on April 11, 2008
As a Jeremy Black fan I was a bit disappointed in "America as a Military Power." First I was disappointed because, in the end, there's really nothing new in the book; no new data and no new insight or analysis. If you're already familiar with US military history and its evolution within the American political and cultural context, then you don't need this book.
Second, like most Europeans, Black struggles with the concept that the United States were created (note I used the plural form) as a federation of states and that it took decades to work out what the relationship between the federal government and the states. This leads to problems of analysis when he can't quite explain or comprehend the discrepancies between the actions a state would take vs. what he believes were prerogatives of the central government. This means that in his comparisons with European states he forgets that whereas the nations of Europe were centralized states, the United States were not -- particularly during the period addressed by the book (Revolutionary War to the Civil War).
He also presents an apples to oranges comparison when it comes to Native American vs. US relations. Rather than compare these relations to the European experience in dealing with the peoples they conquered during periods of colonial expansion, he compares them with state vs. state relations in Europe. Essentially applying a Westphalian paradigm to Native Americans; a paradigm the European nations did not apply except to themselves.
The last two issues I have is that in order to illustrate many of his points he bounces back and forth over the period under consideration to cherry pick his examples. He also gives too much weight to the Revolutionary War period for examples of what the United States was; given that the government that existed during the war was not the one that developed immediately after this leads to other awkward comparisons.
Overall, it you want a book that puts the US military experience into its political and cultural context, and if you want to develop a bit of an understanding as to why the US military/government relationship developed the way it did, then buy the book -- but buy it used.