Kennan: A Life Between Worlds

Princeton Univ. Jan. 2023. 648p. ISBN 9780691165400. $39.95. BIOG
Costigliola’s (history, Univ. of Connecticut; America in the World) biography of George Kennan—the historian and diplomat once known as the United States’ preeminent Russian strategist—could not be more timely. Kennan was a towering public figure, who spent his latter decades taking exception to the Cold War containment policy that he believed was unfairly attributed to him. For him, containment meant negotiation with Moscow and mutual disengagement from Europe, not a nuclear arms race and proxy wars. A sophisticated intellect and a man of many prejudices and impulses, he won numerous awards for historical scholarship, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was the ambassador to the Soviet Union and later Yugoslavia, and served as the head of the Policy Planning Staff in the U.S. State Department. The author weaves the personal and the professional to account for how Kennan’s ideas and impatience about diplomacy were influenced by his mother’s death; nostalgia for a time before industrialization, urbanization, environmental degradation, and rampant commercialism; and internal struggles that pit Kennan’s Freudian belief in Eros against his commitment to civilization.
VERDICT Meant as an analytical counterweight to John Lukacs’s celebrated 2009 Kennan biography, Costigliola’s book offers a respectful and critical portrayal of Kennan’s life.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing