ACHESON by James Chace

ACHESON

The Secretary of State Who Created the American World
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An intelligent, meticulously researched biography of Dean Acheson (1893—1971), who as Harry Truman’s secretary of state became “the most important figure in American foreign policy since John Quincy Adams.” With aristocratic hauteur, decisiveness, command of facts, and biting wit, Acheson could face down dictators, rabid right-wingers, and American presidents. Only now, however, with the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the opening of US and Soviet files, can a proper assessment be made of his achievements and errors. Drawing on these and other sources, World Policy Journal editor Chace provides an evenhanded appraisal. An accomplished lawyer, Acheson came into his own as assistant secretary of state for Franklin Roosevelt, when he played a key role in shaping the Lend Lease and Bretton Woods accords. Chace throws the last pile of dirt on revisionist historians’ contention that Acheson helped precipitate the Cold War, noting that he sought to reach agreement with Josef Stalin until Soviet designs on Europe forced him into pursuing containment. Under Truman, Acheson helped formulate the Marshall Plan and Truman Doctrine and, in what Chace sees as his lasting legacy, brought West Germany into NATO, thus preventing a major continental land war for the last half of the century. While admiring Acheson’s achievements, Chace also notes that his shrill rhetoric encouraged successors— global containment schemes, which this Eurocentric, pragmatic statesman never intended, and that his policies in Asia were less sure-footed than his policies in Europe. He became vulnerable to GOP attacks because of his refusal to condemn Alger Hiss and America’s —loss— of China, yet he retained the unstinting support of Truman. As an elder statesman, Acheson urged John Kennedy to order limited air strikes during the Cuban missile crisis and turned against the Vietnam War as one of Lyndon Johnson’s —wise men.— A skillful biography of one member of a species now seemingly headed toward extinction in Washington: a government titan of remarkable achievement, eloquence, loyalty, and integrity.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-80843-9
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998




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