In This Review

George Kennan: A Study of Character
George Kennan: A Study of Character
By John Lukacs
Yale University Press, 2007, 224 pp

George Kennan is one of the most significant and complex figures in the study of U.S. foreign policy, and Lukacs has written a moving and thoughtful appreciation of this extraordinary man. Kennan is best known as the Mr. X whose "Long Telegram" provided the intellectual basis for the United States' containment strategy during the Cold War; Lukacs notes that this represented but one incident in a rich, varied, and productive career. American Diplomacy, 1900-1950, Kennan's graceful but biting account of U.S. foreign policy in that period, remains a classic in the field -- a devastating account of the moralism, rigidity, and wishful thinking with which the United States confronted some of the most dangerous and horrible events in the history of the human race. Still, Lukacs would have written a better book, and done Kennan a greater service, if he had kept his inner hagiographer on a shorter leash. Kennan was an intricate figure whose attitudes toward democracy would benefit from a more searching discussion than Lukacs provides. Nevertheless, as a spare and elegant introduction to a distinctively American thinker and writer, Lukacs' Kennan is an important contribution. It will, if nothing else, make many readers nostalgic for an era when more students of U.S. foreign policy were historians and intellectuals rather than, as the Democratic Party figures Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed recently put it, "hacks and wonks."