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8 books offer tips on diplomatic history

By Cody Carlson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2013 6:45 p.m. MST

• David King's 2008 book “Vienna, 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War and Peace at the Congress of Vienna” (Broadway, $15.95) is a highly readable look at the conference that tried to put Europe back together again after 20 years of chaos from the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. As entertaining as it is enlightening, King's book stars a gallery of royal figures and diplomatic titans. Though this book explores many of those figures intimately, King's presentation of the Austrian foreign minister, Klemens von Metternich, is both majestic and touching. Metternich spent his days fighting for a new conservative order in Europe, even as he spent his nights pining for the beautiful Duchess of Sagan. This is very good diplomatic history with a touch of historical soap opera thrown in.

• The diplomatic crisis surrounding the creation of the Berlin Wall is the basis for Frederick Kempe's 2011 book, “Berlin, 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” (Berkley Publishing, $29.95). Kempe shows the young U.S. President John F. Kennedy as he went from misstep to misstep during his first year in office. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev proved to be by far the more able statesman that year as he defiantly allowed the East Germans to erect a wall in the heart of Berlin. Kempe brilliantly writes about the subtle diplomatic language that the two world leaders communicated in that fateful summer, and the intense, closed-door policy sessions in Washington and Moscow that could easily have led to a nuclear war a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kempe also adds smaller human stories about the Germans who had to live with the consequences of the leaders' decisions.

• Classicist Donald Kagan wrote the deeply insightful 1995 work “On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace” (Anchor Books, $15.95), which looks at several periods throughout history where war could have been avoided. The wars he explores are the Peloponnesian War of ancient Greece, Rome's Second Punic War, and both world wars. Each episode examines not the military outbreak of the war, but the diplomatic failures, often miscommunications, that led to conflict. Kagan expertly demonstrates that all peace must be preserved from a position of military strength, and that the failure to maintain such strength, or the unwillingness to use it, are the chief causes of war throughout history. It is an important lesson leaders would do well to remember today. Kagan also includes a look at the Cuban Missiles Crisis, a diplomatic episode that could easily have descended into nuclear war, but where diplomacy ultimately prevailed.

• Finally, no list of great books on diplomatic history would be complete without Henry Kissinger's magisterial 1994 book, “Diplomacy” (Simon and Schuster, $23). The former U.S. secretary of state traces major diplomatic episodes from the 19th through the 20th centuries, including his own efforts in the field of foreign policy. The Congress of Vienna, the Paris Peace Conference, Kissinger's role in ending the Vietnam War, and many other critical events in world history are considered here, making for some truly interesting reading. Kissinger argues that nations often swing back and forth between a foreign policy that is idealistic and one that serves its own interests, though the two, he notes, are not always mutually exclusive. Regardless of what one thinks of Kissinger's own role in wold history, his intelligence and theoretical approach to diplomatic problems is nothing short of fascinating.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com

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