Picks and Pans Review: Kissinger: a Biography

UPDATED 09/28/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/28/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Walter Isaacson

This immense, intriguing biography of the former Secretary of State shrewdly analyzes the forces that shaped the man and the man who forcefully shaped American foreign policy in the late '60s and early '70s. It follows Kissinger's impressive ascent, from his traumatic boyhood growing up Jewish in Nazi Germany through his teaching days at Harvard to his years in government and, finally, to his current career as a high-priced, top secret troubleshooter for big business.

Although written with Kissinger's cooperation—he gave the author more than two dozen interviews as well as access to private papers—the book is unauthorized. Isaacson, an assistant managing editor of TIME, paints a complex portrait of a brilliant, dedicated diplomat who, as a result of his difficult childhood, was secretive, manipulative and obsequious. "Kissinger's need to impress prominent people," Isaacson observes wryly, "was only surpassed by his ability to do so."

No stone is left unturned in Kissinger's intricate political life, from his infighting with Alexander Haig to his often tense relationship with President Nixon (Isaacson says Nixon suggested that Kissinger see a psychiatrist).

Kissinger's private life remains shadowy, however. Isaacson dutifully reels off the unlikely sex symbol's famous dates (including Jill St. John, Shirley MacLaine, Candice Bergen and Diane Sawyer) but reveals little about Kissinger's two marriages or his relationships with his two now adult children. No matter. Even without intimate details, the man who coined the phrase "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac" comes through loud and clear. (Simon & Schuster. $30)

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