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

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones 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: 

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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