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The Kennan Diaries Hardcover – 28 Mar 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (28 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393073270
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393073270
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 0.5 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 460,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The diaries provide a window onto the intellectual and emotional life of the great American diplomat and thinker who had a more profound influence on American foreign policy than he recognized. [They] make fascinating reading. --Jack F. Matlock Jr., former ambassador to the Soviet Union and author of Autopsy on an Empire

About the Author

George F. Kennan was America's most acclaimed Cold War diplomat as well as a prize-winning historian and author. FRANK COSTIGLIOLA is an author and historian at the University of Connecticut specialising in US foreign relations in the twentieth century.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paul K Lyons on 31 Mar 2014
Format: Hardcover
From my review at The Diary Review:
The Kennan diaries has been well received in the US, but reviewers have generally acknowledged that the book is as much about Kennan the man, as about his politics. Fareed Zakaria, in The New York Times, says ‘Kennan shined a powerful light on the world beyond. But in his own land, from the beginning to his last days, he remained a bewildered guest.’ Douglas Brinkley in the Washington Post says, ‘great merits aside, “The Kennan Diaries” should come with a warning label: Beware of enough gloomy prognostications to give the book of Revelation a run for its money.’ And George Shultz, former Secretary of State, is quoted by the publisher as saying of the book: ‘An informed mind, a clarity of expression, candor in a private diary - all are present in George Kennan’s fascinating commentary on a period when the tectonic plates of the world changed. Read, enjoy, agree or disagree, and be stimulated to think.’

But I can find few reviews, to date, among the UK media, except for one by Matthew Walther in The Spectator. It’s such a wrong-headed, idiotic review, I cannot resist quoting a bit: ‘The longest, chronologically, and probably the most boring diary I have ever read. Unlike the great diarists - Greville, Nicolson, Lees-Milne - Kennan writes very little about others. His diary is a record of himself, a Domesday book of the acres and perches he has surveyed in his own head: a wide range of ambitions, complaints, masturbatory fantasies, unpublished literary criticism, amateurish verse. [. . .] Above all it is a collection of cocksure opinions.’

Kennan’s diaries are certainly not boring, they are the opposite, almost always interesting, intriguing, intelligent.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
The Man Who Loved Russia 8 Mar 2014
By Michael Holzman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
George F. Kennan is on the very short list of those famous as diplomats and equally well-known as historians. His name is permanently linked to the Cold War strategy of “containment.” And yet, he saw himself as a failure as a diplomat, his writing as a poor alternative to the public influence he sought, and the renown of the containment doctrine itself as based on a disastrous misunderstanding.

The Kennan Diaries, edited by Frank Costigliola, is a belated masterpiece of a Calvinist genre, the examination of actions and intentions for evidence of personal worth. It contains accounts of Kennan’s careers, his diplomatic postings about Europe, most notably in what was then the Soviet Union, his advisory roles, formal and informal, to the high officials and the Presidents of the day, his books and lectures. However, the great bulk of the diaries, and, arguably, their significance, is in the often daily, occasionally hourly, examination of that delicate mechanism, the conscience of George F. Kennan.

The story of Kennan’s outer life can be easily summarized. Born in Milwaukee in 1904 of what he would call “old American stock,” that is, the descendents of eighteenth-century British immigrants, he attended Princeton University, joined the Foreign Service, married the Norwegian Annelise Sorensen, with whom he had four children, retired from the Foreign Service in 1953 after serving as Ambassador to the Soviet Union, took a position at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, wrote and lectured, and died in 2005, still a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton.

Kennan had a life-long love affair with Russia (as distinguished from the Soviet Union), with the Russian people, their language, culture and land. His love for Russia had an erotic charge absent from his relationships with women, other than his mother, who died when Kennan was an infant, but who, ghost-like, visited him in dreams. It was the frustration of his desire for intimate relations with Russian society by the restrictions placed on diplomats by Stalin that underlay the otherwise inexplicable outburst that led to his being declared persona non grata as Ambassador. And one of the few moments of pure happiness in the diaries is the account of his last visit to Russia, during the time of Gorbachev, when he was received with great honors and even allowed into the rooms of the Central Committee itself, for Kennan a hitherto undreamed of level of intimacy with Russia.

