Jon Wiener picks his five worst political books of 2011
...George F. Kennan by John Lewis Gaddis
Yes this massive authorized bio landed on many year-end “best” lists, but most reviewers didn’t know much about Kennan beyond his authorship of the containment doctrine at the dawn of the Cold War. The problem with this book: it minimizes Kennan’s 40 years of criticism of the Cold War. “Containment,” he said, should have focused on economic and political competition with the Soviets, rather than on a military arms race. Gaddis portrays the older Kennan as morose and self-absorbed, but barely mentions Kennan’s opposition to the Vietnam War, his endorsement of Gene McCarthy for president in 1968, and his last political statement, in 2002, at age 98, criticizing George W. Bush’s plans for a war with Iraq. Perhaps relevant in explaining these gaps: George W. Bush awarded Gaddis the National Humanities Medal in 2005 in a ceremony at the White House. For a critique of the book, see Frank Costigliola in the New York Review, here.
Area 51 by Annie Jacobsen
Jacobsen makes the intriguing argument that the Air Force welcomed the alien abduction stories about Nevada’s Area 51 as a cover for what was actually going on there: testing of secret aircraft. But supersonic jets are kind of a letdown compared to little green men, so the book goes on to make a ridiculous argument: the “aliens” witnesses thought they saw at that plane crash in Roswell, NM, in 1947 were actually Russian mutants, surgically altered by Josef Mengele – who, she says, had gone to work for Stalin, who sent the mutants in a Soviet “flying saucer” to New Mexico. (Never mind that the little green men were probably Air Force crash test dummies, and that Mengele hated the Soviets and escaped to South America after the war.) For a thorough demolition of the book, see Robert S. Norris and Jeffrey T. Richelson, “Dreamland Fantasies,” here....
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