There was an encounter. You were young, vital, full of ideas and enthusiasms. But you were nobody. He was old and spent, but he was a giant, an architect of the world you were born into. You will never forget the time you spent with him. But did he? In all the fullness of his life, did it mean much of anything to him at all?

Last November, New York Times reviewer Fred Kaplan began his critique of George F. Kennan: An American Life by observing, “This may be the most long-awaited single-volume biography ever.” The author, John Lewis Gaddis of Yale, was a “renowned cold war historian.” Kennan, an American diplomat who’d died in 2005 at the age of 101, was “the author of the containment doctrine, which governed American foreign policy for a half-century, arguably prevented World War III and both predicted, and set the stage for, the crumbling of the Soviet empire.”