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Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America Hardcover – June 27, 2006


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (June 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809055805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809055807
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,408,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

American exceptionalism is an old idea, but in at least one respect, historian Rauchway (Murdering McKinley) argues, it reflects a geopolitical truth that remains relevant to current trends in globalization. From the Civil War to WWI, he finds, the country's unique position in the global economy-unmatched flow of foreign capital and labor to its shores, expansive opportunities on the Western frontier-meant that the U.S., unlike European countries, was not forced to develop complex federal agencies to regulate commerce, assemble statistics, and provide for the unemployed. The small steps the U.S. did take in this direction, Rauchway contends, were distinctively shaped by the country's relationship to globalization. Efforts to regulate credit and monopolies, he says, arose not in response to Socialist agitation but out of distrust of foreign bankers among recent migrants in the West. Lacking strong, centralized government institutions experienced in large-scale economic matters, the U.S. was unprepared after WWI to take the leading role in the global economy, a failure that, he argues, led to the Great Depression and would eventually scare Americans into supporting international financial organizations after World War II. Rauchway notes with concern that in the decades since the 1960's, as the U.S. has shifted from international creditor to debtor, the country has again begun "edging away from its commitments to globalization" and leaving the international economy to take care of itself. Though he leaves the implications of his innovative historical analysis on the present largely implicit, he provides valuable perspective for the debate about American's proper role in the world today.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Provocative…Blessed Among Nations combines the same fluid writing style, bold interpretive approach, and ambitious agenda that made the work of mid–twentieth century historians like Richard Hofstadter, Arthur Schlessigner, Jr., and C. Vann Woodward so important and so broadly relevant.” —Joshua Zeitz, American Heritage
 
 “America’s rise to preeminence, the author argues, was the product of a perfect storm of foreign investment, luck, and global instability, and we forget at our peril the fickle nature of such forces. With hegemony comes responsibility, he suggests, responsibility that the U.S. may presently be all too willing to shirk.” —Atlantic Monthly
 
 "Laying the groundwork for American empire was an international enterprise—so why doesn't the world want to be American? 'The earth's people have more often envied than imitated America,' writes Rauchway, preferring parliamentarianism and welfare statism to republicanism and laissez-faire. To find out why, Rauchway examines America's rise to empire, which occupied the years between 1865 and 1917. During that time, he writes, America received both financial and human capital from abroad; the working class was predominantly immigrant, as was the army that tamed the western frontier, while huge flows of European cash into the post-Civil War economy made an industrial super-revolution possible, leading to a manifold increase in the nation's wealth. Yet Americans refused to do the things that newly wealthy countries do—namely, invest in public infrastructure and build social-welfare institutions and mechanisms. Rauchway observes that just before WWI, America's army was smaller than Ethiopia's, while 'relative to the size of its economy it had a smaller government than the Netherlands;' he reckons that at least some of the refusal to build a welfare state had precisely to do with the fact that the working class 'appeared visibly to consist of people from other countries,' leading native-born Americans to look the other way when issues of, say, occupational safety and labor exploitation arose. Our laissez-faire ways seemed particularly problematic when it came time to raise an army to fight overseas, leading to the creation of particularly inept bureaucracies, for 'routine competence simply did not lie within the experience of Americans who had relied for years on an incidentally benevolent world to take care of them.' And when it came time to protect the world economy with American initiatives after the armistice, Americans failed to come through, yielding worldwide depression—good reason to avoid imitating the American way of life. Given the current reliance on foreign capital and immigrant labor, Rauchway's book is right on time and right on target."—Kirkus Reviews
 
"The furor created in the United States by recent demonstrations on behalf of illegal immigrants makes Rauchway's analysis of America's early experiences with a global community especially timely. Rauchway posits that the United States became quintessentially 'American,' i.e., an economic powerhouse, in the years between the Civil War and World War I. In a staunchly unbiased fashion, he draws upon events during those years that made the United States the favored recipient of foreign capital investment. Cheap immigrant labor played a central role in the building of America, while other countries spent far more on the social welfare of their citizens than did the United States. Yet the influx of labor and capital did not make America more like other nations but instead more distinctive; it came to see itself, in President Wilson's phrase, as 'blessed among nations,' a concept that fostered the smug isolationism it abandoned when the United States was forced to enter World War I and become a major player in world affairs. Rauchway believes that the United States, by virtue of its standing among nations, has the obligation to maintain a commitment to globalization rather than to regard it as a self-regulating mechanism . . . [E]xcellent."—Library Journal
 
"Written by an accomplished, imaginative historian who well understands those beginnings of modern America -- the years of the Progressive Era -- this book on one level suggests why socialism never took root in the United States, and why the supposed melting pot and the early Federal Reserve System worked as they did, but on quite another level develops a highly revealing argument how Americans' faith in their "empire" and their exceptionalism shaped in often unexpected ways what we now call globalization and their part in it." —Walter LaFeber, Tisch University Professor, Cornell University

“I can always depend on Eric Rauchway to display the meticulousness of a careful historian with the literary flair of a fine novelist. Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America adds to this admixture a powerful public voice as well; a tour de force.” — Eric Alterman, author of When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences...
 
