George Kennan

A Writing Life

By Lee Congdon

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George Kennan

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There were two George F. Kennans. The first was the well-known diplomat and ambassador to the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia—a tough political realist and man of the world who gained fame as the theorist of America’s Cold War "containment" strategy. This was a "persona" that Kennan adopted in order to carry out his professional responsibilities. The second, largely unknown, but real George Kennan was a writer and aesthete—a shy, lonely man who felt alienated from both his country and his times, and a man who made major contributions to American literature.

Thus argues Lee Congdon in George Kennan: A Writing Life, a groundbreaking study of Kennan’s life and thought. Congdon narrates Kennan’s legendary work in the foreign service, his later career as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, and the schools of thought to which he made significant contributions: political realism, antidemocratic social and political criticism, Spenglerian gloom, and conservative cultural analysis. Congdon concludes that notwithstanding his great accomplishments as a diplomat and geopolitical strategist, Kennan merits consideration above all else as an original and penetrating American writer.

Additional Information

Format Cloth
Pages 225
Publisher ISI Books
What They're Saying...

"The prodigious writing output of the late diplomat and historian George Kennan (1904–2005) occupies center stage here. Since Kennan received some of the most prestigious literary awards (both the Pulitzer and Bancroft), this subject extends beyond academic interest."
Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

“George F. Kennan has been admired by many but understood by few. As Lee Congdon argues in this absorbing and suggestive study, Kennan is best understood not as a public figure identified with the theoretical foundations of Cold War realism, but as a detached and quietly reflective writer: a brooding skeptic of democracy and modernity whose profoundly conservative sensibility was rooted, not in American optimism, but in the tragic sense of life.”
Wilfred M. McClay, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

“George Kennan always said that he was a conservative, but he often went beyond this to say that he was not an American conservative, but a European one. In this wise and penetrating book, Lee Congdon takes us on a wonderfully engaging journey through Kennan’s life, writing, and mind. He not only demonstrates that Kennan had a profound European sensibility and sense of tragedy, but he also demonstrates that Kennan represented the very best of American character and integrity. Congdon concludes that in wisdom and character, Kennan was the greatest American of the twentieth century. In this splendid work, he amply proves his case.”
James Kurth, Swarthmore College

“In this lapidary short biography, Lee Congdon mines the full range of George F. Kennan's published and unpublished writing. The result radically expands our sense of Kennan: not only was he America's most effective foreign policy strategist of the past century, but a literary talent of highest rank, a man whose refined and tragic sensibility could be descended from Edmund Burke.”
Scott Post, Editor, The American Conservative

"[Kennan] deplored the main streaming of hedonism and the breakdown of traditional values in the West, at times in language so strong one might wonder if Kennan thought the West worth defending at all.
Walter Hudson, The American Conservative

"A groundbreaking study of Kennan's life and thought. . . . Congdon has provided the perfect introduction for anyone seeking to know more about this important, and yet poorly understood, man. . . . Anyone who is interested in the art of writing or the intellectual history of the 20th century would enjoy this slim elegant portrait."
Kevin Holtsberry, TheRightReads.com

ISBN 1933859717
ISBN13 9781933859712
Eligible for Readers Club Discount Yes

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