The book looks at how the country's foremost thinkers advanced their ideas during this time of United States expansionism, a period that culminated in the Vietnam War and détente with the Soviets. Beginning with George Kennan after World War II, and concluding with Henry Kissinger and the Vietnam War, Kuklick examines the role of both institutional policymakers such as those at The Rand Corporation and Harvard's Kennedy School, and individual thinkers including Paul Nitze, McGeorge Bundy, and Walt Rostow.
Kuklick contends that the figures having the most influence on American strategy--Kissinger, for example--clearly understood the way politics and the exercise of power affects policymaking. Other brilliant thinkers, on the other hand, often played a minor role, providing, at best, a rationale for policies adopted for political reasons. At a time when the role of the neoconservatives' influence over American foreign policy is a subject of intense debate, this book offers important insight into the function of intellectuals in foreign policymaking.