July 01, 2016

Mr. Smith Comes to Montpelier



Early in my Russian studies adventure, I was fortunate to hear one of my intellectual heroes, George Kennan, speak in person. He packed the Iowa church where he had come to speak, and I surreptitiously snapped a photo of him from the pews; it hung in my office for many years.

I admired Kennan not just for his years of diplomatic service and his seminal historical writings, but because he insisted on taking the long view, of understanding Russia in the context of its history and as it sees itself. He had disavowed his early-career advocacy for containment (saying he had been misunderstood as Mr. X), and was, in opposition to the Manichean conventional wisdom of the Cold War, arguing for a more nuanced, multi-faceted engagement with the Soviet Union.

This spring I had the opportunity to meet another of my intellectual heroes, Hedrick Smith. As many Americans, I was first exposed to Russia in depth through his book The Russians. The book excited me with a desire to learn more about Russia, to tackle the language, and to do the sort of journalism found in his book.


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