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Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz [Hardcover]

by Richard H. Immerman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 25, 2010 069112762X 978-0691127620

How could the United States, a nation founded on the principles of liberty and equality, have produced Abu Ghraib, torture memos, Plamegate, and warrantless wiretaps? Did America set out to become an empire? And if so, how has it reconciled its imperialism--and in some cases, its crimes--with the idea of liberty so forcefully expressed in the Declaration of Independence? Empire for Liberty tells the story of men who used the rhetoric of liberty to further their imperial ambitions, and reveals that the quest for empire has guided the nation's architects from the very beginning--and continues to do so today.

Historian Richard Immerman paints nuanced portraits of six exceptional public figures who manifestly influenced the course of American empire: Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, William Henry Seward, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Foster Dulles, and Paul Wolfowitz. Each played a pivotal role as empire builder and, with the exception of Adams, did so without occupying the presidency. Taking readers from the founding of the republic to the Global War on Terror, Immerman shows how each individual's influence arose from a keen sensitivity to the concerns of his times; how the trajectory of American empire was relentless if not straight; and how these shrewd and powerful individuals shaped their rhetoric about liberty to suit their needs.

But as Immerman demonstrates in this timely and provocative book, liberty and empire were on a collision course. And in the Global War on Terror and the occupation of Iraq, they violently collided.

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Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz + Seven Sins of American Foreign Policy (Great Questions in Politics Series) + American Foreign Policy and Process
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Editorial Reviews


"The book makes a very compelling case that imperialism has always been a centerpiece of the American project. Its brisk and readable style makes it useful for courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels."--Paul T. McCartney, Journal of American History

"Empire for Liberty deserves a wide audience of students, scholars, and even general readers. Immerman provides crucial, poorly understood background that helps place recent controversies in a broad context, and he offers fresh analysis of some of America's most colorful and complicated thinkers about America's place in the world."--Mark Atwood Lawrence, History Teacher

"Overall, Immerman has written one of the best descriptions and analyses of 'American empire'--its meaning, evolution, and key figures that have impacted the idea. Empire for Liberty is essential reading for students and enthusiasts of American history and the United States' place in and approach to the world, historically and contemporarily."--Stefan Fergus, Civilian Reader

"In this penetrating, lively account that introduces readers to diplomatic history in a most painless way, Immerman offers case studies of six public figures whose choices affected the ever-increasing power of the U.S."--Choice

"Immerman has produced a masterly if controversial conspectus that leads the reader far beyond the six men featured in the book."--Gill Bennett, RUSI Journal

"Empire for Liberty makes important contributions by demonstrating how U.S. efforts to expand its empire gradually pushed it farther from the East Coast and further from its constituting ideals. . . . Empire for Liberty puts a mirror in front of us, forcing us to accept the complexity of designing a moral foreign policy that still serves a national interest."--Barak Mendelsohn, Political Science Quarterly

"Given the directness, the clarity, and the analytical rigor with which Richard H. Immerman has assessed American imperialism, he obviously was not intimidated by the words, the concept, or U.S. imperial practices."--Joseph A. Fry, Marine Corps University Journal

"Empire for Liberty should be mandatory reading for anyone seeking to better understand how and why notions of empire and liberty drove the American experience, and the extent to which this nexus remains central to understanding contemporary US engagement with the rest of the world."--Andrew L. Johns, Canadian Journal of History

"This book is a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarly work that grapples with the notion of America as an empire. . . . [T]he essays in this book well repay reading by anyone who wonders about the big questions that swirl around America's rise to global prominence."--Frank Ninkovich, Historian

From the Inside Flap

"Empire for Liberty places both the theory and the practice of empire inside history. Richard Immerman's complex, ironic account of the American empire and its relation to the concept of liberty is an essential analysis of how the United States became the kind of power it is today and where it might now be going."--Marilyn B. Young, New York University

