Read Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World by James Chace Online


"Acheson" is the first complete biography of the most important and controversial secretary of state of the twentieth century. More than any other of the renowned "Wise Men" who together proposed our vision of the world in the aftermath of World War II, Dean Acheson was the quintessential man of action. Drawing on Acheson family diaries and letters as well as recent revela"Acheson" is the first complete biography of the most important and controversial secretary of state of the twentieth century. More than any other of the renowned "Wise Men" who together proposed our vision of the world in the aftermath of World War II, Dean Acheson was the quintessential man of action. Drawing on Acheson family diaries and letters as well as recent revelations from Russian and Chinese archives, historian James Chace traces Acheson's remarkable life, from his days as a schoolboy at Groton and his carefree life at Yale to his work for President Franklin Roosevelt on international financial policy and his unique partnership with President Truman.Acheson was a housemate of Cole Porter's at Harvard Law School, a protege of Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter's, a friend of poet Archibald MacLeish's, a key adviser to General George Marshall, and a confidant of Winston Churchill's. Serving as Truman's secretary of state from 1949 to 1953, he was indeed "present at the creation", as he entitled his memoirs. More than any other of Truman's powerful and glamorous advisers, Acheson conceived the shape of the postwar world and mastered the policies that ensured its birth and endurance. He was the driving force behind the Truman Doctrine to contain the Soviet Union's expansionist ambitions; the Marshall Plan to rebuild the shattered economies of Europe; and NATO, the military alliance that would bind Western Europe and the United States and keep the Soviet Union firmly behind the Iron Curtain until it collapsed.Chace corrects many misconceptions about Acheson's role in the Cold War. Acheson was not one of the original Cold Warriors. In 1945, willing to acknowledge Soviet concerns about its security, Acheson worked closely with Secretary of War Henry Stimson on a plan to share America's scientific information about atomic energy with Moscow in order to avert an arms race. It was only when Moscow made threatening demands on Turkey for bases in the Dardanelles that Acheson hardened his views toward the Soviet Union. Acheson's initial approach toward Communist China was similarly nonideological. He had little sympathy for Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists on Taiwan and, until the outbreak of the Korean War, held out hope that the United States would soon recognize Mao Zedong's regime as the legitimate government of China. Acheson's early pragmatism toward Moscow and Beijing, and his refusal to denounce Alger Hiss, a State Department colleague accused of being a Communist, earned him the enmity of the McCarthyites, who accused Acheson of having "lost" China and of sabotaging General Douglas MacArthur in Korea.Later, Acheson encouraged President Kennedy to stand firm against the Soviets in the Berlin Wall and Cuban missile crises. He headed a group of elder statesmen who advised President Johnson on the Vietnam War. When Acheson turned against the war, Johnson realized that domestic support for his policy had crumbled."Acheson" is a masterful biography of a great statesman whose policies won the Cold War. It is also an important and dramatic work of history chronicling the momentous decisions, events, and fascinating personalities of the most critical decades of the American Century....

Title : Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World
Author :
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ISBN : 9780684808437
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 512 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World Reviews

