Would you ever countenance reading a whole book just to absorb a certain way of writing? Normally it would never occur to me but “Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century,” by George Packer, a New Yorker writer I admire, was described as stylistically bold and I grew intrigued. Holbrooke, an “almost famous” apparatchik and diplomat, was known to me but only peripherally. He was instrumental in ensuring that the post-Soviet-Union non-Russia countries with nuclear arms got rid of them, and I’d read about him, but the nuclear arms race is not on-topic. In the end I gambled and bought.
Well, after an introductory chapter that reads like Packer is chatting to me over the phone, something that’s unusual enough and takes a lot of skill, here is his introductory sentence to the first real bio chapter, the one about Holbrooke’s “early years”:
Do you mind if we hurry through the early years? There are no mysteries here that can be unlocked by nursery school. Why Holbrooke was Holbrooke is not even the question to which we need an answer. I wonder if there’s an answer for anyone, least of all him. You really need to know just one thing, and it has to do with Holbrooke’s father.
Can you credit the author’s chutzpah? You’re writing a bio and you tell the reader you’ll skip the early bits? Needless to say, I’m delighted and can’t wait to read the rest.