September 29, 2009 Library of Congress to Mark 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall With a Book Talk by William R. Smyser

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Robert Saladini (202) 707-2692

In the book “Kennedy and the Berlin Wall: ‘A Hell of a Lot Better Than a War,’” author William R. Smyser recounts the full story of the Berlin crisis that riveted international attention and brought the world to the brink of nuclear warfare as Soviet and American tanks opposed each other on the streets of Berlin.

Smyser, a former holder of the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center, will discuss his book at the Library at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29, in Room 119 on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.

The lecture, sponsored by the John W. Kluge Center and the German Historical Institute of Washington, D.C., marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The book talk is free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are needed.

Drawing on his own experience as an American diplomat in Germany during the period—as well as on recently opened Soviet, East German and American archives—Smyser tells the story of how the fate of a city affected national politics and geopolitics. Smyser’s mix of documentary resources and direct experience in diplomatic negotiations makes the book unique. Smyser draws incisive portraits of the politicians and diplomats involved in the drama, especially President John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, but also Charles DeGaulle, Harold Macmillan, Konrad Adenauer, Dean Rusk and Andrei Gromyko.

Smyser is an adjunct professor in the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University. He also teaches at the U.S. Foreign Service Institute. During his career, Smyser has worked for the U.S. government, the United Nations and in foundation management and academia. He lived in Germany during the 1930s and later served there with U.S. forces in the 1950s, under General Lucius Clay in Berlin in the 1960s and as a political counselor at the American Embassy in Bonn. He was an adviser to the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam in 1969.

Smyser has held a number of senior executive positions in the White House and was a senior member of Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council staff, where he played a key role in American efforts to establish diplomatic relations between the United States and Communist China during the 1970s.

Among his many books are: “The Humanitarian Conscience: Caring for Others in the Age of Terror” (2003); “How Germans Negotiate: Logical Goals, Practical Solutions” (2002); and “From Yalta to Berlin: The Cold War Struggle over Germany” (1999).

The German Historical Institute is a center for advanced historical study dedicated to fostering the study of German history in North America and of American history in Germany. It promotes scholarly exchange by bringing together European and American academics in its conferences, workshops and research projects. For more information, visit

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For further information on the Kluge Center, visit


PR 09-190
ISSN 0731-3527