 “With his trademark lapidary elegance, Rauchway shows us that America's position astride the currents of globalization is due not merely to a mysteriously voracious capitalistic impulse, but to often fortuitous effects of seemingly unconnected particulars, such as monopolies rather than government dominating lending, and the diversity of our immigrants impeding a socialist revolution. A flinty and compelling synthesis.”—John McWhorter, author of Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America
 
“American ‘exceptionalism’ is one of those things often asserted, seldom convincingly proved. By setting the history of the United States in the context of the history of the first age of globalization, Eric Rauchway has come up with a powerful new argument about what exactly made the American experience different. Blessed Among Nations is both brilliant and convincing. For the breadth of his vision, the author deserves to be blessed among U.S. historians” —Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and author of Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire

Praise for Murdering McKinley:

“A fascinating story of America at a crossroads.” --Bob Hoover, Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh

“A fascinating trip through late-19th century America . . . A compact masterpiece . . . A book that holds high the standard for popular history.” --Heather Cox Richardson, Chicago Tribune

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
While devoted to the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, this book has a strong contemporary flavor. Its themes are the effects of 19th century globalization, the concept of American exceptionalism, and why the USA was so poorly prepared to exercise world leadership after WWI. Rauchway's essential point is that much of what is thought of as American exceptionalism is the result of the unique ways in which 19th century globalization affected American society. American exceptionlism in this case means emphasis on a modest role for government, free market fundamentalism, avoidance of government responsibility for social welfare, and foreign policy based on unilaterialism. Geography and historical circumstances placed the USA in a privileged position. Separated by the Atlantic from the complex European state system, and with its international commerce protected by British hegemony, the USA was able to expand across North America with little threat from other major powers. During that expansion, the USA faced the resistance only of aboriginal peoples of largely neolithic technology. The USA never had to develop the military and state apparatus seen in powerful European states. Similarly, American expansion was fueled by European, largely British, capital flowing through private channels with the state playing only a minor role in fueling development. Rapid American development was also made possible by an influx of inexpensive labor from diverse immigrants. Rauchway argues that the multi-ethnic nature of the immigration prevented the emergence of a strong American socialist movement with the corollary that no American government felt it necessary to develop social welfare policies to buy social peace.Read more ›
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Wes Howard-Brook on August 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
I'm very surprised to find that this excellent book hasn't yet been reviewed. Rauchway writes in a very direct and readable style, presenting a wide array of data without numbing the reader's mind. He takes one through the development of the sense of "American exceptionalism" by showing how, all along, the US has been utterly dependent on foreign capital and the steady influx of foreign labor to develop the abundant resources lying at hand across the continent.

A very helpful contribution to debates about immigration, global economics, and America's role on the world stage.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By BP on October 22, 2010
Format: Paperback
I am glad to read this book which shows me the deep patterns of collective behaviour here in the US. It is at least more knowledge, even though with our current Supreme Court's view of whose property really matters in this country, there is little we can do with this knowledge.

I am glad to know that the size of the "labor" pool, and corporate welfare have always been levers to turn on or off for profits, or for political control over the citizens by the most powerful. The ability to turn an immigration or capital markets spigot on to lower wages, or raise wages, or practice divide-and-rule is clearly not anomalous to our times in American history. What is new is the use of asset bubbles to break the population. At least within the 50 states. Its been freely practiced across the world by our "globalization" institutions for the last several decades.

This freedom of the wealthy powerful few over the majority hardly seems to be "self-determination" to me, and in the next round this Supreme Court will have some hell to pay about that after three decades of bogus talk about free markets, freedom, and self-determination. But, I am glad to read this historian's factset about how all this has evidently always worked. My grandfathers told me as much growing up with 150 years of family history to back it up, but no data tables in textbooks!

It is also very funny that the Jacksonian movement which represented the Western States' collective interests against Banks and Big Capital in the age of railroads and commodities mining is the exact opposite of the de facto "conservative" or Tea Party movements these states now support.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. S. McDonald on June 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm a big fan of Eric Rauchway's Edge of the American West blog, this book fits in with the blog's theme of fresh takes on 'old' questions. Definitely worth a read.
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