Again and again in the diaries Kennan conducts a dialogue with himself about his outer life, on the one hand, and his inner life, on the other. Many of his accounts of his speeches, lectures and conversations focus on their inadequacy or on what can only be called the sinfulness of his performance—egotism, the desire for fame, talking too much. Again and again he judges himself in matters great and small, finds himself wanting, resolves not to sin again. This is quite extraordinary to read in pages written, for the most part, in the second half of the twentieth century. One recalls Edmund Wilson’s comment about John Jay Chapman: “Perhaps our most vivid impression . . . is that we have encountered a personality who does not belong in his time and place and who by contrast makes us aware of the commonness, the provinciality and the timidity of most of his contemporaries.”

Kennan felt, as did Edmund Wilson, as it happens, that America was a country that had lost its way, sacrificing the ideals of the eighteenth century for the waste and vanity of consumer capitalism. This is epitomized in the diaries by observations about the automobile, the waste of resources, especially oil, that it required, the way that it made the landscape ugly with badly designed highways, strip malls, noise and noxious fumes. Kennan, being Kennan, linked this with an analysis of how the combination of the automobile and petroleum industries had the effect of making the United States dependent on the antithetical societies of the Middle East.

The legendary “long telegram” from Moscow analyzed the structures of the Soviet government in the context of Russian history. He concluded, in a Russianism he often used, that “no good would come of it.” While acknowledging that Stalin would take advantage of such opportunities that arose, Kennan thought that Stalin would pursue the same goals after the Second World War as before: to re-establish the borders of the Empire as they were in 1905, with a collection of small buffer states beyond them. Kennan thought that Soviet power was a temporary phenomenon, as it was, and that the proper policy to be followed by the government of the United States was to wait it out. He used the word “containment.”

The policy actually adopted by the American government, although it was also called containment, was its virtual opposite: the attempt to utilize military power, and, in particular, the possession of atomic weapons, to “roll back” Soviet influence, first from the Eastern European buffer states and then in the post-colonial world. Kennan thought this policy was mistaken, in principle, and in practice, with its reliance on nuclear weapons, something that could well lead to the end of civilization itself. This policy, and the irony of its association with his name, caused Kennan anguish and increasing apprehension during much of the second half of his adult life.

Kennan, as he knew all too well, was not without flaws. Rather surprisingly, one of those flaws was a sexual promiscuity in thought if not in practice, which he knew was hurtful to his wife. Another was the habit of thinking of people as national, ethnic and racial collectives. This now reads almost always as deprecatory. It is not clear that Kennan always meant it so, but he sometimes did. He valued his own group, that old American stock, above others, and lamented its diminishing role in American life.

The Kennan Diaries, carefully edited by University of Connecticut historian Frank Costigliola from 8,000 typed and handwritten pages, gives us a selection of the private thoughts of a man who tried both to do and to be good. He failed, as he knew that he had, but the attempt, and what he actually in fact did accomplish, provide us with an illustration of an exemplary life.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
read with other books about him 6 Jun 2014
By H. lemcke - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Reading this alone may not do the man justice. I suggest the biography "George F Kennan" by Geddis and "The Hawk and the Dove" by Thompson. His diaries hold little back and point to a more troubled person than I had previously understood and may not portray his stronger side. I was surprised by his almost Jeffersonian view of the country and his self doubt. But if the man had been listened to and acted upon by our otherwise militaristic leadership, the so called "Cold War" would probably have been shorter and far less contentious.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Most Fascinating Man 24 Jun 2014
By Sandra Rennie - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an unvarnished insight into the thinking and being of a remarkable man, who lived 101 years, and was an expert on Russia, but more importantly, a macroview thinker whose advice was too seldom followed. Many observations of 20th century leaders too.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Not near as good as Kennan's "Sketches From a Life" 16 Mar 2014
By rocks - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Kennan Diaries (Diaries) are well worth reading. But be aware that a couple decades ago, Kennan made his own diary selections and they are in his own Sketches From a Life (Sketches). Hence, my four stars are relative to that five star book. To me, Kennan's own personally selected entries are much more interesting than those selected by a second party (e.g., for Diaries). Moreover, Kennan's own Introduction for Sketches is especially sensitive, revealing, and well written. Sketches, however, is only available in hardcopy right now. If you liked Diaries, you should like Sketches - and maybe even more. There is little overlap between Diaries and Sketches. I've also read his Memoirs, but Sketches contains my favorite Kennan writing.
Russia in the eyes of an expert. 14 July 2014
By ParkcityGlisse - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A good read to give some perspective on the Putin and the Ukrainian crisis.
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