George F. Kennan

An American Life
Narrated by: Malcolm Hilgartner
Length: 31 hrs and 54 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (213 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 2012

National Book Critics Circle Award, Biography, 2012

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 20th 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 30 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.

©2011 John Lewis Gaddis (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Masterfully researched…. Gaddis’ moving work gives us a figure with whom, however one might differ on details, it was a privilege to be a contemporary." ( New York Times Book Review)

What listeners say about George F. Kennan

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Kennan: a man who needs to be studied

First of all let me say I am thrilled to see this kind of book in audio, very seldom do we get a major scholarly work of this magnitude in audio. As a serious student of international relations Kennan needs to be studied. for better or worse it was his thought process that served as the guiding light for American Foreign Policy until the end of the Cold War. The thing that changed was the interpretation of Kennan's ideas.

Being the owner of 400 audiobooks i can comfortably say that the narrator is one of the best I have herd and perfect for a book of this size.

I will be the first to admit the audience who will truly appreciate this book among the general population is small but for student of history and/or the international system this book is a must read.

16 people found this helpful

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Good if you're serious about foreign affairs

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is a serious scholarly book. If you're in the mood for 40 hours of intellectual rigor this is an excellent book

Any additional comments?

The reader is v good except when he does awful English accents and awful imitations of women

4 people found this helpful

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We need the benefit of George Kennan's wisdom

I had known nothing about George Kennan before I read this book. I feel much more informed of Mr. Kennan the person, diplomat, policy adviser and teacher. George Kennan by John Lewis Gaddis is a very well written book that all should read for knowledge, and because it is relevant to the challenges we are facing today with the Russian relationship. I hope that some folks at State and the White House are dusting off copies of the Long Telegram, the Foreign Policy article by X, and the report by Task Force A of the Solarium project.

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As long as it was, I'm sorry it ended

If you could sum up George F. Kennan in three words, what would they be?

Fantastic story/ person

Any additional comments?

This is a great book about one of America's most interesting characters. Shows how much more complex his thought was than most realize. Really takes you back into the Cold War and how America and America's thinking during it developed. A must read for foreign policy buffs.

2 people found this helpful

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What a life lived.

Mr Gaddis does an excellent job telling George F. Kennan's story and his importance for history. Kennan's impact on the world is probably not know to most Americans and that is a tragedy. Also I think some of Kennan's analysis of the Soviet Union still holds true to current Russia which makes this a must read for any non Russian wanting to understand Russia.

Most interesting to me was Kennan's thoughts on Kennedy and Reagan and his dealings with those two administrations.

Take the time and listen or read this book. You will also get a little Kennan's poetry along the way.

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China and Russia

When Churchill gave his famous “iron curtain” speech in March 1946, George Kennan already understood the iron curtain’s implication and consequence. Kennan is known as “the father of containment” during the Cold War of 1947-1989.

The relevance of Kennan’s containment policy resonates with today’s American relationship with China. However, its relevance is one of contrast; not similarity. Today, there is no iron curtain that separates China from the rest of the world. The iron curtain has become a cloak. It is a cloak that obscures intent.

Kennan recognizes Stalinist Russia’s pursuit of world domination as a Marxian belief of inevitability. With an eastern Russian’ ethos that endorsed persistence and patience (a quality we see in China today) Russia reveals its strength and weakness.

The Stalinist ideology that the collective is more important than the individual evolves in Russia but its evolution retains belief in force and intervention as reliable tools for world domination. That belief is Putin’s Achilles heal.

Because of Kennan’s extraordinary foreign language ability, he became a fluent Russian language expert on Soviet affairs. He was a student of pre and post-revolutionary Russian’ culture; he used that knowledge to forge an American foreign policy to deal with Russian expansion after WWII; i.e., his prescient grasp of Stalin’s mind, and the Russian culture, allowed the United States to contain the Russian empire within Eastern Europe by limiting American overt action and covert action through confrontation, black-ops, and diplomacy.

George Kennan’s biography reinforces a belief that understanding another culture requires emergence in that culture. Ambassadors that are not fluent in a culture’s language and fail to spend years in that culture’s environment cannot understand what policies America should adopt to protect itself and promote world peace and freedom. One wishes all American Presidents would recognize that need in Ambassadors representing the United States.

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Maybe the most important unfamous American

Wonderful bio of one of the 20th Century's most influential foreign policy analysts and writers.

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wow. what a fantastic book and so much content!

to appreciate the man Kennan, the author does not rush or skim over the everyday pivots of George.

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Good biography of an important man

Well written and important work on an intriguing personality and an important figure in the history of the period after WWII. George Kennan played a critical role in the period after the war and the US and Europe was well served by his intelligence and capability in planning and implementing the Marshall Plan which rebuilt Europe from utter rubble.
Indeed it's hard to overestimate his importance in guiding U.S. policy.who knows where we'd be today without his. That said it's hard to understand his changing views from his containment policy to anti NATO position in his later years. If there is a flaw in this book it really leaves this question unanswered. Still it's a masterful biography of a life dedicated to public service and principled ideals. Wish we could have a G. Kennan around today. Bravo to the author in covering his life so well in this work.

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An Underrated Hero

A great man....probably saved the world from nuclear annihilation, although we'll never know for sure.