Christopher Serpell

Christopher Serpell was formerly foreign and diplomatic correspondent of the BBC.

Kissinger’s Crises

Christopher Serpell, 20 December 1979

In spite of its length – 1,476 pages of text, concerning only the first four years of Dr Kissinger’s life inside US government – and the immensely detailed coverage of events which that length implies, The White House Years is hard to lay aside. This quality of readability will come as a surprise to those who have tackled the turgid prose of some of Dr Kissinger’s earlier works, which combined the worst excesses of the American academic style with an uncertain approach to the English language. These defects provided an almost impenetrable disguise for the personality of a man who has now revealed himself to be not only an intelligent interpreter of events but also humorous and sympathetic, and an excellent raconteur. It is possible that Dr Kissinger has found more fulfilment as a reporter of events than as a theoretician; it is also possible that the years of attempting to write confidential briefs which would make those events intelligible to the mind of President Nixon have been a valuable discipline. But at least part of the explanation for this metamorphosis from professorial exposition to lucid narration lies in a sentence found in the foreword to the present book: ‘Harold Evans, assisted by Oscar Turnill, read through the entire volume with a brilliant editorial eye; they taught me what skilled and intelligent editing can contribute to organisation and to lightening prose.’

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