From Publishers Weekly
One of America's great myths, says Kagan, is that the U.S. has always been isolationist, only rarely flexing its muscles beyond its borders. Not so: in the first half of a two-volume study of American foreign policy, Washington Post
columnist and bestselling author Kagan (Of Paradise and Power
) argues that even in the colonial era Americans restlessly pushed westward. At every turn, Kagan shows how a policy of aggressive expansion was inextricably linked with liberal democracy. Political leaders of the early republic developed expansionist policies in part because they worried that if they didn't respond to their clamoring constituents—farmers who wanted access to western land, for example—the people might rebel or secede. Also provocative is Kagan's reading of the Civil War as America's "first experiment in ideological conquest" and nation building in conquered territory. He then follows American expansion through the 19th century, as the U.S. increased its dominance in the western hemisphere and sought, in President Garfield's phrase, to become "the arbiter" of the Pacific. Kagan may overstate the extent to which contemporary Americans imagine U.S. history to be thoroughly isolationist; it's a straw man that this powerfully persuasive, sophisticated book hardly needs. 75,000 first printing. (Oct. 12)
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Kagan's last book, Of Paradise and Power
(2003), caused a stir by arguing, with eloquence and historical rigor, that Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. His latest, the first of a two-volume treatise on the history of American foreign policy, is a forceful, sophisticated challenge to the idea that isolationism is America's heritage. From its first stirrings, Kagan argues, America has always been an expansionist power, fueled by desire for land and a perceived need to ensure internal stability by engaging itself abroad. Here, he celebrates the long nineteenth century, which saw America transformed from a vulnerable, spirited underdog to a muscular contender capable of taking down a major European power (Spain). The Civil War was a key turning point, the first expression of an ideological foreign policy aimed at regime change and reconstruction. Premised on a profound exuberance for America as a force of creative destruction--a geopolitical Shiva the Destroyer--and clearly intended to reinvigorate support for aggressive foreign policy in the twenty-first century, this book will surely prompt debate. Kagan's polished and assertive prose likewise resembles a force of nature, and will ensure broad readership. Brendan DriscollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved