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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (241 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: John Lewis Gaddis Narrator: Malcolm Hillgartner Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Drawing on extensive interviews with George Kennan and exclusive access to his archives, an eminent scholar of the Cold War delivers a revelatory biography of its troubled mastermind.

In the late 1940s, George Kennan wrote two documents, the “Long Telegram” and the “X Article,” which set forward the strategy of containment that would define US policy toward the Soviet Union for the next four decades. This achievement alone would qualify him as the most influential American diplomat of the Cold War era. But he was also an architect of the Marshall Plan, a prizewinning historian, and would become one of the most outspoken critics of American diplomacy, politics, and culture during the last half of the twentieth century. Now the full scope of Kennan’s long life and vast influence is revealed by one of today’s most important Cold War scholars.

Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis began this magisterial history almost thirty years ago, interviewing Kennan frequently and gaining complete access to his voluminous diaries and other personal papers. So frank and detailed were these materials that Kennan and Gaddis agreed that the book would not appear until after Kennan’s death. It was well worth the wait: the journals give this book a breathtaking candor and intimacy that match its century-long sweep.

We see Kennan’s insecurity as a Midwesterner among elites at Princeton, his budding dissatisfaction with authority and the status quo, his struggles with depression, his gift for satire, and his sharp insights on the policies and people he encountered. Kennan turned these sharp analytical gifts upon himself, even to the point of regularly recording dreams. The result is a remarkably revealing view of how this greatest of Cold War strategists came to doubt his strategy and always doubted himself.

This is a landmark work of history and biography that reveals the vast influence and rich inner landscape of a life that both mirrored and shaped the century it spanned. 

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Magisterial…[Kennan] bids fair to be as close to the final word as possible on one of the most important, complex, moving, challenging, and exasperating American public servants…We can be grateful to John Lewis Gaddis for bringing Kennan back to us, thoughtful, human, self-centered, contradictory, inspirational—a permanent spur as consciences are wont to be. Masterfully researched, exhaustively documented, Gaddis’ moving work gives us a figure with whom, however one might differ on details, it was a privilege to be a contemporary.”

    Henry A. Kissinger, New York Times Book Review

  • “[A] first-rate biography…Kennan’s life maps right onto twentieth-century political history, and no one is better qualified than Gaddis to lead the way through it…Gaddis has written with care and elegance, and he has produced a biography whose fineness is worthy of its subject.”

    New Yorker

  • “Mr. Gaddis has mastered the sources that came his way over the decades. The resulting biography is engaging and lucid.”


  • “George Kennan was, in his accomplishments, a man touched with greatness, but in his character, a conflicted and flawed one. The recognition of this paradox by John Lewis Gaddis lends depth and pathos to this admirably judicious and illuminating biography.”

    American Prospect

  • “No one is better suited than Gaddis to write this authorized biography of George F. Kennan…In addition to the intimacies of the work, Gaddis offers critical analyses of Kennan’s key roles as diplomat, policy maker, and scholar of Russian history. Unsurpassed in his strategic vision during the cold war, Kennan is credited with being responsible for much of America’s eventual victory, and therein lies the impetus behind this remarkable biography. Adroitly managed, Gaddis’s work is a major contribution to Kennan’s legacy and the history of American foreign policy.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Gaddis provides an exhaustive biography presented very personably by narrator Malcolm Hillgartner.”

    Library Journal (audio review)

  • A 2011 Financial Times Best Book of the Year for History
  • Winner of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
  • Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Biography
  • Winner of the 2012 Arthur Ross Book Award
  • A 2011 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Gary | 2/11/2014

    " Biography. The mind behind the famous names like Dean Acheson, Allen Dulles, A. Harriman, H. S Truman, J. Kennedy, D. Rusk, etc. etc. Never heard of him before ading this. He shaped US foreign policy for better or for worse starting in 1933 and on into the 60's. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Wittgenstein's Mistress | 1/31/2014

    " Strangely, most reviews of this book center on Kennan instead of Gaddis. In any case, the biography is informative and sympathetic, making allowances for Kennan's solipsism while never excusing his errors and misconceptions. It sits with American Prometheus as the best biographies I have had the pleasure or reading. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Richard Seitchick | 12/24/2013

    " A must read for any student of American History. Kennan was one of, if not, the architects of American Cold War Policy. His lifetime of experience in and out of the state department spans the coming of age of the United States primacy in the world and sheds much light on the play and players of a large part of the 20th century. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Ryan | 12/23/2013

    " Outstanding. The brilliance and contradiction of an American foreign policy prophet and cultural critic are presented in a biography that is as enlightening on the subject of the Cold War as it is on Kennan. "

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About the Author
Author John Lewis Gaddis

John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of History at Yale University. His previous books include The United States and the Origins of the Cold War; Strategies of Containment; The Long Peace; We Now Know; The Landscape of History; Surprise, Security, and the American Experience; and The Cold War: A New History. He teaches courses on Cold War history, grand strategy, international studies, and biography and has won two Yale undergraduate teaching awards. He was also a 2005 recipient of the National Humanities Medal.