett anymore.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    From 1930 to 1970 (excepting the Eisenhower years), the true architects of American foreign policy were six men who are virtually forgotten to history: Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Chip Bohlen, Bob Lovett, and John McCloy. These diplomats, bankers, and lawyers influenced FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ, created the Marshall Plan, fought the Cold War, and managed Korea and Vietnam. This book is long and can't make its central characters quite as colorful as the more well known politic From 1930 to 1970 (excepting the Eisenhower years), the true architects of American foreign policy were six men who are virtually forgotten to history: Averell Harriman, Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Chip Bohlen, Bob Lovett, and John McCloy. These diplomats, bankers, and lawyers influenced FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ, created the Marshall Plan, fought the Cold War, and managed Korea and Vietnam. This book is long and can't make its central characters quite as colorful as the more well known politicians of the era, but it is essential reading into how to successfully establish a political legacy that lasts long after people have forgotten your name.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    DAVID GERGEN: Let me ask you this in terms of thinking back over then of that period of American foreign policy in the last forty or fifty years, one of the ironies here is that in an age of information you suggest we have too little wisdom. GEORGE KENNAN: Yes, I do, and one of the things that bothers me about the computer culture of the present age is that one of the things of which it seems to me we have the least need is further information. What we really need is intelligent guidance in what DAVID GERGEN: Let me ask you this in terms of thinking back over then of that period of American foreign policy in the last forty or fifty years, one of the ironies here is that in an age of information you suggest we have too little wisdom. GEORGE KENNAN: Yes, I do, and one of the things that bothers me about the computer culture of the present age is that one of the things of which it seems to me we have the least need is further information. What we really need is intelligent guidance in what to do with the information we've got.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Washington Post

    A study of the men who advised Harry Truman about how to rebuild Europe and contain communism in the years after World War II. “Washington was filled with excitement that sunny Monday: Dwight Eisenhower, the returning hero, was greeted by the largest crowds in the city’s history as he paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue. Wedged into Truman’s afternoon schedule — between lunches and dinners and other ceremonies honoring Eisenhower — was the meeting on Japanese strategy.”

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chris Bartholomew

    An exceptionally good book about a group of men in positions of power and influence from the close of WWII up until the Nixon years. It mostly revolves around Dean Achenson, George Kennan, John McCloy, Averell Harriman and Charles Bolhlen. All were instrumental in reshaping both U.S. policy and the future of Europe after the war. They remained over sized figures through both the Korean and Vietnam wars. The authors did a great job covering a lot of ground.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Leah W

    1/17/09: I haven't finished anything to justify starting another (huge!) book, but I'm reading this in celebration of smart people being involved in government again (and for that matter, as a reminder that smart, well-meaning people in government can't always guarantee the outcome you'd like to see).

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    I am fascinated by Isaacson's in-depth details of pre- and post- WWII government in the U.S. He takes six men who were highly instrumental in rebuilding post-war Europe and gives really good details of both their successes and failures as well as their personal background. You also get a glimpse into Turman's courage in some of his decisions.

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