  • Jon
    2019-02-14 06:51

    A fine book. Chace does many things well. His biography of Acheson accomplishes all the essentials that a book of this kind must. The read itself is fluent, relaxing, and contains many worthwhile anecdotes that revive the story, and aphorisms that ennoble it. There are however some important errors that make the Acheson's biography something less than it could have been. Permit me space to say something about both.Chace's style is dignified and steady. His story of Acheson unfurls in the traditional manner in which biography is done. The book follows the life of Acheson in chronologic progression. Chapters are divided by theme; and chapter sections are divided by the signal events that the theme composed.What Chace is best at is creating context around his characters, and including in his narrative the life of other eminent men to paint a scene, rather than just a man. In consequence we get a wide and rich assortment of persons, from Felix Frankfurter, and George Kennan, across to Averell Harrimann; Ernest Bevin and Konrad Adenauer; as well as the Presidents themselves, Roosevelt, Truman, et al. The net effect is a very sophisticated portrayal of Acheson's life and policy-making habitat, which represents the several moving parts that it involved.Chace inserts into his story many wonderful quotes and anecdotes. I couldn't quote them all, though I made an effort to mark them. One from Brandeis when he was drafting his polemical dissent in a free speech case from WW1 "The whole purpose is to educate the country. We may be able to fill the people with shame, after the passion cools, by preserving some of it on the record. The only hope is the people; you cannot educate the Court." Or, in a discussion surround NSC-68 and the future implementation of containment strategy, there is a reference to Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers "the means employed must be proportioned to the extent of the mischief". These additions pepper the whole course of Chace's biography, and the cumulative effect is a healthy, stoic taste of classic political biography.There are however elements of Chace's style that leave something to be desired. None are so offensive that they ruin the book, or make enemies of the reader, but they are enough to keep Chace's effort from achieving greater heights of attainment. Instead of magnificent book, Chace's account is merely good.First is his aloof quality. Acheson, we are made to understand, is a very charismatic, dashing statesman. A kind of joie de vivre. Chace is devotes significant book resources to discussing Acheson's role in policy deliberation and implementation during his stint in government. What we are given far less of is Acheson the man himself. Some is said about his youth; his education; the hobbies that accompanied his life; his early career at law--but there is nothing beyond that. And what there is of that kind is meager. Near nothing is offered about Acheson and his non-professional acquaintances. It may be that Acheson was a one-dimensional figure only, and that he had no personality beyond what his career entailed and the superficialities of daily life. But even if that's so, which is doubtful, Chace does not say it. This book then keeps monomaniacal focus on Acheson the statesman, to the violent exclusion of all else.Second is Chace's disinterest in following Acheson to areas where he is less righteous, or has blundered. Chace only shines light on Acheson's successes. Failures are marginalized, or ignored entirely. I will elaborate.Chace all throughout champions Acheson's discerning sense for foreign policy. He gets it right with Lend Lease; he gets it right with the US need to enter WW2; he gets it right with creating post-WW2 financial institutions; he gets it right with how to approach the Russians on atomic information sharing; he gets it right with the post-War loans to Greece, Turkey, and Europe; and on and on. Chace can't sing enough songs about it. But when Acheson gets it wrong, such as with the UN, China, Korea, Chace has nothing to say. It's not that Acheson is a bumbler, and has been misrepresented; even great statesman are not inerrant. But Chace is intellectually uninterested in exploring such. Acheson, in this account, may only glitter. His opponents, political and policy, are given a tough hearing. Kennan probably the roughest. The result is that Chace has done a disservice to himself: he appears partial, even when he may be accurate.Third there is Chace's failure to chart Acheson's intellectual development fully. If this is to be a book about Acheson the statesman, then at least his maturation as a policy-maker should be explicated. And on some accounts he does. For example, Chace highlights the lessons Acheson gathered from observing the battles with Congress to get approval of foreign policies, and the need to enfranchise key members. His efforts to get funding for the Truman Doctrine are the crescendo of this. But Chace, again, is very partial in is his discussions. Early in his career Acheson resigns from government because of his qualms with Roosevelt's effort to administer the US currency without congressional assent. Acheson is a lawyer; and he will not truckle to expediency when it flies in the face of the law. But then there are a series of reverses. Most remarkably, Acheson's counsel to Truman that he does not need congressional approval for war in Korea. Whether Acheson's legal opinion is right, Chace's total omission of its discussion of Acheson's seeming volte-face is hard to fathom. It demands exploration, but Chace is apathetic.This is disappointing for the reader. Acheson is clearly not a man of plain, facile thoughts. There is complexity and tension that stirs within, but Chace does not engage it. Instead what he draws is a one-dimensional figure. It may be flattering to Acheson's the statesman, but it is not so to Acheson the man. Though the book is good, Acheson is worse for Chace's omission, and so are the readers.

  • Brian
    2019-02-04 02:56

    James Chace delivers another great biography of a pivotal figure after World War II in his look at Dean Acheson who served as Truman's Secretary of State and played a pivotal role in developing American foreign policy during the Cold War. When one refers to Cold War warriors the list has to include someone like Acheson whose belief that the Soviets would only respect those who stood up to them. This drove American foreign policy towards fighting in career, standing against aggression in Berlin and laying the groundwork for fights across the world. He would provide advice to Kennedy during the missile crisis as part of Ex-Com and even to Presidents LBJ and Nixon on various foreign policy initiatives. While he would travel all over the world his main area of focus was always Germany and Europe as one of the key developers of the Marshall Plan and the NATO alliance. This book also looks at Acheson's life and education through the elite schools of the northeast and how that affected his world view and drove those on the communist witch hunt to oppose him. Overall this weaves a fascinating story that is very detailed through some of the pivotal moments of the cold war. For those readers who are looking for new insights into the cold war you will not find them here but you will find an excellent look at how this Secretary of State shaped Cold War policy and conceptualized the Cold War through the realist lens. It is well done and interesting to read for those who are looking for another perspective on the Cold War.

