Our Man

Our Man

Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century

Book - 2019
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"From the award-winning author of The Unwinding--the vividly told saga of the ambition, idealism, and hubris of one of the most legendary and complicated figures in recent American history, set amid the rise and fall of U.S. power from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke was brilliant, wholly self-absorbed, and possessed of almost inhuman energy and appetites. Admired and detested, he was the force behind the Dayton Accords that ended the Balkan wars, America's greatest diplomatic achievement in the post-Cold War era. His power lay in an utter belief in himself and his idea of a muscular, generous foreign policy. From his days as a young adviser in Vietnam to his last efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, Holbrooke embodied the postwar American impulse to take the lead on the global stage. But his sharp elbows and tireless self-promotion ensured that he never rose to the highest levels in government that he so desperately coveted. His story is thus the story of America during its era of supremacy: its strength, drive, and sense of possibility, as well as its penchant for overreach and heedless self-confidence. In Our Man, drawn from Holbrooke's diaries and papers, we are given a nonfiction narrative that is both intimate and epic in its revelatory portrait of this extraordinary and deeply flawed man, and the elite spheres of society and government he inhabited"--Jacket.
Publisher: New York :, Alfred A. Knopf,, 2019
Edition: First edition
Description: 592 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9780307958020
0307958027
Branch Call Number: 327.730092 Hol
Additional Contributors: Packer, George, 1960- Our man

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rlbeekman
Sep 23, 2020

In OUR MAN, George Packer gives a thoroughly engrossing account of the life of Richard Holbrooke, one of the most consequential American diplomatic careers of the 20th century. Holbrooke was an idealistic, insightful, and persuasive figure -- so driven to emulate his heroes -- Marshall, Kennan, Acheson, Harriman, Clifford -- as to seem indefatigable and overwhelming -- but also at times unbearable. Big in physical stature, in personality, and in personal impression, he was also big -- almost to the point of psychological enormity -- in ambition and egoism.

Although its subtitle is "Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century," Packer keeps the book closely focused on Holbrooke's career rather than the arc of the last half of "the American Century" itself from 1960 to 2010. Wars and how to end them -- Vietnam, the Bosnian war, Iraq, Afghanistan -- were the matter of this epic career. Holbrooke also had special sympathy for refugees from those wars, particularly the Hmong of Indochina. He will have a permanent place in the history books for negotiating the Dayton Accords in 1995, to put an end to the ​3 1⁄2-year-long Bosnian War, one of the Yugoslav Wars.

Packer thinks Holbrooke's patent ambition got him noticed, drew continuing attention, and helped him rise. But he also thinks it earned Holbrooke the distaste and distrust of some whose faith and favor he needed (e.g., Obama) and even the enmity of some he betrayed (e.g., by an affair with the wife of his best friend, Anthony Lake). So his ambition both propelled his rise and also caused his failure to reach the top (the office of Secretary of State) that he coveted and perhaps deserved.

Despite his admiration for this larger-than-life figure, Packer has not written a whitewash or a hagiography of Holbrooke. He is quite blunt about some of Holbrooke's moments of dishonesty and crassness and his ever-present egoism. In particular, he spends many pages on Holbrooke's self-glorifying false account of the terrible Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) rollover on the Mt. Igman road to Sarajevo in 1995, which killed three of his aides. Even so, Packer soft pedals Holbrooke's critical suppression or misrepresentation of his actual views on Vietnam, on Iraq, and on Afghanistan -- in order to "stay in the game" and "in the running" with the presidential administration in each case.

Packer tells this story with a page turning elan. For the sake of an informal familiarity, he has also strangely adopted the less convincing artifice of using the narrative viewpoint of a close personal friend of Holbrooke -- even for recounting the years before Packer met Holbrooke.

A major drawback is the lack of any topical index.

f
farm36girl
Apr 04, 2020

This very lively book offers a fascinating window onto the way personality influences foreign policy. Packer combines personal detail with extensive sketches of the hot spots in the last half of the 20th century to produce an entertaining and informative book. I found some of the history of Vietnam, the Balkans and Afghanistan too lengthy and skipped over it, but it's there for anyone who wants to know why these wars happened.

l
lukasevansherman
Jan 12, 2020

Contrary to the comment by the always lucid and insightful "StarGladiator" (see below), I do no think this a fawning account of the diplomat Richard Holbrooke. George Packer ("The Unwinding," "The New Yorker") admires his drive and ambition but is upfront about his arrogance, difficult personality, and womanizing. It's both a biography and a look at the foregin service, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. While Holbrooke never achieved the position of Secretary of State, his biggest achievement was the Dayton Accords, which brought the brutal, genocidal wars in the Balkans to a close. If there's a fault, it's that there is much better, more focused 300 page book stuck in this 550 page book. And Packer occasionally adopts a jaunty first person voice that is rather irritating. Regardless, it's an often absorbing look at decades of American foreign policy, much of it misguided.

npr.org/2019/05/08/721529499/our-man-provides-an-inside-look-at-the-life-of-richard-holbrooke

m
mtipping
Jul 31, 2019

I wasn't able to finish, really interesting and would like to give it another try. Very dense and full of info

m
mmyaqub
Jul 12, 2019

A novelistic portrait of one America's most ambitious, relentless diplomats -- a larger-than-life character at the very center of some of post-WII America's greatest foreign policy quagmires (Vietnam, Bosnia, Afghanistan). Hardly a hagiography, Packer renders Holbrooke's life and character in its full unvarnished complexity. The section on the Balkan Wars alone is absolutely riveting.

g
GummiGirl
Jun 11, 2019

Fascinating. Holbrooke dreamed of being a Great Man but his obvious ego held him back. His nearly 50-year career sheds a light on American politics, several presidents, and indirectly on our country's entire power structure.

s
StarGladiator
Apr 25, 2019

I fully admit I only skimmed this book at the book store, but it is sooo obviously a fanboi production: Holbrooke a brilliant, incredible diplomat? Try a careerist yes man of submediocre skills at best.
Let's review his early career: graduated from Columbia University with mediocre [if that] grades in a journalism major, unable to obtain employment at any newspaper. Tried and failed to enter the Dept. of State's Foreign Service --- flunked the exam. Tried and filed to get into US Army OCS --- flunked the exam. Family connections to Dean Rusk got him hired as a nepotistic hire at State - - but certainly do not agree with author's assessments of Holbrooke's achievements.
Although his final achievement was notable: a director at AIG when they sold $480 billion worth of credit default swaps [potential payout valued at betwee $20 trillion to $40 trillion, which they nor anyone else had on hand, of course], leading the financial crisis of 2008.
[Fake news and fake history, anyone????]

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