The diplomat and historian George F. Kennan (1904–2005) ranks as one of the most important figures in American foreign policy—and one of its most complex. Drawing on many previously untapped sources, Frank Costigliola’s authoritative biography offers a new picture of a man of extraordinary ability and ambition whose idea of containing the Soviet Union helped ignite the Cold War but who spent the next half century trying to extinguish it. Always prescient, Kennan in the 1990s warned that the eastward expansion of NATO would spur a new cold war with Russia.
Even as Kennan championed rational realism in foreign policy, his personal and professional lives were marked by turmoil. And though he was widely respected and honored by presidents and the public, he judged his career a failure because he had been dropped as a pilot of U.S. foreign policy. Impossible to classify, Kennan was a sui generis thinker, a trenchant critic of both communism and capitalism, and a pioneering environmentalist. Living between Russia and the United States, he witnessed firsthand Stalin’s tightening grip on the Soviet Union, the collapse of Europe during World War II, and the nuclear arms race of the Cold War.
An absorbing portrait of an eloquent, insightful, and sometimes blinkered iconoclast whose ideas are still powerfully relevant, Kennan invites us to imagine a world that Kennan fought for but was unable to bring about—one not of confrontations and crises but of dialogue and diplomacy.
Awards and Recognition
- A Spectator Book of the Year
"As diplomat, historian and public intellectual, George Kennan was arguably the most interesting American of his time. In this magnificent biography, Professor Costigliola presents the man in full: gifted, prophetic, prickly, prejudiced, patriotic, alienated from modernity and steadfast in his devotion to principle. A remarkable biography of a remarkable individual."—Spectator, Andrew Bacevich
"Compelling. . . .Emphatic and sympathetic."—Geoffrey Roberts, Irish Times
"Informative, clear-eyed, and compelling."—Glenn C. Altschuler, Star Tribune
"The fullest portrait of Kennan yet available."—Patrick Iber, New Republic
"Like other Kennan biographies, Costigliola focuses on his professional life and legacy. But the author is also adept at showing how Kennan’s personality shaped his professional life. Costigliola has given us a rich, insightful, and powerful portrait of this legendary American."—Terry W. Hartle, Christian Science Monitor
"Absorbing, skillfully wrought. . . . consistently fascinating."—Fredrik Logevall, Foreign Affairs
"A valuable contribution to understanding Kennan for who he really was."—Damir Marusic, Washington Examiner
"Costigliola's rich account . . . offers a fascinating study of Kennan the character, in particular Kennan as a man of multiple existences. . . . Costigliola’s achievement is undeniable. His biography is one that could only emerge from decades of immersion in the sources, and from a sophisticated dialogue between the questions thrown up by the present and the author’s careful excavation of the past. The work has great salience for our time. The predicaments faced by Washington, and Kennan, are still with us. For contending with Kennan and the worlds he moved between, this biography will likely endure as a landmark work."—Patrick Porter, First Things
" A valuable resource for students of 20th-century geopolitics."—Kirkus Reviews
"Costigliola’s . . . biography of George Kennan . . . could not be more timely."—Library Journal
"Frank Costigliola knows Kennan’s dark side as well as anyone, and his splendid, revelatory book shines a bright light on Kennan’s moral faults. This lucid, comprehensive, and scrupulously fair biography will endure as one of the finest studies of any Cold War statesman."—William Hitchcock, Society
"[A] magisterial new biography."—Anatol Lieven, Financial Times
"[A] splendid, revelatory book [which] shines a bright light on Kennan’s moral faults. This lucid, comprehensive, and scrupulously fair biography will endure as one of the finest studies of any Cold War statesman."—William I. Hitchcock, Society
“The first biography of George Kennan to take full advantage of his diaries, this book couldn’t be more timely as we deal with the tragic results of ignoring Kennan’s warning against expanding NATO.”—Jack F. Matlock, Jr., author of Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray—and How to Return to Reality
“As diplomat, historian, and public intellectual, George Kennan was a towering figure, arguably the most interesting American of his time, which spanned the twentieth century. In this magnificent biography, Frank Costigliola presents the man in full: gifted, prophetic, prickly, prejudiced, patriotic, alienated from modernity, and steadfast in his devotion to principle. A remarkable biography of a remarkable individual.”—Andrew Bacevich, author of After the Apocalypse: America’s Role in a World Transformed
“This fascinating biography analyzes, with depth, nuance, and insight, both the inner world and public life of Cold War architect turned Cold War critic, George F. Kennan. The Kennan who emerges from these pages is a man of riveting contradictions: an intuitive expert torn between propriety and philandering, authoritarianism and democracy, the containment policies he launched and the Russophilic longings that he could never satisfy. This is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand how hot-blooded emotions shaped the seemingly cold-blooded realism that has guided grand strategy.”—Kristin Hoganson, author of The Heartland: An American History
“George Kennan was a founder of the ‘realist’ school of American foreign policy now receiving renewed public attention. Frank Costigliola has produced the most thorough, biographically grounded, and beautifully written assessment of this enigmatic diplomat’s frequently heterodox views on the Cold War and the post–Cold War conduct of national security policy.”—Eric S. Edelman, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Finland
“A stunning achievement. Costigliola brilliantly illuminates Kennan’s thinking, anxieties, ambitions, and career. Meticulously researched, Costigliola’s empathetic yet critical narrative compels us to re-examine the legacy of the architect of containment. An indispensable book for understanding the man and his times.”—Melvyn P. Leffler, author of For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War