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The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made : Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, Mccloy [Paperback]

Walter Isaacson , Evan Thomas
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jan 1988
Here is the unanimously acclaimed collective biography of the six extraordinary men who shaped U.S. policy after World War II. They were the original best and brightest, men whose outsized personalities and dramatic actions brought order to postwar chaos. 48 black-and-white photographs.


Product details

  • Paperback: 16 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books; Reprinted edition edition (1 Jan 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671657127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671657123
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 5.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 184,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Must be read if we are to understand the postwar world."--Robert A. Caro, author of Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Walter Isaacson is president of the Aspen Institute. He has been chairman and CEO of CNN and managing editor of TIME magazine. He is the author of several books including the US bestseller BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: AN AMERICAN LIFE. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
As he stood on the dock of the brown-shingled boathouse, Averell Harriman paid little notice to the spindly boy rowing in seat seven of the shell hacking up the languid Nashua River. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive (exhausting), and fascinating 30 July 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This book is fantastically interesting. The detail and the descriptions of personalities involved make the subject matter more than palatable, even to the less scholarly among us. The book is, however, very, very long and would have perhaps been better broken up into several volumes. I would characterize it as very well written, exhaustively researched, slightly fawning and uncritical at times, and, in general, well worth lugging around.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very enjoyable history of the origins of the cold war and national security policy making into the 70s. It's much better at covering the period between 1944 to the mid 50s than it is for the later stuff, partly because the protagonists had a more central role earlier and then found themselves on the periphery. Discussing Vietnam policy making through the experiences of the six leaves a lot undiscussed, but it isn't bad.
The early chapters are not particularly interesting, except from the fact that they provide a vivid and surprising insight into the world of the east-coast aristocracy (1st half 20C), which is probably necessary for a full appreciation of what follows.

Apart from the less informative later chapters, the only other grievance that I can cite is the fact one does get the impression that the authors have been a little less critical of their subjects (and JFK) than is reasonable. It is also perhaps too harsh on LBJ.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  46 reviews
80 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom Then 17 Jan 2007
By Mark S. Kucinic - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In a 1996 interview with David Gergen on NPR, one of this book's central characters makes a case for, what I will hazard to suggest, is one of the authors' central views;

DAVID GERGEN: Let me ask you this in terms of thinking back over then of that period of American foreign policy in the last forty or fifty years, one of the ironies here is that in an age of information you suggest we have too little wisdom.
GEORGE KENNAN: Yes, I do, and one of the things that bothers me about the computer culture of the present age is that one of the things of which it seems to me we have the least need is further information. What we really need is intelligent guidance in what to do with the information we've got.

Thus The Wise Men becomes a paean to, as the authors' admit at the outset, "the twentieth-century tradition of an informal brain trust of internationalists who first served Woodrow Wilson at Versailles and returned home to found the Council on Foreign Relations, " establishing along the way, "a distinguished network connecting Wall Street, Washington, worthy foundations, and proper clubs." The polemics about where one finds wisdom aside, The Wise Men provides a fascinating and uncompromising study of the evolution of U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis the Soviet Union from the establishment of formal relations during the Roosevelt administration to Vietnam from the perspective of six of it's most significant players; Dean Acheson, Charles "Chip" Bohlen, Averell Harriman, George Kennan, Robert Lovett and John McCloy with side trips into electoral politics and the Middle East. Although I found the authors' fascination with many of these individuals' membership in Harvard's elite Porcellian and Yale's Skull and Bones clubs a bit off-putting (to say nothing of the not-so-veiled apologia for a certain social elitism . . . call me a populist), it would be difficult to find six more pivotal characters. The arguably lesser stars make significant appearances, most notably the Alsop and Bundy brothers, Clark Clifford, James Forrestal and Paul Nitze. I will even forgive the authors' treatment of one of my heroes', George Kennan's, emotional shortcomings. For those of a certain ideological bent, John Foster Dulles and Dean Rusk are not treated sympathetically. It all rings true notwithstanding and The Wise Men makes an excellent post-war study of U.S. foreign policy particularly as a counterpoint to David Halberstam's "Best and the Brightest" for those too busy or cheap to subscribe to Foreign Affairs.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Reminder... 10 July 2008
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
... of a ten-year-old book that shouldn't be forgotten, the "biography" of American foreign policy from the Truman years to the apotheosis of Reagan. Like most biographies, this one concentrates on the childhood of the Cold War containment/exhaustion strategy, the DNA so to speak of neo-conservatism, born of a Democratic mother and a Republican father. Any reader of my other reviews, who doubts my assertion that Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Bush were mere inheritors of a foreign policy as rigidly sustained as if by primogeniture, should take on this book as ferociously as you dare.

