Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington by Gregg Herken

I'm not sure what I was expecting from this volume on a post-war Washington riddled with former military men and spies and current diplomats and newspaper owners and journalists, but what I ended up reading was akin to a gossip column. First, there are entirely too many characters introduced too quickly. It's easy enough to keep the main players in mind: Kennan, the Alsop brothers, and a few others, but the rest become background noise as they're mentioned every now and then with the author taking for granted that the reader should have memorized the index and all the names presented therein. Secondly, relevant context is often missing. Just one example will have to suffice. The author brings up the creation of NATO and that Kennan favored a more limited organization consisting of the US, Britain, and Canada. That's it. Why did Kennan favor such an organization? Why didn't he consider France or West Germany in such an organization? What/who were the other contenders for NATO? Nothing. Three mere sentences on an organization that to this day continues to impact international politics and policies. But what gets almost 2 whole pages of mention? The 'heinous outrage' of a house Joe Alsop created in Georgetown that resulted in a municipal ordinance against such future monstrosities. As a result, it's really hard to believe this is a book written by an academic as it reads like a tabloid full of lurid details about ivy league universities with their student societies and drinking bouts and unadulterated rumors full of inept guesswork and misplaced emotions. Then again, perhaps that's what the US Cold War policy was all about.

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