Magazine April 22, 2019, Issue

William Burns’s Memoir Is a Wild Ride Through Decades of Diplomacy

Former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns in Seoul, South Korea, January 21, 2014 (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)
The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal, by William J. Burns (Random House, 512 pp., $32)

One glimpses early on in The Back Channel why William Burns ascended so swiftly to the highest rank attainable by career Foreign Service officers in the State Department, why he was destined to earn a hallowed spot alongside Kennan and Kissinger on the “very short list of American diplomatic legends,” as Secretary of State John Kerry declared on the occasion of Burns’s retirement in 2014.

It was due to something more than a rare combination of analytic brilliance, political savvy, linguistic gifts, deft personal touch, literary grace, and dry humor. In an engrossing autobiography that exceeds 500 pages, Burns chooses

This article appears as “Diplomatic Disclosures” in the April 22, 2019, print edition of National Review.

James Rosen — Mr. Rosen is a reporter for Sinclair Broadcast Group and the editor of A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the Twentieth Century (2016), an anthology of essays by William F. Buckley Jr.

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