The six Wise Men -- McCloy, Bohlen, Acheson, Lovett, Harriman, and Kennan -- would be the last to blush at being identified as "The Greatest Generation" or "The Best and the Brightest." Their egos and their sense of elite entitlement to lead are central to their story. This is a deeper portrait of their intellectual mode than either of those two just-mentioned best-sellers. Authors Isaacson and Thomas are clearly of the same "old school" as their subjects. Their admiration is in a sense self-adulation; even when the Wise Men acknowledged errors, the very nature of their errors turned out to reflect wisdom. My own admiration for the six is considerably more limited, but it's hard to deny the authors' thesis that these Yale and Harvard whiz-kids and their colleagues were the movers-and-shakers of administration after administration. Even as some of them lost a portion of their self-assurance in light of the massive failure in Vietnam, they continued to limn the hegemonist, exceptionalist conception of America which has continued to fail up to the current massive failure in Iraq. Given that all six were perceived as "liberals" aligned with Democratic administrations, some partisans of the other party may come to this book with an established antipathy toward its subjects. All I can say to that is "read it and learn!"
55 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive (exhausting), and fascinating 30 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book is fantastically interesting. The detail and the descriptions of personalities involved make the subject matter more than palatable, even to the less scholarly among us. The book is, however, very, very long and would have perhaps been better broken up into several volumes. I would characterize it as very well written, exhaustively researched, slightly fawning and uncritical at times, and, in general, well worth lugging around.
45 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars another reader 17 Mar 2006
By R. Hallberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A very interesting book, but you have to be able to read between

the lines. Isaacson paints a picture of six powerful men who did

everything they could for US and mankind in general.

Another reviewer used the words fawning and uncritical to

describe the book. Well, there is a good reason for that.

Walter Isaacson, head of Aspen Institute, is himself a member

of the same "Insider Establishment" as the six men in

the book.

For kissing up, he has also been made a member of the

powerful Council on Foreign Relations.

This book should be combined with other more critical or

even negative writings on the subject to help build a more

realistic view.

For example I recommend books by the late Anthony Sutton.

Averell Harriman was a particularly unsavoury character, a

notorious Bilderberger, whose nefarious machinations are

becoming more and more known to the public, even

though still much is suppressed by the media.

Some people I have talked to think that the book should be called "the Wise Guys" instead of "the Wise Men" , but personally I wouldn't go that far.

The world isn't just black and white after all. These guys

looked after their own like everybody else on the planet and maybe, just maybe, in the meantime something good came out of it.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Original Best and Brightest 1 Jan 2009
By MKM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a fascinating and well-written book about six men that are probably unknown to today's general public but shaped US Foreign Policy from post WWI through Vietnam. Their lives moved through the 20th century intertwined via elite prep schools, Yale/Harvard, investment banking firms, law firms, high level cabinet roles and foreign policy posts. Their advice to the Presidents resulted in tragic wars - some right and some wrong, the strategies that prevented nuclear annihilation but also may have resulted in elongating the Cold War.

Isaacson and Thomas also provide a multi-sided view into each one's personality but especially Dean Acheson, George Kennan and Averill Harriman. We see their strengths of brilliance, integrity and deep patriotism but also their weaknesses. Kennan was overly sensitive, conducive to self-pity and had a tendency for literary flair and verbosity. Harriman became more self interested after WWII and sometimes placed politics over diplomacy. Acheson's persona came across as elitist, condescending and pompous which turned away many liberals, moderates and conservatives even when they agreed with his views.

The right schools, the right families and the right wealth played a large role in giving these six men the opportunity to shape the century. One can argue if that tradition has continued today or not. What may be different is that their vision and actions seemed to be more defined by pragmatism rather than ideology. The results are not always what we wanted but far better than the foes they battled that placed ideology over pragmatism.
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