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John Lewis Gaddis

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John Lewis Gaddis
Gaddis speaking to U.S. Naval War College (NWC) faculty during the Teaching Grand Strategy workshop at the NWC
Born (1941-04-02) April 2, 1941 (age 83)
EducationUniversity of Texas, Austin (BA, MA, PhD)
Occupation(s)Military historian, political scientist, writer
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
InstitutionsOhio University
Yale University
Naval War College
University of Oxford
Princeton University
Doctoral advisorRobert A. Divine
Main interests
Foreign relations of the United States

John Lewis Gaddis (born April 2, 1941) is an American military historian, political scientist, and writer. He is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University.[1] He is best known for his work on the Cold War and grand strategy,[1] and he has been hailed as the "Dean of Cold War Historians" by The New York Times.[2] Gaddis is also the official biographer of the prominent 20th-century American diplomat and historian George F. Kennan.[3] George F. Kennan: An American Life (2011), his biography of Kennan, won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography.[4]


Gaddis was born in Cotulla, Texas, the son of Harry Passmore Gaddis and his wife Isabel Florence (Maltsberger) Gaddis.[5][6] He attended the University of Texas at Austin, receiving his BA in 1963, MA in 1965, and PhD in 1968,[7][8] the latter under the direction of Robert Divine. Gaddis then taught briefly at Indiana University Southeast, before joining Ohio University in 1969.[7] At Ohio, he founded and directed the Contemporary History Institute,[9] and was named a distinguished professor in 1983.[7]

In the 1975–77 academic years, Gaddis was a visiting professor of Strategy at the Naval War College. In the 1992–93 academic year, he was the Harmsworth Visiting professor of American History at Oxford.[10] He has also held visiting positions at Princeton University and the University of Helsinki. He served as president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations in 1992.[11]

In 1997, he moved to Yale University to become the Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History. In the 2000–01 academic year, Gaddis was the George Eastman Professor at Oxford, the second scholar (after Robin Winks) to have the honor of being both Eastman and Harmsworth professor.[12] In 2005, he received the National Humanities Medal.[13] He sits on the advisory committee of the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project,[14] which he helped establish in 1991.[13] Gaddis is also known for his close relationship with the late George Kennan and his wife, whom Gaddis described as "my companions".[15]


Gaddis is probably the best known historian writing in English about the Cold War.[16] Perhaps his most famous work is the highly influential Strategies of Containment (1982; rev. 2005),[17] which analyzes in detail the theory and practice of containment that was employed against the Soviet Union by Cold War American presidents, but his 1983 distillation of post-revisionist scholarship similarly became a major channel for guiding subsequent Cold War research.[18]

We Now Know (1997) presented an analysis of the Cold War through to the Cuban Missile Crisis that incorporated new archival evidence from the Soviet bloc.[19] Fellow historian Melvyn Leffler named it as "likely to set the parameters for a whole new generation of scholarship".[20] It was also praised as "the first coherent and sustained attempt to write the Cold War's history since it ended."[21] Nonetheless, Leffler observed that the most distinctive feature of We Now Know is the extent to which Gaddis "abandons post-revisionism and returns to a more traditional interpretation of the Cold War."[22]

The Cold War (2005), praised by John Ikenberry as a "beautifully written panoramic view of the Cold War, full of illuminations and shrewd judgments,"[23] was described as an examination of the history and effects of the Cold War in a more removed context than had been previously possible,[24] and won Gaddis the 2006 Harry S. Truman Book Prize.[25] Critics were less impressed, with Tony Judt summarising the book as "a history of America's cold war: as seen from America, as experienced in America, and told in a way most agreeable to many American readers,"[26] and David S. Painter writing that it was a "carefully crafted defense of US policy and policymakers" that was "not comprehensive."[16]

His 2011 biography of George Kennan garnered multiple prizes, including a Pulitzer.[4]

John Nagl, in the Wall Street Journal, wrote of Gaddis's 2018 book On Grand Strategy as "a book that should be read by every American leader or would-be leader".[27]

Gaddis is known for arguing that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's personality and role in history constituted one of the most important causes of the Cold War. Within the field of U.S. diplomatic history, he was originally most associated with the concept of post-revisionism, the idea of moving past the revisionist and orthodox interpretations of the origins of the Cold War to embrace what were (in the 1970s) interpretations based upon the then-growing availability of government documents from the United States, Great Britain and other western government archives.[citation needed] Due to his growing focus on Stalin and leanings toward US nationalism, Gaddis is now widely seen as more orthodox than post-revisionist.[28][29] The revisionist Bruce Cumings had a high-profile debate with Gaddis in the 1990s, where Cumings criticized Gaddis as moralistic and lacking in objectivity.[30]

