A SCIENTIST AT THE WHITE HOUSE by George B. Kistiakowsky

A SCIENTIST AT THE WHITE HOUSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Harvard chemist George Kistiakowsky served as special assistant for science and technology during the last years of the Eisenhower administration. During that time he kept a journal of the major meetings that occupied his days, and often nights and weekends. This diary, along with explanatory notes, summaries, and a long orienting introduction by Charles S. Maier, offers a fascinating if highly condensed view of the workings of government at a pivotal time in history. The years 1959-60 were post-Sputnik, pre-Kennedy. Khrushchev had made his testy visit to the US, Castro and Trujillo were major thorns in the flesh, endless rounds of nuclear-test ban debates climaxed in the disgrace of the U-2 incident and a canceled summit meeting. NASA was just beginning to swell with plans to put a man on the moon and missile programs proliferated. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, farmers were up in arms about carcinogens in the cranberry sauce. Simply keeping track of the government agencies, newly-forming committees and abundant rivalries among the military services, AEC, DOD, Livermore, SAC. . . was no mean task. One cannot help but admire his tact and diplomacy, coupled with an intuition which told him whom to suspect, who was bluffing, or lying. He also had the vision to see both the short- and long-term consequences of even the most minor paper or policy statement. Kistiakowsky's diary contains little dirt or vitriol; there are a few alarming examples of governmental double-dealing and a lot of remarks about who was an ass or unpredictable or dangerous. (He found Nixon often well-informed but suspected his motivation.) Kistiakowsky did his best to stay the hands of power-seekers and advance the practical and possible--he seems almost Epicurean in seeking moderation and balance. This is not an easy book, given the complex web of people and events it covers, but it will be of enormous value to scholars, journalists, or government figures. It should also be a comfort to those who believe that having integrity is not incompatible with serving in government.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press