A finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, this prize-winning and critically acclaimed history uses foreign relations as the lens through which to tell the story of America's dramatic rise from 13 disparate colonies huddled along the Atlantic coast to the world's greatest superpower. Robert Fass narrates George C Herring’s stunning history of successes and sometimes tragic failures with calm engagement, capturing the fast-paced narrative that illuminates the central importance of foreign relations to the existence and survival of the nation, and highlights its ongoing impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. From Colony to Superpower is the most recent volume in the peerless Oxford History of the United States, which was described by the Atlantic Monthly as “state of the art” and “the most distinguished series in American historical scholarship.” Please note: The individual volumes of the series have not been published in historical order. From Colony to Superpower is number XII in The Oxford History of the United States.
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This is the second longest book I've read through Audible and it did that special thing...it made me THINK.
I believe this book began as a research project during the second Bush administration because the author....like many of us.....had concerns about American behavior after 9/11 and began looking for precedents in American history. What he found in his journey became a monumental analysis of ALL U.S. foreign policy since the beginning.
He viewed our founding fathers as kind of ???proto-Twentieth-Century-ists,??? which I found fascinating. Unlike most historical books, this one managed to capture each presidential administration through the lens of problem-solving America???s own unique relationship with other nations and people. Our collective and individual decisions, for better or worse, all seemed to be leading up to today???or to ???The American Moment.??? The end of the 20th Century was simply the actualization of American principles worldwide. The race ended. We won.
But the book doesn???t take the time to flesh out America???s past for the fun of it. The book???s conclusion demands the most important question: what next? When the audio book says ???Audible hopes you have enjoyed this book,??? I instinctively knew that it???s wasn't really over. There will be other presidents and a continuation to this story whether I like it or not.
I finished the book feeling as though the author successfully highlighted something important. Perhaps the time HAS come for new ideas...ones as powerful as those that led generations of unrelated people to come and build an unparalleled civilization.
This book has all the ingredients needed to make it a classic in American history. It is sweeping, covering the whole of United States history, the foreign policy of just about every President, and every major and minor American intervention abroad.
It is deep, delving into the doctrines, strategies, and personal tendencies that animated American foreign policy. It is not just some rehash of the working out of policy between the President and Secretary of State; rather, the book presents the complex and often baffling interactions amongst a wide array of characters both foreign and domestic. In this sense, it gives the inside scoop.
This is also an extraordinarily well-researched book. Herring appears to have mastered the material, twisting and turning it around, speculating on events from every available angle. In this sense, From Colony to Superpower feels like the last word. It is authoritative, transcending and including the views of other historians and foreign policy analysts.
Most important to me, it didn't just cover the same old tired conflicts: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and Iraq. While it was long enough to go into great depth on these conflicts, it also penetrated into the causes and consequences of the Spanish-American War, early twentieth century interventions in Central America, our overturning of the democratically elected governments of Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973, and the impact of Vietnam on Cambodia. But better still, these seldom mentioned, but nevertheless momentous, events were contextualized within the wider contexts of the Cold War, American geo-strategic interests, and the personal goals and values of various Presidential administrations.
Starting in the early twentieth-century, Herring begins to systematically evaluate the foreign policy successes and failures of each American President. He is a deep and serious enough thinker that you should come away unsure of where he sits on the political spectrum.
This is a very academic book, in the best sense. It is serious, deep, earnest, objective, comprehensive, and lacking in narrative. This makes it a poor book to take to the gym. It requires some concentration. But it also makes this a vastly more rewarding and quite simply a better book than most. Why waste our lives listening to books when we can be breathing deep and loving the world around us if not to learn and better understand the world? Too much history is mere entertainment, playing to our prejudices and, in the process, skewing our understanding of world-historical events
Since any comprehensive view of American foreign policy must necessarily include numerous interventions Americans would rather forget, a book like this can be used as ammunition from critics of American foreign policy. It can also be used as a set of cautionary tails. Further, it can be used to better understand the American Presidency. And surprising to me, having studied numerous other nation-states in great depth, since the United States is such a global power, the book can be used to help you better understand every other country where we have intervened (and this is probably more than you think).
Listening to this book will make you a better citizen insofar as it will allow you to better evaluate any potential future interventions in which we may engage. If we are to avoid making stupid mistakes abroad, we need citizens who know what is going on in the world. And if getting to know your country means getting to love it more, reading a book like this will make you a better American. Certainly, the world would love Americans more if we knew some more of this history.
I hope you get as much from this book as I did. :-)