  • Charles DiFazio
    2019-02-09 05:47

    Absolutely marvelous work wherein the author brings back to life and to memory the magnificent mind of this dedicated American Patriot, Dean Acheson. Wonderful to know how he worked withPresident Truman and was respected by the presidents who followed. This book highlights how Acheson was instrumental in so many war and post-war decisions that changed the history of the world.

  • Aaron Million
    2019-01-20 06:57

    Chace's portrait of Acheson is easily readable and provides a good sense of what Acheson thought of certain people and policies throughout his career. Acheson was a very able and successful lawyer who ended up working for/advising five Presidents (Roosevelt and Truman officially; Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon unofficially) and working with two others (Hoover and Eisenhower). This was in addition to clerking for two years for Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Obviously, the man had incredible talent and intelligence to be so useful to so many people at the highest level. He really was one of the main architects of the Containment policy that ultimately prevailed in the Cold War - although that is probably due as much to the USSR's internal collapse as anything that the West did. But Acheson was right on many things: Korea (he opposed - but not nearly strongly enough - MacArthur's push deep into North Korea), Vietnam (he originally agreed with Johnson's policies, but as soon as he was able to get the truth about what was going on, he counseled de-escalation and negotiation with the North Vietnamese), and recognizing communist China in the late 40s. Acheson had a prolific correspondence with Harry Truman in their retirement years, yet Chace barely touches on that. I found that disappointing. I did enjoy the part on Acheson's final decades outside of office, but wishes Chace would have also integrated Acheson's wife more into the story. Chace also makes a comment that Acheson was the most powerful Secretary of State in the 20th century. While I do think that Acheson was one of the greatest Secretaries of State, I think that Henry Kissinger was more powerful during his tenure. Also, I thought that Chace focused too much on policy matters at the expense of Acheson's personal life. As I mentioned earlier, from what we gather in the book, his wife did not seem to play a big role - but I doubt that was true. I would have liked to see more of Acheson the person, what he thought about other things beyond foreign policy, instead of so much about his disagreements with George Kennan and John Foster Dulles.

  • Walter Bowne
    2019-02-16 05:47

    I received this book for free from my library for participating in the summer reading program, and the book fit nicely into my love of history. I had heard about Dean Acheson, but this book more than supplied what I was missing in the behind-the-scenes political drama of the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. It's quite a time span. The information on post WWII was especially riveting, with the real politick with the Soviets, France, and England. I also learned quite a bit about the Korean War. What I didn't not get, of course, was much about his personal life. It's not that type of book. I've read biographies that are more gripping, like bios into the life of Churchill or Teddy Roosevelt, and this is not that type of book. Early, the reader delves into personality, but after that, it's mostly politics, politics, politics. After awhile, however, it dragged somewhat. I did like learning about his relations with the various presidents. He had a front row seat for most of the major events in the 20th century. I would love to know what he would think about the current state of affairs in the Middle East and Ukraine.

  • Michael
    2019-01-23 05:59

    An perfect companion to the "Wise Men." Drives home the point that the creation of the post-World War II architecture was not a linear process or necessarily inevitable. I suppose the next book to read should be a Truman biography, since Chase makes the point that the partnership and trust between Truman and Acheson were a key factor in both their achievements. The logical choice would be the McCullough biogrraphy, but I think I'll move on to a more modern era with the George Shultz memoir and then circle back for David McCullough's "Truman." It's another long book, and I would rather look at a different period of history, since I would likely take several months to finish it.

  • Jay Atwood
    2019-01-25 07:54

    One of the better political biographies I've read. The reader really gets a sense of who the man was both in office and out. The only complaint I have is not really a complaint so much as a desire for another book. I get the sense that Chase could devote another thousand pages solely to the minutia of Acheson's tenure as Secretary of State, arguably the most important few years of the 20th Century.

  • Matt
    2019-02-16 23:58

    Wow, this guy really DID help create the American world! As Secretary of State, and even after, he made the policies that helped make America the dominant nation of the 20th century. Wish he was around to help out in the 21st...

  • James Igoe
    2019-01-20 06:31

    I found the biography rewarding primarily for the examination of the character of Acheson. Although the book was well-written, my greatest pleasure came from reading the details behind such a powerful and successful man, and I felt I shared many of the qualities of what was once greatness.

  • Lee
    2019-02-09 01:38


  • Shawna
    2019-01-24 06:53

    A good book but more about politics than Acheson. Not as personal as I would have liked.

  • Kirk Bower
    2019-02-11 03:31

    Great book. Very historical but written almost like a novel. Very thorough account of a key player in the beginnings of the cold war