You Never Knew You Needed a Book on Richard Holbrooke, but Goddamn Is It Good

George Packer’s new book chronicles the life of an American foreign policy giant

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Longtime US diplomat Richard Holbrooke was many things: US ambassador to Germany, an author, assistant secretary of state, and a womanizing, social-climbing jerk. While the larger-than-life statesman saw “power the way an artist sees color,” as one former military leader put it in 2009—the year before Holbrooke died at 69—another former colleague described him as the “diplomatic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb,” leaving few survivors after being deployed.

Mother Jones’ Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery sat down at City Arts and Lectures in San Francisco in May with award-winning journalist George Packer from The Atlantic to discuss the life and career of Holbrooke, whose professional trajectory extended from Vietnam to Afghanistan, and whose greatest triumph was negotiating something resembling peace in Yugoslavia’s long and bloody war. 

Packer’s new book, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, about this American foreign policy giant, paints a portrait of a historical figure who wrestled with egotism and idealism throughout his storied career. 

“If you’re above him he’s going to flatter you, if you’re below him he’s probably going to mentor you in a pretty rough way,” Packer said of Holbrooke’s viperous personality.But if you’re at his level he’s going to have to kill you because you might kill him.”

Holbrooke came to define, for all of his flaws, a type of American power abroad that is now in short supply. His story is particularly timely, as President Donald Trump’s administration drags the country even further into isolationism and nativism, alienating allies and praising dictators. 

“Everything Trump does is the opposite of what Holbrooke would do,” said Packer. “It’s a way to predict what Trump will do by asking yourself: ‘Would Holbrooke do this?'”

Listen to Clara Jeffery interview George Packer on the latest episode of the Mother Jones Podcast below: 

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate