Cold War makes for hot topic

Paxton Thomes

A biographer chronicling the life of a central Cold War policy maker received a Pulitzer Prize this year for his literary work.

John Lewis Gaddis, a UT 1968 alumnus and Yale professor, received the Pulitzer Prize for biography for his novel “George F. Kennan: An American Life.”

“I think that it is important for any major figure to have a biography,” Gaddis said. “This by no means has been the first biography on Kennan, but it was the only one to receive such cooperation from the subject.”

Kennan died at the age of 101 in 2005, and Gaddis had been conducting interviews with Kennan and working on the biography for about 30 years.

“It always helps to talk with people who you are writing about,” Gaddis said. “Certainly, it helps to get to know the people, and the ideal situation is working with someone who is still alive.”

Gaddis said he was surprised with how well the book was received and all the recognition it has gathered.

“It was an authorized biography,” Gaddis said. “[Kennan] choose me to work on it because I published a couple of books on the Cold War by the time I got to know him.”

History professor Mark Lawrence said Keenan is important because he was the first to articulate the strategy of containment, which was the cornerstone of security policy in the U.S. that lasted beyond the Cold War.

“One of the reasons he is such a great biographical subject is after about 1950 he became more of a critic of the policy,” Lawrence said.

Professor Jeremi Suri uses Gaddis’ book in his Strategy and Decision Making in Global Policy course and said the book was a well-researched and well-written biography by a scholar who studied the period extensively.

“I think his story is important because it shows how individuals can make a difference without holding a political office,” Suri said.