Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War

Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War

Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War

Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War


Dean Acheson was one of the most influential Secretaries of State in U.S. history, presiding over American foreign policy during a pivotal era--the decade after World War II when the American Century slipped into high gear. During his vastly influential career, Acheson spearheaded the greatest foreign policy achievements in modern times, ranging from the Marshall Plan to the establishment of NATO.

In this acclaimed biography, Robert L. Beisner paints an indelible portrait of one of the key figures of the last half-century. In a book filled with insight based on research in government archives, memoirs, letters, and diaries, Beisner illuminates Acheson's major triumphs, including the highly underrated achievement of converting West Germany and Japan from mortal enemies to prized allies, and does not shy away from examining his missteps. But underlying all his actions, Beisner shows, was a tough-minded determination to outmatch the strength of the Soviet bloc--indeed, to defeat the Soviet Union at every turn. The book also sheds light on Acheson's friendship with Truman--one, a bourbon-drinking mid-Westerner with a homespun disposition, the other, a mustachioed Connecticut dandy who preferred perfect martinis.

Over six foot tall, with steel blue, "merry, searching eyes" and a "wolfish" grin, Dean Acheson was an unforgettable character--intellectually brilliant, always debonair, and tough as tempered steel. This lustrous portrait of an immensely accomplished and colorful life is the epitome of the biographer's art.


In the immediate aftermath of World War II, leaders of the victors had little sense of where they now stood. At first, it was unclear if new quarrels among the allies were transitory or the first round of a new conflict. It became clear soon enough. With the United States armed with nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union about to develop its own, with European empires crumbling and sharp disputes erupting in Iran, Greece, and Germany, tensions between east and west worsened. By 1950, armies again fired on one another, in Asia, thousands of miles from Washington and Moscow. the cold war was well under way, to last nearly a half century.

Some of the most significant milestones of the cold war occurred while Harry S Truman was president. Even many of his greatest admirers considered him an ordinary man, a true John Q. Citizen, but in scholars' rankings of presidents, he typically stands behind only Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. Underlying Truman's rating is admiration for the palpable courage with which he made some of the most important decisions in American history. He might have been less honored had he served in easier times, but he did not, and his large decisions tumbled one after another from the desk displaying the little sign saying, "The buck stops here."

Dean G. Acheson was far from ordinary. As one of his law partners put it, he was "the shiniest fish that ever came out of the sea," uniting a pungent personality to a mind so keen his opponents scurried from its sweep. a slower and less forceful man would almost certainly have made a lesser record than Acheson . . .

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