Skip to main content

The Last Gentleman

Thomas Hughes and the End of the American Century

By Bruce L.R. Smith
Cvr: The Last Gentleman

A behind-the-scenes account of American foreign policymaking in the late twentieth century

Tom Hughes, assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, made an ominous prediction in 1965. In a seminal but less well-known document of the Vietnam War, Hughes predicted that the Democratic Party and the national consensus underlying the nation’s foreign policy would break apart if the war escalated.

Hughes drafted the memo for his friend and fellow Minnesotan for whom he had previously worked as legislative counsel, Senator Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey had just been elected Vice President. The memo called on President Johnson to seek negotiations to end the war, but clearly failed to persuade him.

Tom Hughes saw his prediction come true.

Hughes served in the State Department through 1970 and then for 20 years as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He worked to reestablish a professional, bipartisan foreign policy for the United States and to make the foreign service more open and democratic. He also built the Carnegie Endowment into the nation’s leading foreign policy think tank, and he remained influential in foreign policy circles.

In this impressive biography, Bruce L. R. Smith tells the story of this remarkable life, which also reflects much of the story of America in the last half of the twentieth century.

Through the eyes, diary, and notes of a key participant, the book provides a contemporaneous perspective on such major events as the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the CIA’s Operation Mongoose against the Castro regime, the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam, and the elections of the 1960s. This book is a firsthand, behind-the-scenes account of the people who dealt with the great issues and made critical life-and-death decisions for America during the cold war.

Get daily updates from Brookings