Inside the Mind of George F. Kennan

The wisest of the wise men.

Issue: March-April 2014

George F. Kennan, ed. Frank Costigliola, The Kennan Diaries (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 768 pp., $39.95.

A FRIEND RECENTLY described me in an email as “irascible.” She meant it in an offhanded, affectionate sort of way—but I have to admit that her choice of adjective gave me a chill. Could it be that, unnoticed to myself, I had slipped into the ranks of the most tiresome group of people in the United States? I refer, of course, to the Grumpy Old White Guys. You know the type. They’re the ones who corner you at a party to complain about the use of Spanish in official announcements on the bus, or cut you off in the supermarket parking lot to compensate for early retirement-induced rage. Their public mascot is John McCain, that walking tantrum-in-waiting—but that doesn’t mean that all of them are conservative. To the contrary: you can also find plenty of crabby old liberals out there, griping about the collapse of manufacturing or the hopeless egotism of today’s materialist youth. (I’m actually pretty sure that cantankerous boomers represent a core demographic for Rolling Stone andthe New Yorker.) It’s gotten to the point where I automatically steer a wide berth around any portly, bearded over-sixty wearing glasses on a lanyard.

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