Our Man by George Packer [9/10]

Magnificence! In a bio of a government official, of all things! George Packer makes “Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century” sing, not only by digging deep into the talented, charismatic, driven, alienating Holbrooke’s professional and private life, but with an idiosyncratic “voice in your ear” style that constantly blew me away. Richard Holbrooke came of age in the miasma of America’s years of failure in Vietnam and soared to his highest heights amidst the Balkan atrocity years. He ached to be Secretary of State but never got there, partly due to character defects that the reader forgives because Packer persuades us they underpinned his U.S.-centered morality. The author burrows in, not hesitating, for example, to quote entire chapters from Holbrooke’s own diaries or letters. After the “golden age” of American internationalism following World War II, spearheaded by Holbrooke’s heroes such as Dean Acheson, came Holbrooke’s time of haphazard, if sometimes well-meant global tinkering, and “Our Man” is a rare window into it. In these years of Trumpian geopolitical idiocy, the book also serves as both nostalgia and corrective. You might not have heard of Richard Holbrooke but for your own sake and for the sake of history, read this scintillating biography.

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