Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nitze and Kennan

The Hawk and the Dove is one of the most accessible and enjoyable books about the Cold War to come out in quite awhile. The book's biographical studies of Paul Nitze and George Kennan makes the story engaging and easy to follow. The idea that Nitze was the hawk and Kennan the dove makes stark a more muddled picture, but their relationship nicely highlights philosophical differences in the Cold War. Nitze often pushed the hard line and the militarization of containment, while its author Kennan thought that most military activity was wasteful and unnecessary, although he had a virulent hatred for the Communists.

The book is also concise. The Cold War is a big story, but author Nicholas Thompson (who is related to Nitze) doesn't feel compelled to pad the book with excess background information about the Cold War. He tells what needs to be told and then moves on. Having a background in the subject will help, but it is not necessary. The focus on philosophy also helps.

I really liked the book. There are wonderful anecdotes and it the focus on the perspectives of the two men is illuminating. Although both men are legend in international relations, neither was ever really satisfied in their career, feeling they had been shut out of where they should be. There is sad moment where Nitze thinks he will get a plum spot in the Carter administration only to find himself without any job at all. All in all, a great read. Watch out, though, for the occasional lapse into conspiracy theory. Thompson mentions a number of mysterious deaths that surround the making of foreign policy. It is by no means the focus of the book, or even of a given chapter, but it pops up in odd places.

5 comments:

Citizen Reader said...

Very timely review! Can't say I've ever been too interested in the Cold War, but you've made this one sound appealing...

Jennifer said...

Glad you posted about this. I've been meaning to read this since I saw a write-up on it in FP.

Tripp said...

Definitely worth the time to read this one. Made me want to dig up Kennan's books as well.

Jennifer said...

I'm reading it now and it's excellent. By the way, did you see this post?

http://nytimesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/11/favorite-book-covers-of-2009-part-one.html

Tripp said...

Thanks for the link, I think I like the monkey best.