Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War

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9780195382488: Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War

Dean Acheson was one of the most influential Secretaries of State in U.S. history, presiding over American foreign policy during a pivotal era--the decade after World War II when the American Century slipped into high gear. During his vastly influential career, Acheson spearheaded the greatest foreign policy achievements in modern times, ranging from the Marshall Plan to the establishment of NATO.

In this acclaimed biography, Robert L. Beisner paints an indelible portrait of one of the key figures of the last half-century. In a book filled with insight based on research in government archives, memoirs, letters, and diaries, Beisner illuminates Acheson's major triumphs, including the highly underrated achievement of converting West Germany and Japan from mortal enemies to prized allies, and does not shy away from examining his missteps. But underlying all his actions, Beisner shows, was a tough-minded determination to outmatch the strength of the Soviet bloc--indeed, to defeat the Soviet Union at every turn. The book also sheds light on Acheson's friendship with Truman--one, a bourbon-drinking mid-Westerner with a homespun disposition, the other, a mustachioed Connecticut dandy who preferred perfect martinis.

Over six foot tall, with steel blue, "merry, searching eyes" and a "wolfish" grin, Dean Acheson was an unforgettable character--intellectually brilliant, always debonair, and tough as tempered steel. This lustrous portrait of an immensely accomplished and colorful life is the epitome of the biographer's art.

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About the Author:


Robert L. Beisner is Professor of History Emeritus at American University. A former president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, he lives in Washington, DC.

From Publishers Weekly:

Although Acheson (1893–1971) was a life-long Democrat who served four presidents, Harry Truman's flamboyant and sharp-tongued secretary of state is admired on the right as an architect of American Cold War foreign policy, most famously for the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan. Historian Beisner's exhaustive treatment of Acheson's long, influential career reveals the tangled roots of contemporary policy and political discourse—especially the purported links between the unilateral projection of American might and our national security—during and after WWII. A crucial and complex figure, Acheson was not the earliest "cold warrior," though later among the staunchest, and not easily reduced to left or right in the conflict's dissonant strategic and moral calculus. A deep wariness with regard to the atomic bomb, for instance, did not necessarily temper his involvement in developing U.S. nuclear arms policy, including deployment of the more powerful H-bomb. His early urging of engagement in Vietnam later gave way to counseling Johnson to end it. Chronicling rather than criticizing the assumptions undergirding the postwar period's rapidly evolving bipolar order, this thorough biography offers insight into perhaps one of the least understood fields of government action at the outset of a momentous era that's still, in many respects, very much underway. (Sept.)
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