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By the time Henry Kissinger was made secretary of state in 1973, he had become, according to a Gallup poll, the most admired person in America and one of the most unlikely celebrities ever to capture the world's imagination. Yet Kissinger was also reviled by large segments of the American public, ranging from liberal intellectuals to conservative activists.
Kissinger explores the relationship between this complex man's personality and the foreign policy he pursued. Drawing on extensive interviews with Kissinger as well as 150 other sources, including US presidents and his business clients, this first full-length biography makes use of many of Kissinger's private papers and classified memos to tell his uniquely American story.
The result is an intimate narrative, filled with surprising revelations, that follows this grandly colorful statesman from his childhood as a persecuted Jew in Nazi Germany, through his tortured relationship with Richard Nixon, to his later years as a globe-trotting business consultant.
Isaacson truly depicts what it was like to be a fly on the wall throughout Kissinger's life and his encounters with a wide range of major figures. If you can handle 36 hours of it, you really get into it and when it's over you will miss it. The narrator was the best I have ever heard. Tireless, unchanging, with great accents when using quotes from many world figures.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
I always thought that Dr Kissinger's life would be interesting. A refugee from Nazi Germany who grew up to become a National Security Advisor, Secretary of State and a successful businessman. I had read Mr Isaacson's book on Einstein and found it to be interesting, informative and fair minded and naturally thought his book on Kissinger would also be worth reading. Unfortunately this turned out to not the case.
This book covers all of Dr Kissinger's life but mostly dwells on his time as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. While the portions of the book covering the rest of his life treat him fairly, the time covering his time as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State is of a different sort. Little that Kissinger did during these years is presented in an even-handed fashion and the author's descriptions of him fairly bristles with scorn and distain. Even actions that would normally be considered open minded, inclusive or far seeing are presented as somehow representative of personal faults. Some examples -
As a graduate student at Harvard then Mr Kissinger became heavily involved in a symposium involving present and future leaders of foreign countries. A graduate student involving himself in such a symposium might be considered far seeing, thoughtful and interested in the world at large but, in Mr Isaacson's view, this indicates that Kissinger had already decided that he was going to be in government and all of this effort was to secure his future. Even if this was true it is hard to see how it is a failing.
During the Viet Nam war Mr Isaacson says that Dr Kissinger reached out to anti-war protesters, met with them and tried to convince them that the Nixon Administration was trying its best to end the war. Such an action would normally be seen as an indication that the government was being inclusive and willing to listen to it's critics but Mr Isaacson sees this as an manifestation of Dr Kissinger's insecurity.
While Dr Kissinger was National Security Advisor and Secretary of State he was involved in turf battles with other officials. Normally this would be seen as normal in a political environment. Mr Isaacson sees this as an indication of Dr Kissinger's insecurity. During this time Dr Kissinger was also involved in political arguments with While House cabinet officials. One would think that this would be seen as normal but Mr Isaacson finds such actions examples of Dr Kissinger's aggressiveness and insecurity. During international negotiations Dr Kissinger would present only part of the whole to each party in an effort to reassure them and convince them that he was on their side. One would think that this would be considered regular negotiating tactics but Mr Isaacson sees this as an example of how secretive and devious Dr Kissinger was. Dr Kissinger was known to flatter President Nixon. One would think that this was the normal way subordinates acted when talking to the President but Mr Isaacson sees this as an example of how fawning Dr Kissinger was to his boss. It almost appears that Dr Kissinger's political enemies were interviewed and quoted extensively, his political friends far less so. And the list goes on. Practically nothing that Dr Kissinger did while in government is presented without Mr Isaacson saying that how it was done was somehow indicative of Dr Kissinger's dark side.
The only events that Mr Isaacson seems to think were worthy actions on the part of Dr Kissinger were the opening to China and the Salt negotiations. In this section of the book Mr Isaacson has (almost) only good things to say about Dr Kissinger but, based on this book, one could easily believe that everything else Dr Kissinger did involved misleading, lying, distorting or conniving and was probably done to further his own best interests. Dr Kissinger is said to be brilliant but difficult to deal with, as though this was somehow an unusual combination. Nixon is quoted as telling soon-to-be-President Ford that Kissinger was brilliant but had to be watched since he sometimes was difficult to handle and sometimes had bad ideas. This is supposed to be unusual? It is important for me to stress that these comments that Mr Isaacson makes about Dr Kissinger are not an occasional reference, but for a drumbeat throughout most of the book.
Toward the end of the book Mr Isaacson writes about how well Dr Kissinger was thought of, even years after he left government. There are portraits of how well he was received when traveling for business in places like China, Indonesia, Japan and the Middle East as late as the 1980s and 1990s. Such actions on the parts of the governments involved, when Dr Kissinger was only a private citizen, seem odd if one is to believe Mr Isaacson's view that Dr Kissinger deceived the government leaders of those countries, lied to them or told them half-truths.
