DEAN ACHESON by Douglas Brinkley


The Cold War Years, 1953-71
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 Cool, lucid account of the later years of a towering cold-war figure; by Brinkley (History/Hofstra Univ.). Dean Acheson had two careers: one a nearly seamless ascent (Groton, Yale, Navy, Harvard Law) to secretary of state under Truman; the other, beginning with a testy 50's interregnum as gadfly to the Republican Party, is Brinkley's subject. Bedeviled by McCarthyist charges that he had ``lost China'' and was soft on Communism, Acheson emerged a different and puzzling man, a bellicose adviser to several Presidents he had previously scorned, and dangerously acerbic. Acheson, said Chester Bowles in 1963, ``likes not only to disagree with people, but to destroy them if he can.'' Brinkley reveals the furies unleashed in this determined anti-Communist by right-wing attacks, showing Acheson's evolution into a power-player whom men like Robert Kennedy and Dean Rusk saw as ``heedless and unrelenting...deformed in the crucible of McCarthyism.'' The author balances history and biography expertly, maintaining clear focus on Acheson's analysis of events and his complex personal interplay with the statesmen of his time. A superhawk on Vietnam, Acheson managed to work with the cautious JFK not only because Acheson was a loyal Democrat and consummate professional but also, as is clear throughout, because of his need to be close to power. Though perceived by Kennedy as ``an old man from another era,'' Acheson became a valued adviser from the Berlin Wall and Cuban missile crises through the events in Cyprus and Vietnam, but particularly in Europe, where he shored up relations with de Gaulle, Adenauer, and others. Acheson performed similar services for LBJ and, amazingly, for his old enemy Nixon, provoking Acheson's wife to regret that ``her husband had fallen prey to a campaign of flattery waged by Nixon and Kissinger.'' Even Acheson, for all his crustiness, would have respected the clear, concise writing and objectivity of this fine political biography. (Twenty illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-300-04773-8
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1992


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