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WORLDMAKING

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF AMERICAN DIPLOMACY

A well-documented, full-scale overview of some key makers of modern history.

A survey of American diplomacy since the 1890s as reflected in the careers of the men who molded it.

Milne (Modern History/Univ. of East Anglia; America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War, 2008) chooses nine significant figures whose approaches to diplomacy—either as an art, with inexact methods, or as a science, with a logical approach built from first principles—define his thesis. The tale begins at a point when the country largely avoided foreign entanglements. Alfred Thayer Mahan, in a hugely influential book on the importance of sea power, argued that the U.S. must ready to take an international role to protect its interests. A generation later, Woodrow Wilson took the position that America could only be safe in a world at peace. America’s entry into World War I and the subsequent attempt to create the League of Nations were the results. Beginning in the 1920s, and increasingly as the Depression took its toll, Charles Beard made the case for putting domestic issues above all else. But with the rise of Hitler and Stalin, Walter Lippmann and George Kennan pushed for a more active international role, leading to the Cold War, in which Paul Nitze and Henry Kissinger took very different roles. As the Soviet Union faded, Paul Wolfowitz found new threats in the Middle East, threats that have dominated much of Barack Obama’s presidency. The overall arc of the book is fascinating, showing how the play of ideas and politics has worked out over more than a century, with some of the most critical episodes in modern history as main episodes in the plot. Milne doesn’t paint his protagonists in black-or-white terms; he both praises Kissinger for his role in the rapprochement with China and criticizes him for advocating for keeping the U.S. in Vietnam after it was clear there was nothing to gain there. On the whole, however, the author appears to side with the “artists” over their more dogmatic opposites.

A well-documented, full-scale overview of some key makers of modern history.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-29256-0

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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