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Dangerous Nation: America's Foreign Policy from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century Reprint Edition

35 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375724916
ISBN-10: 0375724915
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (November 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375724915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375724916
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #319,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

116 of 130 people found the following review helpful By Robert W. Kagan on December 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Just for the record, I began this book in 1996 and finished 90 percent of it before the Iraq War began. I'm amazed that anyone can imagine I wrote this book in less than two years.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on January 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Robert Kagan's "Dangerous Nation" is a comprehensive and often eye-opening book regarding U.S. foreign policy since pre-Revolutionary War days. Thrusting an arrow into America's notion of "manifest destiny", Kagan sets out, and ultimately succeeds in relating the news that we Americans aren't as noble as we might have thought. Clearly and concisely, the author tells us why.

With a timeline as his narrative outline, Kagan begins with a look at America in its infancy, emphasizing a national tentativeness about foreign entanglements as the country tried to build on the successful outcome of the Revolution. England, France and Spain, of course, formed the triumvirate of foreign powers sometimes allying with the United States but often at odds with us. Kagan is very good at describing the balancing act that the early presidents had to achieve with regard to these European nations.

As much time as the author spends with the Founding Fathers, this really is more of a book about the actions and reactions of the United States in the nineteenth century and with it, two key figures emerge...John Quincy Adams in the early part of the century and James G. Blaine in the latter part. Both Secretaries of State had vision, insight and political knowledge as to the benefits and pitfalls in which the country might find itself. While much of "Dangerous Nation" is not historically new to American history buffs, there are some added, fascinating insights. Kagan spices up a couple of chapters with a comparison of the foreign policy positions of the administrations of Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison... two men who had widely differing views on how aggressive the United States should be in its outlook on the world.
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52 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Seth J. Frantzman HALL OF FAME on October 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In this provocative and insightful book the author delves into the history of American foreign policy and proposes the radical suggestion that internationalism is far more in America's historical blood than isolationism. We have been accustomed to think that isolationism, based on Washington's reference to avoiding European alliances, is the national pastime, and it certainly was in certain periods and championed by certain voices. However this book shows that a radical sense of the puritan secular ethic, combined with anti-colonialism led America to challenge the world and that in her history America has always espoused special unique values such as capitalism and democracy. The Civil War is seen as a jumping off place for true American power.

This book is not a minute history of American expansion but concentrates on its major theorists and pushers such as the South's view towards expanding to the tropics under Jefferson Davis, Polk, Blaine and others. However there are major oversights. The role of mapmakers and explorers such as Fremont is ignored and it appears there are no maps in the book which makes reference to foreign policy problematic.

American foreign policy is fascinating and this book helps to dust off the 19th century, which has been viewed as a time of American isolationism and inward ignorance, and reshape our view to see it as a time when American theories were laid down that put the groundwork together for the policies of Wilson and FDR, as well as Reagan, Kennedy and Bush.

A brilliant work, a needed contribution.

Seth J. Frantzman
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Erik Eisel on May 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In our current public debate, intellectual laziness often causes us to support this or that position with certain favorite quotes from the Founding Fathers, stripped of their historical context. How many times do we need to hear about Jefferson's "wall" separating Church and State brought into a discussion about a woman's "right to choose"? How many times has Washington's exhortation "to avoid foreign entanglements" -- in his 1796 Farewell Address -- been quoted to us when the topic is "what to do" in Bosnia, Kosovo or, lately, in Iraq?

Clearly, Robert Kagan is tired of these quotations, which stop all argument, too. The fulcrum of his book is Washington's Farewell Address. He spends the first 120 pages of his book preparing the historical context of this speech from the French-Indian War to 1796, and spends a full 20 pages explaining all of the foreign entanglements a fledgling America had already involved itself during 1796. In effect, Kagan modifies Washington's "rule" of foreign policy by making the case that Washington argued not to eliminate all foreign entanglements, but only those, which were not in America's "interest." The trick since then has been to decide, which entanglements were in America's interest and which weren't.

It is instructive to know that Kagan began this book in 1996, before publishing "Paradise and Power." Not only was 1996 the 200th anniversary of the Farewell Address, but also a special moment in American history when Americans were so tired of "history" and "foreign entanglements" that it looked like we would never want to or have to "entangle" ourselves again. At the same time, we were forced to watch the genocide in the Balkans go unstopped by both a "weak" Europe and an "indifferent" America.
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