Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created the American World

Chace, James

Published by Harvard University Press
ISBN 10: 0674000811 / ISBN 13: 9780674000810
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Acheson is the first comprehensive biography of the most important and controversial secretary of state of the twentieth century. More than any other of the renowned "Wise Men" who shaped America's vision of the world in the aftermath of World War II, Dean Acheson was the quintessential man of action, the driving force behind the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and NATO. James Chace has given us an important and dramatic work of history chronicling the momentous decisions, events, and fascinating personalities of the most critical decades of the American Century.

Review: World Policy Journal editor James Chace has produced a balanced, intricate portrait of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, one of the chief architects of America's foreign policy in the mid-20th century. Starting with Acheson's childhood as a preacher's son in Connecticut, Chace traces his subject's rise through Yale and Harvard Law School (where he shared a house with several classmates, including a pre-Broadway Cole Porter), a two-year stint as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis's law clerk, and key roles in the Departments of Treasury and State under FDR.

But it was Harry Truman who, upon being reelected in 1948, rewarded Acheson with the offer of secretary of state, a position he took with some initial reluctance, protesting that he was not adequate to the requirements of the job at such a critical juncture in history. He proved himself wrong with his decisive role in the shaping of the Truman Doctrine and the NATO alliance, averting war with the Soviet bloc on the European front. But, as Chace shows, Acheson's efforts were not as effective in China and Korea. And there were domestic problems as well; Acheson and his department were a particular target of the anticommunist witch-hunt even before Sen. Joseph McCarthy got in on the act. Chace's richly detailed narrative is particularly effective in placing Acheson's marginal role in the Alger Hiss affair in its proper context while highlighting Acheson's personal integrity in the matter.

After 1953, Acheson remained an outspoken commentator on America's foreign policy, frequently criticizing Eisenhower's reliance on nuclear weaponry, and serving in an advisory capacity to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, the latter of whom took Acheson's advice to get out of Vietnam to heart. Acheson even had occasion to advise Richard Nixon, who had accused the secretary in 1952 of heading a "Cowardly College of Communist Containment," although he broke with Nixon after the president ordered the bombing of Cambodia. Chace's account of Acheson's life and career is as lively as it is intelligent, a well-crafted story that provides the reader with much insight into the unintended origins of the cold war. --Ron Hogan

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Title: Acheson: The Secretary of State Who Created ...
Publisher: Harvard University Press
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