Kennan: A Life between Worlds
by Frank Costigliola
Kennan: A Life between Worlds is an excellent biography of George Kennan, the American diplomat and Russophile who first raised alarm bells about Stalin after World War II, authoring an anonymous article in Foreign Affairs and “The Long Telegram”. His biographer Frank Costigliola brings to life a man who loved Tolstoy and Chekhov, was devastated at never knowing his mother, and spent most of his life opposing the policy of containment towards the Soviet Union that he’s best known for.
“There’s an interesting and readable new biography of George Kennan (1904-2005)—the American diplomat who was the brains behind the ‘containment’ policy towards the Soviet Union after World War II. Kennan was a Russophile—he cried while watching The Cherry Orchard and hoped to write a biography of Chekhov. He was in Moscow amidst the enormous optimism about US-Soviet relations in 1934, when Stalin kissed the US ambassador on the lips. That soon fell apart and Kennan was again in Moscow during Stalin’s show trials, translating most of the trial transcripts in 1937. Some of those executed were friends and he was emotionally devastated. “The effect was never to leave me,” he wrote. According to biographer Frank Costigliola, while Kennan advocated containment in 1946-7, he spent most of his subsequent life criticizing it, but the American foreign policy establishment didn’t want to know.”
Notable nonfiction of early 2023, recommended by Sophie Roell, editor of Five Books