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on 16 October 2011
Like many reviewers (on Amazon.com), I enjoyed this book very much.

Unlike Kissinger's memoirs, it covers his whole life, though most of the focus is on his years in power with Nixon.

The chapters on the early life are well written and evocative. Kissinger's parents were strong and courageous, living as respected citizens in a part of Germany with many Jewish people. As Kissinger grew up his family watched all their rights being taken away and at the last minute (in 1938) left for the USA.

Kissinger's regard for the values of the USA is in contrast to the suffering of his family in Germany, but according to Isaacson bitterness was not a part of his life.

To me one of the most interesting parts of the book is the picture of Nixon. Nixon and Kissinger were a match for each other. Each was emotional, given to tantrums, though in different styles, and each played their colleagues like a Wurlitzer.

Kissinger was brilliant and devious and famously capable of steaming into any situation and maintaining his concentration on half a dozen different aspects of a crisis simultaneously. Nixon largely gave him his head but quite unlike President Ford later, called the shots when it mattered to him to do so.

Interestingly, in some ways, at least in comparison to the Republican leaders who came after him, Nixon comes over like a liberal. He is of course associated with the Vietnam War, but when Nixon came to power there were nearly 600,000 US troops in Vietnam. He immediately began regular withdrawals, and at no point during his presidency were these regular troop reductions halted for more than a brief period. According to Isaacson, the aggressive moves made by the US after 1968 were to protect `American credibility' and their bargaining position at the peace table.

Given the situation they were in, and depending on what your view of what constitutes credibility is, they probably did a fair job. Kissinger is of course blamed for the invasion of Cambodia, but the way Isaacson tells it, it was the US invasion of Vietnam in the first place, and the subsequent use of Cambodia as a base by the Viet Cong which really led to the development of the Khmer Rouge, rather than the much later US bombing and invasion of Cambodia.

Isaacson's own views are clear and not clear. He frequently rebukes Kissinger for what he presumably sees as non-liberal actions, eg the conspiracy against Allende and the supplying of arms to the Indonesians to suppress the rebels in East Timor, but then lets him off the hook, by for instance pointing out that Allende was no democrat and an economic disaster.

Isaacson's viewpoint, like Kissinger's, appears to be that if it's American it's great, and anything Soviet, or anything which could be construed as pro-Soviet, is the enemy. Remember this book was written in 1992). It is this viewpoint, however `liberal', which let in the fundamentalists we are all suffering with today, I mean the `Let the market rule' and democracy or death guys.

The biggest lesson of this book for me though is the utter contrast between the world of the sixties and seventies and what came after. The closing chapters of the book are the least interesting, you feel Isaacson has to push himself to sustain the narrative in a period where the values are all different and Kissinger himself struggles to obtain any leverage.

Despite its limitations, a great read, and incidentally, frequently hilarious.
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on 15 April 2015
My wife love this book and reading it
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on 13 February 2012
I purchased this book because I found Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs so excellent.

This biography of Kissinger is good until it reaches the election of Nixon and Kissinger's work in the Nixon administration. At that point Walter Isaacson goes postal and the book turns into a kangaroo court of Nixon and his administration and the topic of the book, Kissinger, becomes just an afterthought. I stopped reading at around the time of the invasion of Cambodia ... the book just became too irrational and devoid of objectivity.

I will try the other Walter Isaacson book I bought (Einstein). Hopefully the distance from, and lack of personal interactions with, the subject will make for a more balanced biography
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on 15 July 2013
On a very interesting person who had enormous impact on the world during a very dynamic period. Modern history + some insights into the person Dr Kissinger
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on 10 August 2013
Very well stractured and documented as all other books by the same author. This was the book that I've just read but was the first big biography by Walter Isaacson.
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VINE VOICEon 28 November 2009
If you are interested in the period - post Cuban missile crisis to the arrival of President Carter - and you do not have a strong opinion on Henry Kissinger (HAK) then you are in a minority (or a coma). Written in 1992, this book focuses on his role as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State for Richard Nixon, Secretary of State for Gerald Ford. He left office in 1977, after an interval set up a consultancy peddling his expertise. Isaacson is no Kitty Kelly; this is not a "kiss-inger" and tell expose but a reasoned exploration of a life. Walter Isaacson went to Harvard and Oxford, a Rhodes scholar, a journalist (Time magazine) well connected to the world he has written about. While an outstanding book there are caveats.