"Immerman, one of the most accomplished and distinguished historians of twentieth-century U.S. foreign relations, tackles a subject of enormous importance. This short book fills a vacuum by presenting a brisk but analytically challenging synthesis through the lives of six individuals who played pivotal roles in the growth, evolution, and maturation of the American empire."--Robert J. McMahon, author of The Limits of Empire: The United States and Southeast Asia since World War II

"Game over. With the appearance of Richard Immerman's brilliantly conceived and incisive book, the post-9/11 competition to map the origins, evolution, and present-day afflictions of the American empire has ended. Empire for Liberty sweeps the field."--Andrew J. Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism

"This is a superb book about a timely subject. Immerman tackles the idea of empire, a concept that Americans have preferred not to talk about and historians have shied away from. Given the importance of the topic and the ongoing debate over the future of U.S. foreign policy, this book should attract a readership beyond academia."--George C. Herring, author of From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776

"Forceful, engaging, and provocative. Immerman makes a significant contribution to American history by synthesizing the ways representative policymakers have conceived of the question of American empire. Empire for Liberty will be a well-read and important book."--Jeffrey A. Engel, editor of The China Diary of George H. W. Bush

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (April 25, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069112762X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691127620
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire for Liberty December 3, 2010
From the standpoint of understanding America's recent history, Empire for Liberty is an exciting book. American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, liberty, American expansion from a collection of thirteen British colonies to the greatest empire the world has ever seen (though some will argue that point) - all of those things that are so prominent in today's political maneuverings and pundit rants - are shown to be deeply embedded not only in the American psyche, but in American history. Though some will argue that the U.S. has never sought empire, historian Richard Immerman shows that, in fact, it has been a part of our thinking from Benjamin Franklin and his compatriots to the present day.

What seems to bother its critics is that liberty and empire fit together like oil and water. The notion of empire seems to subvert the whole idea of liberty which, in fact, it does. Yet they are the engine that has driven American commercial, military and political expansionism and dominance from the beginning. The progression and dominance of the American empire have been steady and unyielding from the day the Pilgrims landed on what became the Massachusetts Colony. Anyone standing in the way has been removed, shoved aside or, where possible, assimilated.

Thomas Jefferson, for whom the idea of liberty was of central importance, found it difficult to reconcile liberty and empire. As the American empire expanded, he came to think of it as an empire that would promote America's concept of liberty around the world. It would be an empire for, not of liberty. And therein lays a major contradiction: Empires have to do with security, prosperity, and the projection of power and greatness; liberty has to do with freedom.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Tragedy of the American Empire May 15, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The chances are that when the reader picks up to read this tiny book,he will wonder or be in doubt whether it is possible to write about such an enormous subject concerning the theory and practice of American Imperialism in less than 250 pages of text.However, this impression will soon evaporate.
Richard Immerman's new book is one of those few that can present an argument in a very concise and precise way.In his introduction,the author explains that his purpose"is not to judge the American empire in terms of good or bad....Rather, it seeks to persuade the reader that America is and always has been an empire"(p.4)By picking up six different individuals who influenced U.S behaviour in a variety of ways,the book shows the "trajectory of the rising American Empire from its inception to the present,analyzing waht the phrase means and how the meaning has evolved".
It was Thomas Jefferson who famously labeled the United States the "Empire of Liberty".What the meaning of "liberty" entails is even more difficult to define than "empire".Broadly speaking,Immmerman's view is that by building an empire the United States has frequently done evil in the name of good.In the times of George Washington the empire was responsible for the expansion and security of a large expanse of territory that inluded many peoples of diverse races and nationalities.In the nineteeth century, the meaning of empire changed;after 1850,white Americans,blacks,Native Americans,Mexican Americans and others challenged the central governmen's authority to deny them self-rule.The empire that America created in the twentieth century was the most powerful empire in world history.Its rival Soviet empire,and the antecedent British one,pale in comparison.
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3 of 20 people found the following review helpful
"Empire for Liberty" is on the ROROTOKO list of cutting-edge intellectual nonfiction. Professor Immerman's book interview ran here as the cover feature on April 28, 2010.
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