AT A CENTURY'S ENDING: Reflections 1982--1995 by George F. Kennan

AT A CENTURY'S ENDING: Reflections 1982--1995

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Forty glittering, insightful essays, speeches, and reviews on the tumultuous 20th century, from nonagenarian Kennan, the dean of diplomatic historians (Around the Cragged Hill, 1993; Sketches from a Life, 1989). Throughout his career as both historian and diplomat, Kennan has kept a penetrating, skeptical eye on totalitarian regimes, notions of national self-determination, and moral crusades by both right-wingers and liberals. This volume's essays--which deal with the dislocations caused by two world wars, the Cold War, and Russia and Eastern Europe in the post-Cold War era--could have used a tougher editorial hand to select both fewer and less overlapping essays. Still, they display Kennan's considerable gifts as stylist and analyst, as well as some limitations of his perspective. Kennan's ability to connect tsarist and Communist legacies to current events is magisterial, and his writing is supple, by turns analytic, ironic, lyrical, and eloquent (""one should be aware of all the collective hysterias of modern nationalism--the artificially fanned hatreds, the chauvinistic self-idealization, the professions of noble principle""). On the other hand, Kennan's record as prognosticator is mixed: While correctly predicting the USSR's internal collapse and renewed ethnic unrest and violence in the Balkans, he also underestimated the chances of success for the START talks--and, in light of the recent Russian parliamentary elections, his dismissal of a government headed by ex-Communists or ultranationalists looks premature. Moreover, his complaint about conducting foreign affairs under the microscope of election-obsessed pols ignores a more dire alterative: a foreign-policy misadventure by a dictatorial regime shielded from public opinion. Imagine a 20th-century Henry Adams and you might get the sense of Kennan here: elegant, subtle, elitist, and horrified by the ideological convulsions that have engulfed his world.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0393316092
Page count: 350pp
Publisher: Norton