Vaïsse’s biography of U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, reminds readers just what an extraordinary phenomenon this Polish outsider was. By the late 1970s, when Brzezinski rose to prominence, the old well-heeled and well-bred WASP foreign policy establishment had imploded under the strain of the Vietnam War and yielded to a new elite from more diverse backgrounds. Both Brzezinski, whose father was a Polish diplomat stranded in Canada by the Nazi conquest of Poland and then the Soviet-backed communist takeover of 1945, and his friend and rival Henry Kissinger, whose family fled Nazi persecution in Germany, possessed a gift for strategic vision that few of their American-born contemporaries could match. Into a foreign policy community increasingly composed of technocrats, political scientists, and area specialists, Brzezinski and Kissinger brought a more generalist and historical perspective. Of the two, Kissinger has always been the better known and the more controversial. Vaïsse’s evenhanded appraisal of Brzezinski’s contributions to U.S. foreign policy will help redress the balance and will introduce a new generation of readers to a great American strategist.
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