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The definitive biography of Henry Kissinger, based on unprecedented access to his private papers, by an acclaimed historian at the height of his powers
No American statesman has been as revered and as reviled as Henry Kissinger. Once hailed as Super-K”the indispensable man” whose advice has been sought by every president from Kennedy to Obamahe has also been hounded by conspiracy theorists, scouring his every telcon” for evidence of Machiavellian malfeasance. Yet as Niall Ferguson shows in this magisterial biography, the idea of Kissinger as the ruthless arch-realist is based on a profound misunderstanding. Drawing not only on Kissinger’s hitherto closed private papers but also on documents from more than a hundred archives around the world, Ferguson argues that the true foundation of Kissinger’s thought is philosophical idealismcombined with history itself.
The first half of Kissinger’s life is usually skimmed over as a quintessential tale of American ascent: the Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany who made it to the White House. But in this first of two volumes, Ferguson shows that what Kissinger achieved before his appointment as Richard Nixon’s national security adviser was astonishing in its own right. Toiling as a teenager in a New York factory, he studied indefatigably at night. He was drafted into the U.S. infantry and saw action at the Battle of the Bulgeas well as the liberation of a concentration campbut ended his army career interrogating Nazis. It was at Harvard that Kissinger found his vocation. Having immersed himself in the philosophy of Kant and the diplomacy of Metternich, he shot to celebrity by arguing for limited nuclear war.” Nelson Rockefeller hired him. Kennedy called him to Camelot. Yet Kissinger’s rise was anything but irresistible. Dogged by press gaffes and disappointed by Rocky,” Kissinger seemed stuckuntil a trip to Vietnam changed everything.
The Idealist is the story of the single most important strategic thinker America has ever produced. It is also a political Bildungsroman, explaining how Dr. Strangelove” ended up as consigliere to a politician he had always abhorred. Like Ferguson’s classic two-volume history of the House of Rothschild, Kissinger sheds dazzling new light on an entire era. The essential account of an extraordinary life, it recasts the cold war world.
Niall Ferguson is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard and a Senior Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford. He is the author of The New York Times bestsellers The Great Degeneration, Civilization, The Ascent of Money, and War of the World.