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Evan Thomas is the author of several bestselling works of history and biography, including Sea of Thunder. He was a writer and editor at Time and Newsweek for more than thirty years, and he is frequently a commentator on television and radio. He teaches at Princeton University and lives in vis mere Washington, D.C. www.evanthomasbooks.com vis mindre

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Image credit: reading at Annapolis Book Festival By Slowking4 - Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68633867

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Værker af Evan Thomas

The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made (1986) — Forfatter — 678 eksemplarer
Robert Kennedy: His Life (2000) 479 eksemplarer
Being Nixon: A Man Divided (2015) 315 eksemplarer
First: Sandra Day O'Connor (2019) 241 eksemplarer
Vejen til Washington (2009) 76 eksemplarer
RFK Funeral Train (2000) 49 eksemplarer

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Interesting (but not fascinating) story of a man living on two continents (and the seas) in the late 1700's. Great insight into the broken systems of the time that existed in Great Britain, the fledgling U.S., and Russia. Amazing that two out of those three overcame their history.
 
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dlinnen | 9 andre anmeldelser | Feb 3, 2024 |
The Wise Men, while an enlightening history of US foreign policy is a frustrating read.

It is the history of the creation of the US foreign policy establishment, its heyday, and its dissolution in the Reagan years. It is told through the biographies of six friends who formed the core of the establishment.

Each were remarkable men. Perhaps the most famous of them were Secretary of State Dean Acheson and the roving millionaire diplomat and once Governor of New York, Averell Harriman, son of the the 19th century railroad robber baron, E.H. Harriman.

Its biggest flaw is the absence of context for major events.

We enter the innermost conversations of US presidents, their military and diplomatic advisors.

The book’s high point is really the debate amongst war planners on what to do about the advancing Soviet armies in WWII. Despite wartime agreements Franklin Roosevelt never really pinned Stalin down on what he planned to do once Germany was defeated.

It’s one of the great turning points in history and was fun to read. What Stalin is doing, what Stalin might do, but there is no supporting research here about what the other side was actually thinking.

This book was first published in 1986 and we know so much more about the nascent Soviet Union than we did back then. This book really could stand some updating. For one thing we certainly know that Stalin was about self-preservation first.

American policy makers were scratching their heads over the intentions of the Communists, or were they Russians first and Communists second. Wait a minute, Stalin was Georgian, not Russian. Or perhaps more troubling, was the Soviet Union being being run by a criminal conspiracy that neither well-meaning Communists nor ordinary Russians approved of.

Any or all of these conclusions could have influenced American behaviour.

American policy makers certainly had some reason to believe the Soviet Union wouldn’t stop at Berlin. They had brutally butchered 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia in the Katyn Forest in April and May of 1940.

They were avowedly opponents of capitalism.

The extent of Stalin’s paranoia wasn’t fully known at the time, but the Western Allies gave him good reason to be paranoid if he wasn’t before:

1. They secretly developed first the A-Bomb then the Hydrogen bomb behind his back. (They didn’t realize a spy had given the Russians a heads up.)
2. No sooner had they defeated Germany than they were talking about re-arming Germany in the war’s aftermath.
3. They invented NATO to unite Western European nations against the Soviet Union and its satellites.
4. In the Truman years the Americans anointed themselves defenders of freedom around the world...even though knew they didn’t have the resources nor the commitment of Congress to make it happen.
5. The Marshall Plan helped rebuild Western Europe but left Eastern Europe a smoldering dump.
6. They were leaving thousands of troops in Western Europe even though the war was over.
7. They were actively recruiting German rocket experts, most notably Werner von Braun.
8. They were also recruiting German spies, incl. senior spies who had worked for the Nazis.

That was the Truman Doctrine. Self-appointed defenders of freedom.

Then they drew a line somewhere in the Pacific as their security perimeter. Unfortunately, that perimeter didn’t include South Korea and that blunder gave the Soviets and their North Korean clients reason to believe America would not come to South Korea’s defence. Thus the Korean War.

But the authors say nothing about what the Russians were thinking about Korea. Or about Laos. Or what Ho Chi Minh thought about the Chinese Communists north of the border.

And there was only fleeting discussion of CIA-hatched plots to keep countries out of the hands of the Soviets. Italy. Guatemala. Iran. Chile. Bay of Pigs. Funny how the decision to invade Cuba was left out of the book. It was on the Republican’s watch so what the hey. So much for the defenders of freedom.

The authors of this book would probably agree that the western allies time and time again overestimated the Soviet leadership. Stalin ruled his empire with fear. He emerged from the 1930’s having decimated the population of Ukraine with starvation and having slaughtered known and imagined political opponents.

