The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost
The Grand Strategy of Charles Hill
By Molly Worthen
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618574674, 368pp.)
Publication Date: February 2006
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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A brilliant new voice lively and contrarianturns biography on its head in this remarkable story of a diplomat and his disciple.
As a college freshman, Molly Worthen wrote the words Charles Hill Is God” on the inside cover of her history and politics notebook. Hill was her professor, a former diplomat and behind-the-scenes operator who shaped American foreign policy in his forty-year career as an adviser to Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, among others. Hill’s Grand Strategy class (taught with John Lewis Gaddis and Paul Kennedy) developed a cult following at Yale, and Worthen soon found herself caught in his aura.
We’ve all had a teacher, at one time or another, who showed us the world, clarified our fuzzy thinking, and made us grow up. At Yale, Hill was worldly-wise and never afraid to tell students how to think or what to do. For a generation adrift, he proved irresistiblesometimes dangerously soand Worthen was determined to get inside his head.
The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost is the story of Worthen’s quest and the man who fueled it. She began in his classroom, recording his every word in her spiral notebook, allowing him to shape her. Years later, as his biographer, she found that she was shaping him.
Surprisingly, Hill granted Worthen full access to his life, meticulously documented in over 25,000 pages of notes on everything from the Iran-Contra affair to the dissolution of his marriage. In the end, she was forced to reconcile the teacher she admired with the man she learned was brilliant, but fallible.She put Hill’s classroom lessons to the ultimate test: she applied them to his own life.
The result is a genre-busting bookone that charts the intricate relationship between biographer and subject, student and teacher, even as it illuminates a momentous period in American history. Psychologically astute and passionately written, it lays bare the joy as well as the heartache of coming to know someone you once revered.
Molly Worthen graduated in 2003 from Yale University, where she wrote a prize-winning newspaper column and conducted an ethnographic study of Russian Orthodox old believers in Alberta. She has also written for the Toledo Blade, the Dallas Morning News, and Time. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in American religious history at Yale. This is her first book.
Advance praise for The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost
What a fascinating and compelling book! In weaving the personal and professional tale of Charles Hill, a backstage diplomat who became a revered professor, Molly Worthen has pulled together some profound themes: how foreign policy really works, how inner lives play out on public stages, and the concept of grand strategy’ as a way to understand international relations. But above all this is a very personal and poignant account of what it’s like to struggle to know someone you admire.” Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Engrossing...I highly recommend it.” Henry Kissinger
This is one of the most artful biographies I’ve read. Worthen takes the life of a relatively obscure but, as we learn, influential figure in American diplomacy, who upon retirement became a professor at Yale, where Worthen herself encountered him as a student. By interspersing her own experience of him as a teacher and mentor with his life story, she makes his and her story equally compelling. The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost is certainly a contribution to the history of foreign policy, but this book is, above all, the story of an American life, told with language and sensitivity of a novelist, that stands on its own regardless of its subject’s ultimate importance. I had trouble putting it down.” John Judis, author of The Folly of Empire
MOLLY WORTHEN graduated from Yale University in 2003. She received the Ellsworth Prize for most distinguished senior essay in the humanities, the Schubart Prize for best original published work, the David C. DeForest/ Townsend Premium Prize for oration, and the Kingsley Fellowship for the study of Russian Orthodox Old Believers in Alberta. She has written for the Yale Daily News, the Toledo Blade, the Dallas Morning News, and Time. Her interests include cartoon illustration, fly fishing, and improvisational comedy. She is also a national championship debater. This is her first book.
"This is one of the most artful biographies I've read....compelling...told with the language and sensitivity of a novelist." --John B. Judis, Senior Editor of The New Republic and author of The Folly of Empire and The Paradox of American Democracy
"Engrossing...I highly recommend it." --Henry Kissinger
"What a fascinating and compelling book!" --Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
"Worthen deftly describes the impact that [Charles Hill] had on U.S. foreign policy. . .[with] skill, psychological insight and compassion." --Anne Bartlett Bookpage
"Worthen is a beautiful writer, always clear and comprehensive....[her] work is nuanced, reasonable, and thoughtful." --Michael D. Langan Buffalo News
"The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost...is a laudable and illuminating achievement." --Trey Popp The San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] subtle, penetrating, and completely absorbing portrait." --Daniel Akst Boston Globe
"[A] portrait of a fascinating, deeply human man and a girl grown up." --Karen R. Long Cleveland Plain Dealer
"History buffs will delight...Worthen [has] a good sense for metaphor and a tangible zest for her subject." --Sarah Bramwell, National Review
"Fascinating...It is a story that often reads like a combination of Philip Roth's 'Ghost Writer' and A.S. Byatt's 'Possession.'" --Michiko Kakutani The New York Times
"Strangely passionate...an oddly touching and rewarding read." --Christopher Willcox New York Sun