Readers of this blog -- all one-and-a-half of them -- may recall that I earlier made some reference to Gaddis's biography of Kennan (and reported briefly on a talk that I heard Gaddis give about the book). Since then I have had a chance to half-read half-skim Kissinger's very long review of the book in the NYT Bk Rev (which contained some sonorous generalizations and, while saying admiring things about Kennan, argued that his effectiveness as policymaker/diplomat was undercut by his "innate perfectionism" [something no one would ever accuse Kissinger of, I think]).
I also printed out but never properly read Louis Menand's review of the book in The New Yorker (to which a commenter here had earlier taken exception).
Just now I ran across another, shorter review of the book at the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) blog (this review in turn references Kissinger's and Menand's reviews and also a review by Fred Kaplan in the NYT, which I haven't read). All this throat clearing is a preface to saying that the NBCC review, by Mary Ann Gwinn, opens this way:
The best biographies teach signal lessons about the mysteries of human nature. Here’s one of my favorites: even great men and women are to some degree, as we all are, at war with themselves.
George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis is the story of just such a conflicted man, an American diplomat who by turns inspired, exasperated and appalled his superiors, never held high office and hated the necessary insincerities of the diplomatic trade. And his brilliant strategizing arguably kept the Soviet Union and the United States from going to war with one another in the chaotic years after World War II, pulling the world back from the brink of nuclear destruction.
Did the containment doctrine really pull "the world back from the brink of nuclear destruction"? This seems to me dubious (to put it mildly). Gwinn apparently got this from Kaplan, who writes that Kennan's strategy, which (don't forget) was implemented in ways of which Kennan disapproved, "arguably prevented World War III." Well, "arguably" is a nice word. I use it myself quite a lot. But it may be cracking under the strain in this context.