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Empire by Default: The Spanish-American War and the Dawn of the American Century Hardcover – February 15, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1 edition (February 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805035001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805035001
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 2.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,343,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On the centennial of the Spanish-American War, the short and confusing conflict receives comprehensive treatment in a narrative of more than 600 pages. At the close of the 19th century, Americans were looking outward at the world. In a precursor to the foreign involvement of the next century the U.S. Navy found itself fighting in the Philippines, and the infantry (and Theodore Roosevelt's volunteer cavalrymen) entered combat (and battle illness) on the island of Cuba. The Spanish-American War has often been overlooked as an oddity, but those who want to understand its role in American history now have access to what may stand as the definitive history of the war that led to the United States being regarded as a world power.

From Library Journal

Often referred to as "the splendid little war," the Spanish-American War of 1898 was anything but splendid. Musicant (Divided Waters, LJ 8/95), an independent naval historian, presents a solid military history of the war, thoroughly grounded in the sources yet never allowing the detail to overwhelm the narrative. His theme is that the American empire acquired as a result of the war wasn't planned, a point he illustrates rather than states explicitly by showing how both U.S. and Spanish actions were governed by the internal politics in each country and ultimately led to the clash. While discussing the problems and scandals as well as the successes, his very readable history is not as scholarly as David Trask's The War with Spain in 1898 (LJ 5/1/81) but still belongs in most academic and public library history collections.?Stephen H. Peters, Northern Michigan Univ. Lib., Marquette
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Musicant's book doesn't really bring anything new to the table. He has done little research among the original sources, and none in the Spanish, Filipino, or Cuban source material, and has written what is largely a rehash of secondary source materials. This isn't to say that it's a bad book. Musicant's grasp of things military is very sound, and this is the strength of the book. The book is well written, although there are some jarring uses of words or phrases that simly don't match the tone of the book. Overall, I came away with the feeling that I had read a detailed overview of an important event, to which the author applied little analysis or originality. In particular, the book is very weak in its portrayal of the Cubans, Filipinos, and, to a lesser degree, the Spanish. Yes, it's an American story, but that doesn't mean you leave out the other protagonists in the drama.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 3, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book tells you everything you will ever need to know about which US soldiers and sailors fought where and with what weapons in 1898. If it has a weakness, it is in its treatment of the "why" questions. Certainly, there was strong pressure from the popular press, public opinion and several key figures in Congress and President McKinley's administration to sweep away the decrepit Spanish Empire in the Caribbean and Pacific. But it was one thing to intervene in Cuba, quite another to annex the Philippines - as was shown soon after the war when a popular revolt broke out against the US takeover. Musicant could perhaps have devoted more space to exploring the impulses behind US empire-building, and a little less to the rather confusing details of military campaigns whose outcomes were, let us face it, hardly in doubt. That said, it is still elegantly written and a good read.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Alan Rockman on February 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Being a Civil War buff and author who is considering doing a work on the Indian Wars, I have always been fascinated by that period between the Civil War and the turn of the century.
Especially on its effect on the U.S. Army as it fought both the Indian Wars and the Spanish American War under the leadership of former Civil War Generals, and Musicant does not disappoint.
Some of the names are familiar - Nelson Miles, Wesley Merritt, Admiral (George) Dewey,and of course, the Confederate Cavalry great "Fighting Joe" Joseph Wheeler. And the not-so-well known - men such as William Rufus Shafter, the corpulent former Union officer and presumed model for "Pecos Bill", who was named commander of the expeditionary forces in Cuba and who often clashed with both his superiors in Washington, and with one certain volunteer colonel by the name of Theodore Roosevelt.
To be fair, I haven't gotten to the military operations nor the logistical problems experienced by the U.S. Army - poisoned (embalmed) beef, lack of smokeless cartridges (the antiqudated Spanish Army was more "modern" in this respect), as Musicant's account is an excellent read. But he does effectively score the two Presidents who bungled into the Cuban morass - Cleveland, definitely the Bill Clinton of his time, and William McKinley, a man of great character and virtue but hamstrung by a senile Secretary of State (William Tecumseh Sherman's brother) and politico appointees as well as his own desire to please all.
The account of the destruction of the USS Maine which finally provoked McKinley is the finest that I have read.
Musicant shows great knowledge of the Cuban situation and of the Spanish predicament.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 25, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I was generally pleased with this book. It is readable, reasonably detailed (in most areas), and I would recommend it to any reader with even a casual interest in this period of American history.
If I have any complaint, it is that Musicant largely fails to really "set the stage" for the Spanish-American War. His one-chapter synopsis of the United States prior to the war seems almost hasty, and one fails to really grasp the enormous impact of "Yellow Journalism" on the American public and pro-war sentiment in his narrative.
Another slight complaint: I found it necessary to have an atlas beside me in the early chapters. The inclusion of a map to orient the reader during the discussions of the campaigns of Gomez and Maceo would have been beneficial.
That having been said, this book is considered a valuable addition to my library.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on May 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Despite its length, "Empire by Default," is a very well written book that is worth reading. Musicant's account is a straightforward narrative history, but his talent as a writer keeps it from being draggy or boring. Particularly good are his accounts of the battles which have narrative excitement and give a good overall view of tactics and strategy. Musicant covers all aspects of the war, both geographically and politically. Knowing only what I had learned in school about this episode in history, I appreciated this thorough account.
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