Political positions[edit]

Gaddis is close to President George W. Bush, making suggestions to his speech writers,[31] and has been described as an "overt admirer" of the 43rd President.[32] After leaving office, Bush took up painting as a hobby at Gaddis's recommendation.[33]

During the US invasion of Iraq, Gaddis argued: "The world now must be made safe for democracy, and this is no longer just an idealistic issue; it's an issue of our own safety."[34] During the United States occupation of Iraq, Gaddis asserted that Bush had established America "as a more powerful and purposeful actor within the international system than it had been on September 11, 2001." Historian James Chace argues that Gaddis supports an "informal imperial policy abroad."[35] Gaddis believes that preventive war is a constructive part of American tradition, and that there is no meaningful difference between preventive and pre-emptive war.[36]

About the Trump presidency he has said, "We may have been overdue for some reconsideration of the whole political system. There are times when the vision is not going to come from within the system and the vision is going to come from outside the system. And maybe this is one of those times."[37]


  • "Stalin's postwar goals were security for himself, his regime, his country, and his ideology, in precisely that order."[38]
  • "Assuming stability is one of the ways ruins get made. Resilience accommodates the unexpected."[39]
  • "Learning about the past liberates the learner from oppressions earlier constructions of the past have imposed upon them."[40]
  • "[A]lthough the past is never completely knowable, it is more knowable than the future."[40]
  • "Common sense, in this sense, is like oxygen: the higher you go, the thinner it gets."[39]

Awards and distinctions[edit]

U.S. President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush standing with 2005 National Humanities Medal recipient John Lewis Gaddis on November 10, 2005, in the Oval Office at the White House.

Selected publications[edit]


External videos
video icon Q&A interview with Gaddis on On Grand Strategy, May 27, 2018, C-SPAN
video icon After Words interview with Gaddis on George F. Kennan: An American Life, March 3, 2012, C-SPAN
video icon Interview with Gaddis on George F. Kennan, September 22, 2012, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Gaddis on George F. Kennan, September 22, 2012, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Gaddis on The Cold War: A New History, February 1, 2006, C-SPAN
video icon Booknotes interview with Gaddis on Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, May 16, 2004, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by Gaddis on We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, April 3, 1997, C-SPAN

