6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Landmark Kennan Biography Chronicles Complex Life of Early Cold Warrior

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Webcast Recap


Drawing on extensive interviews with George Kennan and exclusive access to his personal papers, John Lewis Gaddis, former Wilson Center fellow and Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University, will discuss his latest book, George F. Kennan: An American Life , which delivers a revelatory biography of its troubled mastermind.

In the late 1940s, George Kennan wrote two documents, the "Long Telegram" and the "X Article," which outlined the strategy of containment that would define U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union for the next four decades. This achievement alone would qualify him as the most influential American diplomat of the Cold War era. But he was also an architect of the Marshall Plan, a prizewinning historian, and would become one of the most outspoken critics of American diplomacy, politics, and culture during the last half of the twentieth century. Now the full scope of Kennan's long life and vast influence is revealed by one of today's most important Cold War scholars.

Gaddis began this magisterial history almost thirty years ago, interviewing Kennan frequently and gaining complete access to his voluminous diaries and other personal papers. So frank and detailed were these materials that Kennan and Gaddis agreed that the book would not appear until after Kennan's death.

We see Kennan's insecurity as a Midwesterner among elites at Princeton, his budding dissatisfaction with authority and the status quo, his struggles with depression, his gift for satire, and his sharp insights on the policies and people he encountered. Kennan turned these sharp analytical gifts upon himself, even to the point of regularly recording dreams. The result is a revealing view of how this greatest of Cold War strategists came to doubt his strategy and always doubted himself.

The Honorable Jane Harman, Director, President and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center will provide introductory remarks.

George F. Kennan: An American Life  was selected by The New York Times Book Review as Notable Book of the Year.

Visit The New York Times website to read a review of the book.

Purchase the book at Penguingroup.com


  • John Lewis Gaddis

    Former Wilson Center Fellow and Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University
  • Jane Harman

    Director, President, and CEO, Wilson Center