What the Editors Are Reading: December 2020

Richard Holbrooke was the most shameless self-promoter in Washington D.C., a town that specialized in self-promotion, as George Packer writes in Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century. He was a social climber par excellence, a sycophant who embarrassed Barack Obama with his flattery to such an extent that he was banned from the Oval Office, and a maniacally hard worker whose heart literally exploded with a ruptured aorta in Hillary Clinton’s office while she was Secretary of State.

Holbrooke was also a slob who would take off his shoes and place his enormous, sweaty feet on one’s desk, and who competed with his son to see who could pass more wind in front of others. He was a Jew who attempted to pass as a Christian until cooler heads prevailed on him that his dissemblance would hurt his career. He was treacherous when it came to women, pleading with the wife of his best friend to run off with him while he was also very much married. He was an absent father whose idea of a perfect evening was one spent with Pamela Harriman, a woman whose closest collaborators admitted “she cared only about money and men who could provide it.”

“Our Man” was probably the most ambitious character I have ever read about, and ambition seen up close is a very ugly thing. Yet, despite being such a monster, Holbrooke saw geopolitical situations clearly as a diplomat in Vietnam and Afghanistan....

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