Now Greg Grandin has come out with a study of Henry Kissinger

Historians in the News
tags: Kissinger



Henry Kissinger was 26 years old when he wrote a nearly 400-page undergraduate thesis arguing that “power is not only the manifestation but the exclusive aim” of history. In Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman, New York University historian Greg Grandin tells how that tortured “philosophy of history” shaped the events of recent decades.

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Far from the calculating practitioner of Realpolitik that even his most ardent detractors tend to imagine, the Kissinger that emerges from Grandin’s book is compulsively drawn towards action for its own sake. Over the course of his career as national security advisor, secretary of state, and, later, elite global consultant, Kissinger “institutionalized a self-fulfilling logic of intervention” and established a working “template for how to justify tomorrow’s action while ignoring yesterday’s catastrophe." 

“At every single one of America’s postwar turning points,” writes Grandin, “moments of crisis when men of goodwill began to express doubts about American power, Kissinger broke in the opposite direction.” America almost invariably broke with him.

The following conversation has been abridged for clarity and length.

Steven Cohen: You start your book reflecting on all the obituaries that are waiting to be written when Henry Kissinger dies. Why isn’t your book one of them? What compelled you to write this now?

Greg Grandin: Honestly, I saw a picture of Samantha Power [the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations] and Henry Kissinger at a Yankees game that so drove me over the edge. You know, Samantha Power wrote this book about genocide, including several genocides that Kissinger was implicated in, and then to see their banter about power and realism and human rights...I thought I would write a snarky book called The People’s Obituary of Henry Kissinger. That introduction, “An Obituary Foretold,” is kind of all that’s left from it. I don’t think I have the comic imagination to justify a full-length book that would have said anything new.

I had written on Kissinger earlier, mostly on Latin America. And I always felt that he was left out in a lot of the conversations on the rise of the right in America. Then I stumbled upon his undergraduate thesis. ...





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