Top critical review
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Fails to live up to expectations
on 23 July 2002
Just a few facts anyone considering buying this book needs to know before they part with their hard-earned greenbacks. It is really a book of two halves: pre-1945, and post-1945. Indeed, the diplomacy of WW2 and the 40 years immediately afterwards, is given very close analysis by the author, to the extent that it covers half the book. Yet Kissenger seems to pick his subjects selectively, rather than providing us with a comprehensive overview. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, gets only cursory treatment, but Vietnam gets three chapters! Similarly, the Sino-Soviet split, the Arab-Israeli Wars, the Indo-Pakistan crises, all are relegated to bit parts.
The book begins in the 1600s with Cardinal Richelieu, and seems to intimate that prior to this, international diplomacy did not exist, or was dominated by religious issues - an oversimplification at best. No insights are given to the way the Ancients dealt with each other, and the lessons to be drawn from this (e.g. Roman diplomatic thought must give us a useful comparative model vis-a-vis today's Pax Americana, but no, Kissenger feels it is irrelevant).
I also felt that Asia was sadly neglected in this work. The complex relationship between the US and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s is utterly ignored - Japan only starts to appear in the book in 1941, yet is was an important part of British strategy in Asia as early as 1901. The epochal arms limitation agreements limiting fleet sizes in 1921 and 1930 are also ignored. Indeed, Asia only appears in Kissenger's sights when US troops are embroiled there after 1945 in Korea and Vietnam. Post-1949 Chinese foreign policy, and, indeed, China's historical record with its neighbours in the period 1600-1800 are also ignored, a pity given China's increasing importance on the world stage.
On the positive side, it does give an insight into Kissenger's mind. There are some anecdotes on his meetings with famous players in 20th century politics, like Charles de Gaulle and Harry Truman, as well as some educational views on ge-strategic relationships (I liked his analysis of the inadequacies of western intelligence services).
In summary, the valuable part of this book is the second half, and more as a tool to understand the author and the Cold War rather than the art of diplomacy itself.