The Inevitability of Tragedy: Henry Kissinger and His World (Paperback)
A new portrait of Henry Kissinger focusing on the fundamental ideas underlying his policies: Realism, balance of power, and national interest.
Few public officials have provoked such intense controversy as Henry Kissinger. During his time in the Nixon and Ford administrations, he came to be admired and hated in equal measure. Notoriously, he believed that foreign affairs ought to be based primarily on the power relationships of a situation, not simply on ethics. He went so far as to argue that under certain circumstances America had to protect its national interests even if that meant repressing other countries’ attempts at democracy. For this reason, many today on both the right and left dismiss him as a latter-day Machiavelli, ignoring the breadth and complexity of his thought.
With The Inevitability of Tragedy, Barry Gewen corrects this shallow view, presenting the fascinating story of Kissinger’s development as both a strategist and an intellectual and examining his unique role in government through his ideas. It analyzes his contentious policies in Vietnam and Chile, guided by a fresh understanding of his definition of Realism, the belief that world politics is based on an inevitable, tragic competition for power. Crucially, Gewen places Kissinger’s pessimistic thought in a European context. He considers how Kissinger was deeply impacted by his experience as a refugee from Nazi Germany, and explores the links between his notions of power and those of his mentor, Hans Morgenthau—the father of Realism—as well as those of two other German-Jewish émigrés who shared his concerns about the weaknesses of democracy: Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt. The Inevitability of Tragedy offers a thoughtful perspective on the origins of Kissinger’s sober worldview and argues that a reconsideration of his career is essential at a time when American foreign policy lacks direction.
About the Author
Barry Gewen, an editor at the New York Times Book Review for thirty years, has written on politics, international affairs, and culture for several publications, including the Times, the New Republic, Dissent, and the National Interest. He lives in New York City.
Timely and acute.… A thoughtful rumination on human behavior, philosophy and international relations.
— John A. Farrell - New York Times Book Review
A revelation.… Gewen’s book is more than a biography; it is a thorough exploration of Kissinger’s world-view and how he came to it.
— Dennis Ross - Jewish Review of Books
Incisive.… Demands to be studied.
— Michael Hirsh - Foreign Policy
Explains why Kissinger’s thinking—his view of history, power, and democracy—should command our attention.… [Barry] Gewen deftly sets him in the wider context of the rise of totalitarianism in the past century, seeking to understand Kissinger as he understood himself.
— Jacob Heilbrunn - National Interest
Highly readable.… Gewen’s prose is mellifluous.
— Lloyd Green - Guardian
Gewen seeks to escape [a] cartoon depiction of Kissinger, absurd in its Manichaean extremes. He does so successfully with sympathy for his subject, subtlety, good writing and not a little humor.… Gewen tells us that Kissinger is more than a figure out of history, and that we dismiss or ignore him at our peril.
— Christopher Meyer - Spectator
Timely… provides new insight into what might have gone wrong and landed the US in a late imperial funk.
— Iain Martin - Times (UK)
Deeply insightful.… This more-than-four-decade split of authority suggests the need for fresh views and intellectually honest discourse on Kissinger’s diplomatic career, and Gewen has risen to the challenge.
— Talmage Boston - Washington Independent Review of Books
Barry Gewen’s extraordinary study seeks neither to condemn nor defend Henry Kissinger but to comprehend him. With a keen understanding of the nuances of Cold War politics and diplomacy, from every angle, Gewen cuts to the core of Kissinger’s Realism, haunted by the twentieth century’s lessons that democracy and good intentions can just as easily produce catastrophe as uplift. A tour de force of historical reconstruction, the book flatters no one, least of all its readers. It will make you think hard about world events that continue to shape our lives, and about one of the truly major figures of our times.
— Sean Wilentz, George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History, Princeton University
Ingeniously organized, flawlessly argued, this big book moves with the speed of a magazine essay. Its signal point is incontrovertible: that in a messy, shrinking world where little is black and white and America is no longer protected by oceans, Henry Kissinger’s tragic Realism becomes increasingly relevant and increasingly undeniable.
— Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Revenge of Geography and The Coming Anarchy