In This Review

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist
Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist
By Niall Ferguson
Penguin Press, 2015, 1008 pp

Henry Kissinger is the most brilliant U.S. diplomat since World War II; he is also the most controversial. This first volume of Ferguson’s authorized biography of Kissinger ends in January 1969, when Richard Nixon had been elected as U.S. president but not inaugurated and Kissinger had been selected as Nixon’s national security adviser but not yet appointed. Ferguson argues that the young Kissinger was no Machiavellian realist, and he persuasively makes the case that Kissinger saw neither Metternich nor Bismarck as a model to emulate. In Ferguson’s account, Kissinger appears as a Kantian, rather than a Wilsonian, idealist who believes that the duty of a statesman is to choose among evils. Ferguson follows Kissinger as he streaked across the American intellectual sky like a meteor. He was already famous in the 1950s; during the Kennedy and Johnson years, he was already engaged in negotiations with North Vietnam. Every serious student of U.S. policy and history will want to read this compelling book about a towering figure.