Our Man

Our Man

Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century

Large Print - 2019
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*Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography*
*Winner of the Los Angeles Times Prize for Biography*
*Winner of the 2019 Hitchens Prize*

"Portrays Holbrooke in all of his endearing and exasperating self-willed glory...Both a sweeping diplomatic history and a Shakespearean tragicomedy... If you could read one book to comprehend American's foreign policy and its quixotic forays into quicksands over the past 50 years, this would be it."--Walter Isaacson, The New York Times Book Review

"By the end of the second page, maybe the third, you will be hooked...There never was a diplomat-activist quite like [Holbrooke], and there seldom has been a book quite like this -- sweeping and sentimental, beguiling and brutal, catty and critical, much like the man himself."--David M. Shribman, The Boston Globe

Richard Holbrooke was brilliant, utterly 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.
Publisher: [New York] : Random House Large Print, [2019]
Edition: First large print edition
ISBN: 9781984883278
Call Number: LARGE PRINT B H6963p 2019b
Characteristics: 880 pages (large print) : illustrations ; 24 cm
large print,rda


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Dec 04, 2020

A very well written book about a very narcissistic, egotistic and self-centered man whose ambition from his early youth was to join the state department and to ultimately be the Secretary of State. He never attained his main objective although he did serve in the governments of four Democratic American Presidents, in ambassadorial positions, through the state department. He was so certain of his correctness on the regions of the world that he was assigned to, that he alienated other people that disagreed with him. He had few close friends, because many of his former associates and friends became his enemies based on his tunnel vision and his overbearing, highhanded approach. He was married three times, but constantly cheated on each of his wives. He had no connections to his children, his brother or his mother. Everything was about himself, his ambition and his place in history. I did not like Richard Holbrooke when he was in government and knowing more about him through this impressive biography I dislike him even more. His writings indicate that he thought he was trying to help the peoples of the warring countries he was assigned to, but I don't think that his efforts helped the Vietnamese or the Afghan peoples. His biggest accomplishment was the Dayton accords in the fighting in the Balkans, but whether any of his efforts really helped the people of these regions, or whether it was to promote his standing in Washington and the eyes of the world.

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.

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.

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.


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

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.

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.

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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