The Best and the Brightest

In This Review

The Best and the Brightest

By David Halberstam
Random House, 1972
688 pp.
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Never had the Establishment been so artfully skewered as in this study of the generation of policymakers that led the United States into the Vietnam War. It was more the method than the conclusions of this work that made it distinctive. The same novelistic techniques and extraordinary imagination that got Tom Wolfe into the heads of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters were employed by Halberstam to illuminate the thinking of the foreign policy elite under Kennedy and Johnson; here, at least, the New Journalism met Diplomatic History to brilliant effect. The arrogance of Robert McNamara, the piety of Dean Rusk, the happy vulgarity of Lyndon Johnson ("Hell, it is part rattlesnake") are sketched with unerring precision. This study of how pride goeth before the Fall captured the outlook and sensibility of that era as few professional historians have been able to do.