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First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power Paperback – January 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, Zimmermann's account takes its readers deep into a small, captivating circle of figures instrumental in shaping American thought and history: in this case, the five men most responsible for making the United States a major player on the international stage at the start of the 20th century. The key players are Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge (Republican senator from Massachusetts), John Hay (enigmatic secretary of state to McKinley and TR), Elihu Root (hard-edged New York corporate attorney, later to serve as a gruffly paternalistic colonial administrator), and naval strategist Admiral Alfred T. Mahan. Mahan, perhaps the least well-known of the five, emerges as the group's touchstone. An ardent admirer of the standing British fleet and the British colonial system it helped police, Mahan believed the United States should institute similar military might to help administer an American world view. He aggressively lobbied for the establishment and maintenance of a large, well-funded navy and for strict enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine, with U.S. domination of such strategically important outposts as Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam. In this fascinating and engaging account, Zimmermann (Origins of Catastrophe: Yugoslavia and Its Destroyers), a former U.S. ambassador to Yugoslavia), does a brilliant job of showing how Mahan's views enabled the United States to bootstrap up to the status of world colonial power within the short space of just five years, from 1898 to 1903. Illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.) Forecast: The readers who made The Metaphysical Club and Theodore Rex bestsellers are the ideal audience for this outstanding history; if they learn of the book, expect healthy sales.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

America's preeminence as a superpower has its roots in how corporate lawyer Elihu Root, naval strategist Alfred T. Mahan, U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Secretary of State John Hay, and politician Theodore Roosevelt led the nation in articulating and shaping American imperialism. A career diplomat and a former ambassador to Yugoslavia, Zimmermann (Columbia Univ. and Johns Hopkins; Origins of a Catastrophe) argues that the "consequences right up to today" of American expansionism between the 1880s and 1910s "owes a great deal to" the five fathers of modern American imperialism. Part one comprises the biographies of these architects of an aggressive imperialist policy, and part two narrates mainly the war against Spain and TR's presidency. Zimmermann admirably presents complex individuals and their extremely complex historical era in a manner accessible to the layperson. This readable, richly detailed, scholarly work, based on primary and secondary sources, is rewarding to readers who want more than an introductory historical treatment of the origins of today's American foreign policy. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. Charles L. Lumpkins, Pennsylvania State Univ., State College
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (January 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374528934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374528935
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,015,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is the best history book I've read in a long time. Here's why:
It's really about the beginnings of modern, international America. Politicians before this period seem antique, but those of the Spanish-American War era are the antecedents of current politicos. This is an important but little examined period.
Because the public knows so little about the major players, Zimmermann begins with mini-biographies of John Hay, Alfred Mahan, Elihu Root and Henry Cabot Lodge. They're of just the right length- around 50 pages. There is also a sketch of the better known Teddy Roosevelt. Zimmermann gives balanced portrayals of these men. T.R. was one of the best qualified Presidents ever, but a dangerous jingoist who would be unelectable in the nuclear age.
The circumstances leading to the Spanish-American War are not as simple as taught in high school. (It was not just a Hearst inspired land grab.) Having finished the book, I don't know which side I would have taken. Can one ask any more of a good history?
Zimmermann has a great feel for memorable anecdotes and pithy quotes. There are about a dozen snorters in this book that make you want to jump up and read aloud to whomever's in the room. Hay and Root seem to have been masters of the mot jus.
I thought alot about the impending war as I read this. There were several reasons for invading Cuba, but the reasons seemed distinct and unrelated. No single reason quite met the vital requirements of going to war. (Yup, sounds like Iraq.) The story of the subsequent occupation and war in the Philippines should be of interest to post-war nation builders. Of course, no matter how the war and occupation of Iraq turns out, you will be able to cite caveats from First Great Triumph.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Zimmermann has written six separate but related books and then combined them in a single volume. The first five comprise Part One and are brief but exceptionally informative biographies of John Hay, Alfred T. Mahan, Elihu Root. Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt; the sixth is a brilliant analysis of how these five men, together, achieved achieved for the United States "the first great triumph" of its global expansion or as Zimmermann describes it, "the birth of American imperialism." As he explains in the Introduction, "These five men were remarkable by any measure. Two of them, Roosevelt and Root, won the Nobel Peace Prize. All were intellectuals and thought of themselves as such. All except Root were notable authors. Roosevelt wrote thirty-eight books, and Lodge twenty-seven, mostly on themes of American history....Mahan produced an analysis of the influence of seas power that profoundly affected American policy and became required reading in the British, German, and Japanese navies. Root, who had been one of the most talented corporate lawyers of his time, became after his government service a forceful advocate of the rule of law in international relations." Remarkable indeed by any measure.
In Part Two, Zimmermann shifts his reader's attention to a period extending from 1898 until 1909 when, through the collective and coordinated efforts of the five men and their associates, the United States acquired Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, and Panama. When explaining the legacies of this brief but productive period, Zimmermann observes; "First, they created an authentic American imperialism that was confident in its objectives but modest in its application....
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Soren Swigart on December 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Warren Zimmerman uses short but trenchant bios of five important American decision makers and opinion leaders to tell a story about the beginnings of the American empire.
John Hay, Navy Capt. Alfred T. Mahan, Elihu Root, Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt are the principal actors. These men provided the intellectual atmosphere and the institutional framework that enabled the United States to step away from her traditional isolationism, recognize her place in the world as a power of the first rank, and take up that role. In order for that to happen the American people first had to understand the dangers that expansionist European powers presented to their nation. Zimmerman weaves the various strands that these five men bring to this story as well as the reluctantance of President McKinley and the objections of actors like Mark Twain and former senator and newspaper editor Carl Shurz, into an exciting and thoughtful work. The book is worth the price for the bios of the principals alone but it is the story of this interaction, as skillfully told by Zimmerman, that makes this book so interesting and such a quick read.
For those who believe that America is not an imperial power (though not quite cut in the mold of European imperialism) this book will provide much to think about. For those interested in knowing how we became a world power in such a short time, this book is invaluable.
The author is a former foreign-service officer who obviously has experienced the mixed blessings of the nation's global responsibilities.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Emil L. Posey on September 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is history at its best -- well written, thoroughly researched, and interesting to read. The principle characters come alive. It's an ambitious undertaking, too, to describe this chapter in our history. Zimmermann not only discusses the emergence of the United States onto the world scene as a major player, but also interweaves five amazing men: John Hay, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Elihu Root, Henry Cabot Lodge, and Theodore Roosevelt. I was familiar with them, but he makes them real. You get into their point of view, their successes and foibles, and their backgrounds and their struggles.
I had wanted to read about World War I and the formation of the Arab states as we know them today. Paris 1919 would be a good start. I decided to read this first, though, as a run-in to Paris 1919. What I discovered is that not only did this period posture the US as a world player, but also the striking similarity between the Spanish-American War and the War in Iraq. More about that later.
Zimmermann begins by describing the lives, philosophies, and contributions of these five men whose contributions were pivotal. These are not definitive biographies, to be sure, but rather a series of monographs that are delightful in their brevity and depth. The rest of the book provides an excellent history of the war with Spain -- going into detail about Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines -- along with our seizure of Guam and Hawaii. Along the way he touches on a wide variety of other persons, US and foreign.
The only downside is the lack of maps. They would help substantially, but their absence does not unduly detract from the strengths of the book. For example, there is fascinating detail regarding treaty negotiations with Spain and the debate within the US Senate for ratification.
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