While the view of Dr Kissinger presented in this book seems to me to be unfairly influenced by, I assume, Mr Isaacson's political views, the book does provide a very good history of the events of the Nixon and Ford Administrations involving both the well-known and less well-known events and, as a history of the period, I found it very complete. I found it far less so as an even handed and fair presentation of Dr Kissinger's actions.
The narration is very well done but I was surprised that quotes from Dr Kissinger were given in an imitation of his voice, including his heavy German accent. However it soon became clear that the narration of all of the famous people being quoted was done in a credible imitation of their own voices. It was so well done that it became easy to identify who was being quoted by just listening to they voices.
If you believe that Dr Kissinger was Dr Strangelove from the Stanley Kubrick move "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb", this is your book. If you are interested in an even-handed and fair look into Dr Kissinger's life you might want to look elsewhere.
17 of 25 people found this review helpful
This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?
Someone who is interested in every minute detail of kissingers life. But who knows how much is true. Kissinger did not authorize this book.
Would you recommend Kissinger to your friends? Why or why not?
Probably not. Too long and tedious.
What three words best describe Malcolm Hillgartner’s voice?
Great voice....kept me interested until I just just couldn't listen anymore.
What character would you cut from Kissinger?
Any additional comments?
Unfortunately I didn't know before I bought this book that Kissinger was not endorse its writing.
7 of 10 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?
No, I agree with everything Mike for Mesa had to say except that I found the narrator's use of mimic to be really annoying. I agree with Judith that it was tedious.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
Kissinger is a very interesting person but no one is interesting when you tediously slog through the events of their life. So much could have been edited from this book and you would still "know" Kissinger. Although, I agree with Mike that the author seemed to have it in for Kissinger and purposely shown him in the worst light possible. That surprised me after reading Steve Jobs and Einstein. In fact I picked this book only because I wanted to read something else from Walter Isaacson. <br/><br/>
What aspect of Malcolm Hillgartner’s performance would you have changed?
He mimicked Kissinger, Nixon and other main characters. I don't know why but I found it to be really annoying. It was as if he was mocking them.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Extremely well-composed biography of a tricky individual, separating out Kissinger's mistakes and achievements, his penchant for secrecy from his insightful approach to balancing powers against each other. Long, yes, but a great book for commuters who read US and world history. I found it read quite well at double speed, even let's Hillgartner's impressions of Kissinger and Nixon shine through
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
Kissinger is not someone I appreciated particularly, but reading this book gives you a better understanding of the times and circumstances of the cold war.
The middle east situation today is easier to understand after reading Kissinger biography.. And proves that he did not deserve the Nobel prize for peace! He created more hate than any other person, his motives were selfish. It is sad to see someone so intelligent use it only for his own interests, pretending to serve the world's interests.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
This account of Kissinger's life is comprehensive, balanced and therefore, it would seem, authoritative. It is, certainly, very exciting to understand critical world events from the perspective of someone who sight to shape them. Mr. Walter's research and presentation is impressive. Well worth the time.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
Sympathetic look at a controversial character. Just the name Kissinger raises strong views, right or left. The author tries to be balanced, but in the end you sense he likes and admires (and is charmed by) the subject too much to be even handed. We get it, Kissinger is brilliant, but the long term effect of his policies are not explored dufficiently. It's not an apologia, thankfully, but it is a 'let me explain' on some key points that could have been sharpened and more critically viewed. Disappointing that Vietnam was covered somewhat hastily and not in much depth, but the Mideast 'shuttle diplomacy' was covered exhaustively. I would have liked more vetting of Vietnam. Oh, Nixon comes off as completely unfit to be President.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
What did you like best about this story?
An interesting life told in an interesting way. The story became alive in my head when I listened to this audiobook.
2 of 4 people found this review helpful
Absolutely brilliant book and beautifully narrated. And must-have for anyone seeking to understand 20th century history and its players
0 of 1 people found this review helpful
It took me a while to get in to the book, this is most likely because I was more interested in the Nixon years than his college years etc.
The book gave a very detailed account of Kissinger from youth to his later years, it seemed complete and I didn't feel like it was being biased toward him or otherwise.
It managed to keep my attention throughout which for such a detailed book is quite an achievement.
I wouldn't say it was as accessible as Isaacson's account of Steve Jobs.
This is a long but worthwhile read that places the reader right into the hallways of US government during the second half of the last century and it does so through the action and words of a brilliant yet controversial figure.
A brilliant project and very well read.