A former student of the career diplomat and State Department insider intertwines the narrative of Hill’s life with an account of her own experiences with him.
Worthen, who graduated from Yale in 2003, was greatly impressed and intimidated by Hill when she encountered him as a professor. Maybe it was because he’d been involved in everything from Star Wars and Iran-Contra to the memoirs of George Schultz—or maybe it was because he awarded her a C- on her first essay for him during freshman year. She found comfort in his certainty; she enjoyed the way he skewered liberals, whose relativism troubled her. Even before graduation, Worthen had decided to write Hill’s biography and garnered his approval; she actually submitted papers to other professors that dealt in some fashion with his career. Following her departure from Yale, she visited places where Hill had lived; interviewed his former classmates, friends and colleagues; developed relationships with his first wife and two daughters; got to know his second wife. She read every fat and fatuous Reaganite memoir and consulted Hill’s voluminous handwritten notes at the Hoover Institute. The text follows his story from birth to Yale, giving interesting accounts of his service in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Israel, the UN. Periodically, Worthen pauses, shifts to the first person, and tells us about Hill and his Yale classes, especially the Grand Strategy seminar whose metaphorical richness she explores. Some of her commentary is enlightening, some banal. Although she confesses to being “enraptured” at times, she notices cracks on her hero’s fine porcelain surface, some of which run deep, and recognizes the dangers of absolute certainty. Yet Worthen’s admiration for Hill doesn’t disappear; it alters. The emperor may be naked, but that’s not always bad.
Engaging personal and political history, occasionally vitiated by simplistic and sophomoric interjections.