Review by Choice Review
"History," Kissinger reportedly told Richard Nixon, "will treat you more kindly than your contemporaries." Nixon replied, "It depends on who writes the history." For his part, Kissinger has tried to leave as little as possible to chance. With this massive concluding volume of his memoirs, he has written close to 4000 pages--not counting his Diplomacy (1994) chronicling his years from 1969-77. Moreover, by taking many of his archives with him, Kissinger has concealed from scholars his documentary trail. Thus Years of Renewal is as challenging to evaluate as it is instructive to read. This skilled historian who occasionally crafts surprisingly graceful prose offers an overview of Nixonian statecraft and a riveting, detailed account of foreign policy during Gerald Ford's tumultuous administration. Kissinger covers Vietnam, the Middle East, Angola, Cyprus, Chile, and more against the backdrop of the Soviet- and Sino-American relationship and US domestic politics. He paints exquisite portraits of the extensive cast of characters he encountered and often confronted. Kissinger appreciates the importance of strategy, a welcome change from today's diplomatists. As history, however, the book is fatally flawed. Kissinger's arrogance and egotism suffuse his arguments and assessments. He is brilliant; his critics are ignorant. How unfortunate that Kissinger obscures the difference between history and polemics even as he retains the monopoly on writing his history. All levels. R. H. Immerman; Temple University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Having aspired to be a modern-day Metternich, Kissinger has always placed great value on subtlety. Indeed, one of his favorite charges against his many political and bureaucratic adversaries is that they don't understand the nuances of policy, tactics or strategy. Throughout this final volume of his memoirs (after White House Years and Years of Upheaval), he takes painsÄoften unsubtle painsÄto tell readers how subtle he is. Of the Middle East peace process, he writes: "If foreign policy were as simple as the study of it in academic seminars, Jordan would have been the logical candidate for the next step." The implication, of course, is that foreign policy is not so simple, and Kissinger takes pride in reminding readers that he always kept all the complexities in mind. And yet Kissinger remains so informative that readers will happily permit him this indulgence. The book starts with Nixon's resignation and continues through the two years of the Ford administration. One of the surprises is the high regard in which Kissinger holds Ford: "I am certain the time will come when it is recognized that the Cold War could not have been won had not Gerald Ford, at a tragic point of America's history, been there to keep us from losing it." In his portrait of Nixon, Kissinger adopts the interpretation that seems to be hardening into conventional wisdomÄthat of a supremely gifted analytical mind tragically undone by paranoia and an existential discomfort with being alive. Ford, by contrast, emerges from these pages as a man whose admitted lack of flair is the flip side of an inner confidence that is, perhaps uniquely among politicians, unimpeded by egotism. As Kissinger explains China policy, Soviet policy, Middle East diplomacy and various crises (in Cyprus, Angola and elsewhere), his insight extends not only to explanations of policy but also to accounts of bureaucratic infighting and turf battlesÄas well as to relations between the executive branch and Congress. His account of how, regarding arms control and dtente, he and Ford tried to determine the national interest while being squeezed between a "McGovernite Congress" and the hard right will give readers a sophisticated political lesson. Kissinger was a shrewd courtier and ferocious infighter, and he takes a deadpan delight in showing readers just how adept he was. At the same time, he's magnanimous toward those with whom he once locked horns, throwing appreciative bouquets to such former adversaries as Senator Scoop Jackson and William Rogers ("I am not proud of the way I participated in Nixon's attempts to marginalize the man," he writes of the man he replaced as Nixon's secretary of state). Even readers predisposed to see Kissinger as a villain may come away from the book with at least grudging admiration for him and with a deeperÄand, yes, more subtleÄunderstanding of the complexities of foreign policy and its domestic political dimensions. First serial to Time. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
With this volume Kissinger concludes what may be the greatest memoir ever written by an American statesman (White House Years, 1979; Years of Upheaval, 1982). It is a tribute to the quality of his narrative that the reader is often entranced by the personalities and diplomatic maneuverings of the Ford administration, a quarter of a century ago. Of course, Kissinger does not always resist the temptation to be more prescient than he was at the time. Thus the statesman, who discerned in 1977 that we faced the 'stark reality that the [communist] challenge is unending,' reports on going to Moscow several years earlier that one 'could not but gain the impression that the whole elaborately constructed stage set was precarious and might collapse at any moment.' Not surprisingly, we also see more of the good Henry, charitable in his judgments, even of bureaucratic enemies, and open in his methods, than the bad Henry ('Trust does not come to me spontaneously'). But the performance is always a bravura one: there is hardly a page without a wise observation or maxim of statecraft, or a characterization full of insight, including masterful sketches of Nixon, Ford, Mao, Helmut Schmidt, and a host of other leaders. There is just one point at which the tone, wise, avuncular, witty, and epigrammatic changes dramatically, and that is on the withdrawal of the US from Vietnam. Kissinger argues with anguished passion that those in Congress who called for US withdrawal welshed on their commitment to provide aid to the South Vietnamese when the US left; that the US abandonment was shameful; that it led to genocide and tragedy in Vietnam and Cambodia; and that it deeply injured the reputation and the interests of the US throughout the world. Enough time may now have elapsed for the truth of these observations to be more widely acknowledged. A brilliant, masterly, even seminal book.
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