cover image Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century

Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century

George Packer. Knopf, $30 (609p) ISBN 978-0-307-95802-0

A brilliant, abrasive diplomat struggles to resolve foreign conflicts while fighting bureaucratic wars at home in this scintillating biography. New Yorker writer Packer (The Unwinding) follows Holbrooke’s State Department career from his start in the American “pacification” program during the Vietnam War, through his star turn negotiating the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia, to his fruitless efforts under the Obama administration to start peace talks in Afghanistan. As nerve-wracking as his negotiations, in Packer’s telling, was Holbrooke’s struggle to rise in America’s foreign-policy establishment: he stalked and schmoozed everyone who could further his career, sometimes ambushing them in the men’s room, while waging cutthroat turf battles against rivals. Drawing on Holbrooke’s fascinating diaries and his own memories of the man, Packer makes him a Shakespearean character—egomaniacal, devious, sloppy enough to make presidents deny him the prize of becoming secretary of state, yet charismatic and inspiring—in a larger-than-life portrait brimming with vivid novelistic impressions. (Holbrooke’s voice was “always doing something to you, cajoling, flattering, bullying, seducing, needling, analyzing, one-upping you—applying continuous pressure like a strong underwater current.”) In Holbrooke’s thwarted ambitions, Packer finds both a riveting tale of diplomatic adventure—part high drama, part low pettiness—and a captivating metaphor for America’s waning power. Photos. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Jericho. (May)