You need to know about Richard Nixon; an immensely complex, and conspiratorial, loner. Laurel without Hardy (perhaps Hitler without Himmler) it is Nixon and HAK. HAK played to Nixon "whose dark insecurities were soothed by sycophancy." (p110). Then there is the world of the sixties / seventies, decades past but centuries away. The USSR was powerful and expansionist with Asia, Latin America and Africa being probed. America was tearing itself apart. Vietnam was a cancer - casualties without glory (Isaacson is specific about American losses indifferent to others which were horrendously higher - a not unusual trait of American authors). The prospect of a black president was fiction; containing revolution in the ghettoes was the immediate task. International terror and revolts were occurring (Paris 68, Baader-Meinhof for example, a plethora of Marxist-Leninist terrorists and the Chinese cultural revolution). The West was beleaguered and directionless then along comes the "Lone Ranger" Kissinger (or Nixon's Tonto). Isaacson essentially describes what HAK did not the impact he had. For every door HAK opened he slammed another shut. Ask the Europeans and Japanese. HAK believed "..the peace and stability of the world depends on the confidence other people have in America's credibility" (p 293). He ruthlessly developed his view of what made America credible and it was very uncomfortable to be in his way. Strategic policy aside, his superbly self cultivated image hid that "he hated to delegate, was indecisive and unclear in his orders, he had trouble setting priorities for his time, could not keep to a schedule, took out his frustrations on his subordinates and made no effort to conceal his contempt for the bureaucracy." (p557). He bit his nails, ate large quantities of junk food and his apartment was a midden.

Caveats aside if you are looking for someone to like, to even respect then pass by Kissinger. He is a product of European politics not those of the New World, a shark who swam in the piranha infested politics of the Potomac. HAK is a disciple of Mettenrich and Bismarck - "Realpolitik," of the Nineteenth century and Machiavelli. Kissinger's family were orthodox Jews who escaped from Germany in 1938, he was 15 and never lost his Bavarian accent. Having served in the US army he became an academic. This is a ruthless environment, warlords of words, memos, committees, intrigue, self-promotion and uninhibited egos. Kissinger excelled founding the Harvard Summer School and a journal ("Confluence") as vehicles for self-promotion. Here is the essence of HAK, what we now call a "networker" collecting contacts on a heroic scale and at some immense profit to him a consummate shadchen.

In a book exceeding 800 pages from Isaacson you obtain clarity in two dimensions; what Kissinger did and how he did it. HAK created a "tripolar" world. Recoiling from Vietnam the US could have become isolationist. But HAK developed detente with Russia and opened diplomacy with China. He fabricated a Maginot treaty around which the North Vietnamese won the war. His vision led to Cambodia being bombed and invaded. He embarked on arms control and evolved shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East after the Yom Kippur war (1973). This is all well-known historical narrative. Most of what HAK did unravelled with the Carter and Reagan presidencies. His view of the world was flawed and his conceptual brilliance an illusion.

Where Isaacsons's book becomes fascinating is in describing the HAK "operating" style. Secrecy and back channels, a lack of respect for people and contempt for institutions if not democracy itself. HAK lived by deceitfulness (excluding the State and Defence Departments and humiliating their heads - Rogers and Laird), plotting, leaking - you name it anything went including phone tapping his staff - Kissinger was culpable. Everyone was the enemy, paranoia and insecurity reigned. He was "devious with his peers, domineering with his subordinates, obsequious with his superiors." ( p100). On a personal level Isaacson illustrates that HAK is charming, witty and likes dogs. Kissinger, from this book, emerges as an impresario, performance without substance and a spiteful person. His phenomenal energy, a greed to put himself forward and take the credit disguised the fact that activity and results are not the same thing as the passage of three decades has shown.

Whatever knowledge you start with, this book is excellent. Rationally HAK did some necessary things. Many think he should be tried a war criminal (Cambodia, Chile, East Timor). In assessing Kissinger with the benefit of time, the question moves from expediency, what he had to do, to the morality of how he chose to do it (Chapter 29). "No American statesman has ever been more secretive and conspiratorial in managing foreign policy tactics, yet (especially after he became Secretary of State) none tried harder to explain to the press and public" (p659). He has written extensively and worked the press which is his true metier. Taking credit yes, certainly he has a lot to explain (or apologise for). The value of this biography is you can find your own opinion, Isaacson gives you all you require to make a well informed judgement.
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on 1 June 2014
The opening lines to the book pretty much set the pattern for much of what follows: "As his parents finished packing his few personal belongings that they were permitted to take out of Germany, the bespeckled 15-yearold boy [Kissinger] stood in the corner of the apartment and memorised the details of the scene."

Yes, the Jews were persecuted by the Germans! It's all abut the Jews. But then what do you expect when a Jewish author writes a book about another Jew - objectivity? The author misses the fact (easily checked on-line in less than 30 seconds) that the Jews declared war on Germany in March 1933! But don't let the facts get in way of the propaganda.

The author states that this was not an "authorised" biography, but Kissinger became more interested as time progressed, "Part of his [Kissinger's] personality is that he cares obsessively about trying to make people understand him."

Oh we understand him: He is an egocentric Jew wth an oversized opinion of himself who helped make the world worse, not better while he was in power. Still alive (90 at time of writing), Kissinger had a lot to say about the recent "crisis" in the Ukraine. Pity he couldn't sort the world out when he was in office! Shut up, Satanist!

This is OK for a brief overview of his life and time in office, but is far from unbiased. Also take a look at "Dope, Inc." Pity Kissinger couldn't sort out the "war on drugs". But then he knew that the CIA (and other "security" services) were the problem.

"The bigger the crime the smaller the penalty." You get a Nobel Peace Prize (in 1973) for helping to kill thousands of people. Talmudic justice?
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