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Diplomacy, by Henry Kissinger

- Abstract

Good diplomats rarely write well about diplomacy. Ambassadorial memoirs include some of the worst books ever published. Castlereagh, Talleyrand, and Metternich, the three men who created the 1814-15 Vienna settlement, rightly praised by Henry Kissinger as one of the most durable works of peacemaking in history, left nothing apart from their voluminous papers, and for their views on their craft we are dependent on a few bons mots. By contrast, John Quincy Adams produced twelve volumes of Memoirs, and Chateaubriand’s Mémoires d’outre-tombe is another Leviathan. But both are composed more of venom, spleen, hurt pride, and vindictive narrative than diplomatic adages—and, if truth be told, neither man was a negotiator of world class. In modern times, the writings of John Foster Dulles and Anthony Eden are unilluminating, George Kennan’s books uneven, and the one outstanding memoir is Dean Acheson’s Present at the Creation. But even that tells you what, where, and when, rather than how.

That leaves us with two authors—Harold Nicolson and Henry Kissinger. Both engaged in diplomacy with a passion for the art and with a view to writing about it later. Both studied carefully that perennial sourcebook of diplomacy, the Vienna Congress: Nicolson’s The Congress of Vienna (1946) and Kissinger’s A World Restored (1957) are the two best short accounts of it. Nicolson was brought up to the job. His father was head of the Foreign Office and as a lad he personally delivered the British ultimatum to the German ambassador in July 1914; later he served under the last of the old-world Foreign Ministers, the Marquess Curzon. His writings on diplomacy are notable for their clarity and sense.

About the Author

Paul Johnson is the author of Modern Times, A History of Christianity, and A History of the Jews, among many other books.