A fascinating, behind-the-scenes history of postwar Washington—a rich and colorful portrait of the close-knit group of journalists, spies, and government officials who waged the Cold War over cocktails and dinner.
In the years after World War II, Georgetown’s leafy streets were home to an unlikely group of Cold Warriors: a coterie of affluent, well-educated, and connected civilians who helped steer American strategy from the Marshall Plan through McCarthyism, Watergate, and the endgame of Vietnam. The Georgetown set included Phil and Kay Graham, husband-and-wife publishers of The Washington Post; Joe and Stewart Alsop, odd-couple brothers who were among the country’s premier political pundits; Frank Wisner, a driven, manic-depressive lawyer in charge of CIA covert operations; and a host of other diplomats, spies, and scholars responsible for crafting America’s response to the Soviet Union from Truman to Reagan.
This was a smaller, cozier Washington—utterly unlike today’s capital—where presidents made foreign policy in consultation with reporters and professors over martinis and hors d’oeuvres, and columnists like the Alsops promoted those policies in the next day’s newspapers. Together, they navigated the perilous years of the Cold War, yielding triumphs—and tragedies—with very real consequences for present-day America and the world.
Gregg Herken captures their successes and failures and gives us intimate portraits of these dedicated and talented, if deeply flawed, individuals. Throughout, he illuminates the drama of those years, bringing this remarkable roster of men and women and their world not only out into the open but vividly to life.
About Gregg Herken
Gregg Herken is professor emeritus of modern American diplomatic history at the University of California and the author of Brotherhood of the Bomb, Cardinal Choices, Counsels of War, and The Winning Weapon. He and his family live in Santa Cruz, California.
Praise for Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington
“It’s the great gossip text and comedy of manners anatomizing the darkest of Cold War intrigue. Noel Coward meets John le Carre and Graham Greene, cross-bred with Robert Ludlum. A triumph!”
“Herken . . . goes into exacting detail in this excellent account, which focuses on the players themselves—their backgrounds, relationships, rivalries, scandals, and opinions on the policies and the events that defined the era . . . Herken covers, among a host of post-WWII milestones, the Marshall Plan, the Truman Doctrine, the founding of the CIA, McCarthyism, the Korean War, Vietnam, and Watergate. The skill with which he describes the players in Georgetown is not to be missed.”
--Publisher’s Weekly (starred)
"Herken takes a rather clever idea promising titillating gossip among neighbors Joseph Alsop, Phil Graham and John F. Kennedy during the 1950s and '60s and amplifies it into a spiraling delineation of the official American response to the perceived Soviet threat . . . Herken helps guide readers through the intimate murk of espionage detail, moving from events in North Korea to Berlin to Cuba . . . An intricate study of the personalities that shaped U.S. Cold War policy."
"Greg Herken has written the hidden history of our foreign policy under Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon, at a time when those who made policy met those who wrote about policy in the living rooms of Georgetown. Herken had the patience to wait until the files were opened. His book is admirably researched and written."
--Ted Morgan, author of Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America
"The past really is another country. Gregg Herken's intriguing volume is a passport that enables us to visit the vanished country of Georgetown during the Cold War. There the braided political and social networks of a small cohort made, and reported, history."
--George F. Will
"Gregg Herken has diligently brought the old Eastern Establishment back to life in his The Georgetown Set. A whole host of luminaries - Joseph Alsop, Dean Acheson, Paul Nitze, Phil and Kay Graham among them - make grand appearances in this group biography. Herken has connected the dots between these so-called ‘Wise Men of the 20th Century’ better than anybody else. An absolutely wonderful read!"
--Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite.
"An absolutely fascinating look into a world that has long remained half-hidden but was at the center of America's post-war global supremacy. This book was waiting to be written, and Gregg Herken delivers with insight and panache."
--Evan Thomas, author of The Very Best Men: The Early Years of the CIA and Ike's Bluff
"Highly entertaining and meticulously researched, The Georgetown Set tells the story of the Cold War through the eyes of closely-knit group of friends who formed America’s foreign policy elite. Gregg Herken provides superb character studies of the brilliant, but occasionally, tortured politicians, journalists, diplomats and spies who populated the salons of Georgetown during the climactic years of the American Century. He describes their triumphs and disasters, love affairs and petty jealousies, strengths and foibles, with great skill and empathy. More than just a history book, this is the portrait of a vanished era."
--Michael Dobbs, author of One Minute to Midnight
"There was a time, now passing from memory, when a small group of men and women in a leafy neighborhood of Washington thought they ran the world. They weren’t far wrong. Gregg Herken astutely and entertainingly recreates their circle, with all its idiosyncrasies, ambition and influence. Read it and weep, modern Georgetown!"
--HW Brands, author of The First American and The Man Who Saved the Union
"Gregg Herken has written a compelling history of one of the big American stories of the last sixty years – how a WASP band of brothers led the United States to triumph in the Cold War and tragedy in Vietnam. They deserve, and in The Georgetown Set they get, full credit for both."
--Thomas Powers, author of The Killing of Crazy Horse