Articles and chapters[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Yale Department of History » John Gaddis". history.yale.edu. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  2. ^ Priscilla Johnson McMillan (25 May 1997). "Cold Warmonger". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  3. ^ Douglas Brinkley (17 February 2004). "Celebrating a Policy Seer And His Cold War Insight". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
    Profile of Kennan on his 100th birthday, includes several paragraphs detailing his relationship with Gaddis.
  4. ^ a b c "The 2012 Pulitzer Prize Winners: Biography or Autobiography". pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  5. ^ "Gaddis, John Lewis 1941- | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2024-03-05.
  6. ^ Alden Branch, Mark. "Days of Duck and Cover". Yale Alumni Magazine (March 2000). Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  7. ^ a b c "Historians will debate Cold War". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 23 January 1989. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  8. ^ "Princeton University Library Finding Aids: 'John Lewis Gaddis Papers on George F. Kennan, 1982–1989', Collection Creator Biography". findingaids.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  9. ^ "Honorary Alumni: John Lewis Gaddis". Ohio University Today (Fall 1990): 6. 1990. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  10. ^ a b "Harold Vyvyan Harmsworth Visiting Professor of American History". rai.ox.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 24 June 2013. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Past Presidents". shafr.org. Archived from the original on 10 August 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  12. ^ "Winks honored by Oxford, National Parks". Yale Bulletin & Calendar. 27 (31). 1999. Archived from the original on 3 November 2012. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  13. ^ a b c "Awards & Honors: 2005 National Humanities Medalist John Lewis Gaddis". neh.gov. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  14. ^ "CWIHP Advisory Committee". wilsoncenter.org. 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  15. ^ Costigliola 2011.
  16. ^ a b Painter 2006, p. 527.
  17. ^ Leffler 1999, p. 503, which describes Strategies of Containment as "one of the most influential books ever written on post-World War II international relations."
  18. ^ Hogan 1987, p. 494.
  19. ^ CIRIS. "Containment - Center for International Relations and International Security". www.ciris.info. Retrieved 2023-11-25.
  20. ^ Leffler 1999, p. 502.
  21. ^ Ascherson 1997.
  22. ^ Leffler 1999, p. [page needed]
  23. ^ Ikenberry 2006.
  24. ^ Michael C. Boyer (22 January 2006). "A world divided: A leading historian evaluates the causes and ultimate collapse of the Cold War". Boston Globe. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  25. ^ a b "John Lewis Gaddis Wins 2006 Harry S. Truman Book Award". trumanlibrary.org. 16 April 2006. Archived from the original on July 26, 2006. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  26. ^ Judt 2006.
  27. ^ Nagl, John (16 April 2018). "'On Grand Strategy' Review: The War Against Decline and Fall". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  28. ^ America in the World: The Historiography of US Foreign Relations Since 1941, edited by Michael J. Hogan (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p.8-10
  29. ^ "The Origins of the Cold War" Seth Center, University of Virginia
  30. ^ America in the World: The Historiography of US Foreign Relations Since 1941, edited by Michael J. Hogan (Cambridge University Press, 2013), p.10-14
  31. ^ Gaddis 2008.
    Hartung 2003 criticizes Gaddis for holding a "relatively positive assessment" of post-9/11 Bush foreign policy.
  32. ^ Jonathan Haslam (17 April 2012). "George F Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis – review". The Guardian. theguardian.com. Retrieved 29 August 2013.
  33. ^ Baker, Dorie (April 26, 2013). "Yale professor's advice to former U.S. president: Paint". YaleNews. Yale University. Archived from the original on May 4, 2013. Retrieved May 9, 2013.
  34. ^ Rauchway, Eric (15 March 2012). "Alterman on Gaddis on Kennan. - The Edge of the American West". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  35. ^ Chace, James (2004-10-07). "Empire, Anyone?". New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  36. ^ "Gaddis: Bush Pre-emption Doctrine The Most Dramatic Policy Shift Since Cold War". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  37. ^ Baker, Peter (2019-12-18). "A President Impeached, and a Nation Convulsed". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-19.
  38. ^ Gaddis, John Lewis (2005). The Cold War: A New History. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 1-59420-062-9. OCLC 61303540.
  39. ^ a b Gaddis, John Lewis (2018). On Grand Strategy. New York. ISBN 978-1-59420-351-0. OCLC 993691628.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  40. ^ a b Gaddis, John Lewis (2002). The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. Oxford. ISBN 978-1-4294-3109-5. OCLC 77846078.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  41. ^ "New-York Historical Society Awards Its Annual American History Book Prize to John Lewis Gaddis for George F. Kennan: An American Life". nyhistory.org. 16 February 2012. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  42. ^ "All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists". bookcritics.org. Archived from the original on 18 October 2015. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  43. ^ "DeVane Medalists, 1966–Present". pbk.yalecollege.yale.edu. 8 November 2005. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  44. ^ "Eastman Professors at the University of Oxford". americanrhodes.org. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  45. ^ a b "Fulbright Alumni » Notable Fulbrighters". eca.state.gov. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  46. ^ "Gaddis Named to American Academy of Arts and Sciences". ohio.edu. May 1995. Archived from the original on 13 March 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  47. ^ "Alphabetical Index of Active AAAS Members as of 5 November 2013" (PDF). amacad.org. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  48. ^ "Notable Achievements of Members". Perspectives. 33 (6). 1995. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  49. ^ "Ohio University Historian Selected as Woodrow Wilson Fellow". ohio.edu. April 1995. Archived from the original on 8 March 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  50. ^ "The Whitney H. Shepardson Fellowship". cfr.org. Retrieved 16 June 2015.
  51. ^ "John Lewis Gaddis: 1986 Fellow, U.S. History". gf.org. Archived from the original on 4 April 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  52. ^ "Distinguished Professors (Current–1959)". ohio.edu. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  53. ^ "The Bancroft Prizes: Previous Awards". library.columbia.edu. Archived from the original on 10 April 2013. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  54. ^ Gaddis 1974, p. 14, for "Best First Work of History".
  55. ^ "Author and historian John Lewis Gaddis to give lecture April 21". middlebury.edu. 11 April 2005. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
  56. ^ Reviewed at Nagl, John (2018). "The War Against Decline and Fall," Wall Street Journal, April 18, p. A6. Retrieved 17 April 2018.


External links[edit]