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The Kennan Diaries

George F. Kennan (Author), Frank Costigliola (Editor)

Overview | Inside the Book

A landmark collection, spanning ninety years of U.S. history, of the never-before-published diaries of George F. Kennan, America’s most famous diplomat.

On a hot July afternoon in 1953, George F. Kennan descended the steps of the State Department building as a newly retired man. His career had been tumultuous: early postings in eastern Europe followed by Berlin in 1940–41 and Moscow in the last year of World War II. In 1946, the forty-two-year-old Kennan authored the “Long Telegram,” a 5,500-word indictment of the Kremlin that became mandatory reading in Washington. A year later, in an article in Foreign Affairs, he outlined “containment,” America’s guiding strategy in the Cold War. Yet what should have been the pinnacle of his career—an ambassadorship in Moscow in 1952—was sabotaged by Kennan himself, deeply frustrated at his failure to ease the Cold War that he had helped launch.

Yet, if it wasn’t the pinnacle, neither was it the capstone; over the next fifty years, Kennan would become the most respected foreign policy thinker of the twentieth century, giving influential lectures, advising presidents, and authoring twenty books, winning two Pulitzer prizes and two National Book awards in the process.

Through it all, Kennan kept a diary. Spanning a staggering eighty-eight years and totaling over 8,000 pages, his journals brim with keen political and moral insights, philosophical ruminations, poetry, and vivid descriptions. In these pages, we see Kennan rambling through 1920s Europe as a college student, despairing for capitalism in the midst of the Depression, agonizing over the dilemmas of sex and marriage, becoming enchanted and then horrified by Soviet Russia, and developing into America’s foremost Soviet analyst. But it is the second half of this near-century-long record—the blossoming of Kennan the gifted author, wise counselor, and biting critic of the Vietnam and Iraq wars—that showcases this remarkable man at the height of his singular analytic and expressive powers, before giving way, heartbreakingly, to some of his most human moments, as his energy, memory, and finally his ability to write fade away.

Masterfully selected and annotated by historian Frank Costigliola, the result is a landmark work of profound intellectual and emotional power. These diaries tell the complete narrative of Kennan’s life in his own intimate and unflinching words and, through him, the arc of world events in the twentieth century.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • February 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-393-07327-0
  • 6.6 × 9.6 in / 768 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“George Kennan’s diaries are arguably the most remarkable work of sustained self-analysis—and certainly self-criticism—since The Education of Henry Adams. Frank Costigliola has assembled them with great skill and sensitivity.” — John Lewis Gaddis, author of George F. Kennan: An American Life

The Kennan Diaries are a vivid journey into the private thoughts and often contrary opinions of the diplomat whose influence permeated U.S. Cold War foreign policy. Eloquent and perceptive, Kennan left a moving personal record of the historic events he experienced and helped shape.” — Henry A. Kissinger, former Secretary of State

“An informed mind, a clarity of expression, candor in a private diary—all are present in George Kennan’s fascinating commentary on a period when the tectonic plates of the world changed. Read, enjoy, agree or disagree, and be stimulated to think.”” — George P. Shultz, former Secretary of State

“Frank Costigliola’s superb edition of George Kennan’s diaries is a major addition to the literature on America’s role in the twentieth-century world. It reminds us of why Kennan should be remembered as one of America’s most astute commentators on the limits of our power and influence abroad.” — Robert Dallek, historian and author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963

“The diaries provide a window onto the intellectual and emotional life of the great American diplomat and thinker who had a more profound influence on American foreign policy than he recognized. [They] make fascinating reading.” — Jack F. Matlock Jr., former ambassador to the Soviet Union and author of Autopsy on an Empire

“[T]he publication of The Kennan Diaries is a major event. University of Connecticut historian Frank Costigliola has ably culled Kennan’s herculean, 20,000-page private diary (which he kept for 88 years and which is now housed at Princeton University’s Mudd Library) into an erudite, reader-friendly volume.” — Douglas Brinkley, The Washington Post

The Kennan Diaries is an illuminating, fascinating and sometimes disturbing book.” — Fareed Zakaria, New York Times Book Review

“Valuable insight… Intellectually and literarily compelling.” — Edward A. Turzanski, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Irresistibly readable… Mr. Kennan has come through one last time with a book that illuminates in intricate and imaginative ways not only his times, but himself.” — James A. Warren, The Daily Beast

“Fascinating.” — David Greenberg, The New Republic

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  3. Book CoverAt a Century's Ending: Reflections, 1982-1995


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