Essay about Kissinger: A Historiography

Essay about Kissinger: A Historiography

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Who is Henry Kissinger? Is he as Jussi Hanhamaki terms him “Dr. Kissinger” (the prince of realpolitik who put his remarkable insights to the service of a nation in deep trouble) or “Mr. Henry” (the power-hungry, bureaucratic schemer bent on self-aggrandizement)? This dichotomy is not the only one that exists when discussing Henry Kissinger. Stephen Graubard, Gregory Cleva, Walter Issacson and Jussi Hanhimäki have all written works that view Kissinger differently. Some of the differences are slight and all four sometimes agree but the best interpretation of Kissinger lies in viewing him through a lens of historical context. This view produces the image of Kissinger as realist who ultimately failed to account for the changing forces in foreign policy, ultimately this leads to his estimation as an architect of American foreign policy whose flaws kept him from realizing the paradigm he established of triangular diplomacy and détente would fail in many parts of the world.
The views of Kissinger are as numerous and varied as the works that are based on his life. This paper examines four, one a biography by Walter Issacson, an examination of the formation of Kissinger’s political thought by Stephen Graubard, a work on Kissinger’s role in the formation of American foreign policy by Gregory Cleva and the book and complementary article by Jussi Hanhimäki which seeks to reconcile the views of disparate authors with newly released documentary evidence.
Stephen Graubard focused on Kissinger’s writing and career pre-1969. Graubard’s work, published in 1973, viewed Kissinger not as a realist, or a historicist but as a statesman. The statesman, based on European models was intellectual and diplomatic . Graubard’s Kissinger saw peace as ...

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... interval is a different argument. So many years out of office Kissinger remains the single most fascinating player on the American stage. For somebody who is supposedly a ranting, raving, self-serving narcissist in the vein of Mr. Henry that is quite a feat.


Cleva, Gregory. Henry Kissinger and the American Approach to Foreign Policy. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1989.

Graubard, Stephen. Kissinger: Portrait of a Mind. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1973.

Hahnimäki, Jussi. The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

---------------------. “’Dr. Kissinger’ or ‘Mr. Henry’? Kissingerology, Thirty Years and Counting.” Diplomatic History 27(5) (November 2003): 637-676.

Issacson, Walter. Kissinger: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

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