In fact, Stalin’s team were lousy at feeding the population, at preparing for Nazi aggression, and building their foreign reserves. In their march westward they tore up Eastern European railways and industrial plants and left the Warsaw resistors to their fate as the German regiments tore them to pieces with Stalin’s divisions waiting for the dust to settle.

It was a terrible system and the disaster at Chernobyl sealed its fate.

The authors were happy to bury Lyndon Johnson under the debacle of Vietnam. Yes, it was self-inflicted. But the foreign-policy establishment really let him down. We’ll have to wait for Robert Caro’s next volume of The Years of Lyndon Johnson to get a better telling.

There is yet one more part of the story which seems little editorialized by the authors, and that is the distain for which the establishment bureaucrats hold the elected members of Congress.

Now given the hours some of them spent testifying in Congress in front of the red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950’s, the distain and outright hatred for some of them is completely understandable. But on another level, it is reprehensible if you believe in the idea of self-government by the people.

It is nothing for the authors to praise or blame the Executive Branch for action on foreign policy. They assume it is perfectly ok for the President to make policies which have monumental impact on the budget of the Federal Government and the commitment of its soldiers.

In their minds it is no usurpation of authority for the Executive Branch to take these steps, and go cap in hand to Congress afterward for the spending authority. But as we see in this book, there is never any open discussion of ends and means on these issues.

The authors obscure the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis, an important part of which was the placing of Jupiter missiles in Turkey and they ignore much of the backchannel negotiations possibly because it wasn’t done by the heroes of the book.

The American electorate, somewhat intoxicated by the victory of WWII, followed somewhat blindly into the wars that followed. The authors blithely blame the isolationists for keeping America from taking its rightly place at the head of the community of nations.

Donald Trump is unilaterally ending that place of leadership to the horror of the modern day establishment. But his motivations for doing so are probably more destructive than anything tried before.

Books like this also make you wonder about the limits of sovereignty. Foreign policy is if nothing else, a means with which to project one sovereignty abroad. How helpful was that exercise if today we see the true limits of sovereignty? No obvious way to contain a pandemic. No obvious way to contain international crime. No obvious way to attack climate warming in a concerted global effort.

The allies fighting Nazism gave up a sterling chance to create global cooperation. Instead of competing to build nuclear arsenals NATO and the Soviet Union could have used that cooperation to build lasting institutions far more effective than the United Nations.

They tried it with nuclear test bans and non-proliferation treaties. They should have taken it much further.

All it required was giving up a modicum of sovereignty for the collective good. These “wise men” really could have done more. And they could have used a few wise women.

A new era began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and, once again, a brief period when Americans were intoxicated with the smell of success. They won the Cold War.

And maybe the seeds the Wise Men had planted flowered after all.

But Putin? Really?
… (mere)
 
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MylesKesten | 10 andre anmeldelser | Jan 23, 2024 |
Fascinating but sparse on detail, this biography of the 37th president hits the high (and low) spots of Nixon's controversial career without dallying overlong on any of the nuts and bolts that underpinned that career. Thomas writes very well, and there are both fresh and familiar insights into Nixon and his personal life and demons. But in the end, there is not enough deep analysis or explication to give one a sense of what being Richard Nixon, or being with him, was really like. This is the 37th presidential biography I have read, and I admit I expected an overabundance of detail, so rich and intricate is the story of Nixon and so extraordinarily well-documented his life. Instead, I found myself far too often wondering how something played out, what went on in the days and minutes and not just the months and years. The Watergate scandal receives the best of the detail, and I understood it more clearly after reading the book. But of the 37 presidents I've read books on thus far, this is the first to make me think maybe I need to read a second book on one.… (mere)
 
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jumblejim | 4 andre anmeldelser | Aug 26, 2023 |
In tribute to Robert F. Kennedy’s raw empathy, his determination to make our lives better, and his insistence that the government is answerable to all – black and white, rich and poor – hundreds of thousands of people stood patiently in the searing heat on June 8th, 1968 to watch his funeral train travel slowly from New York to Washington, D.C., just as Abraham Lincoln’s had, 103 years before. Paul Fusco photographed the silent, mourning crowds from the passing train. The result, brought to light over thirty-years later, is a moving snapshot of America at a crucial moment of trauma and transition.

An essay by Norman Mailer, as well as a retelling of the events surrounding the funeral of RFK by prizewinning Newsweek editor Evan Thomas, join the tribute given by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, capturing how this man and his vision of America touched us with steadfast idealism and humanity. (Magnum Photos)
… (mere)
 
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petervanbeveren | 1 anden anmeldelse | Jul 17, 2023 |

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21
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4,330
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