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Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama Hardcover – September 27, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439119120
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439119129
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“’Nation-building can only work when the people own it.’ Jeremi Suri argues that the United States has too often forgotten this truth over the course of its nation-building history--including the American revolution and Reconstruction as well as efforts in the Philippines, Germany, Japan, and Vietnam--in which there have been both successes and failures. Suri draws lessons from all these efforts that are particularly valuable today, while making the provocative argument that as hard as we wish to deny it, nation-building is part of American DNA.”
--Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University

Praise for Jeremi Suri's Henry Kissinger and the American Century

"This surely the best book yet published about Henry Kissinger..Suri actually makes an attempt to understand his subject in the appropriate historical context. I salute his scholarship.  Invaluable insight." --Niall Ferguson, author of The War of the World: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Descent of the West

"This remarkable book is far more than a biography of Henry Kissinger. By probing Kissinger's personal background and intellectual formation as well as his often cunning and frequently controversial statecraft, Jeremi Suri brilliantly illuminates both the character of Kissinger the man and the nature of the turbulent and tension-racked age in which he lived and did so much--for better or worse--to shape."
--David M. Kennedy, author of Freedom from Fear

"This is a readable and provocative book that successfully explores the formation of its subject's worldview and rise to power. Suri is at his best when demonstrating the roots of Kissinger's distrust of mass democratic politics, his obsession with strong leaders, his emphasis on the limits of American power and his disdain for the 'insular self-righteousness' and 'utopianism' of reformers 'advocating a vision of global democracy'...[A] timely book."
--Eric Arnesen, Chicago Tribune

"Nobody will ever accuse Jeremi Suri of lacking style or insight. His study of Henry Kissinger's personality and place in history offers piercing originality--so much so that laying down Dallek for Suri feels rather like that moment in The Prince and the Showgirl when Laurence Olivier, after telling all and sundry that they have too little love in their life, meets his ex-mistress...and realizes that she has too much."
--David Frum, National Review

"The fact that even highly educated Americans are scarcely aware of this past has made it difficult for the United States to learn from its experiences. Suri hopes to correct this, and his brief historical sketches can be useful for policy makers and those who write about American foreign policy — if only to remind them that what Americans have been doing in Afghanistan and Iraq has been done countless times by their predecessors in many other distant lands." –Robert Kagan, New York Times

"Suri’s core conclusion is sound: nation building is difficult, expensive, and unpleasant, and at best it can be only partially ­successful -- but it is often unavoidable." ­– Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

“The definitive one-volume historical account of Americans’ efforts to transform other societies.”–International Affairs

About the Author

Jeremi Suri is the Mack Brown Distinguished Professor for Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of five books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. In September 2011 he will publish a new book on the past and future of nation-building: Liberty's Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from the Founders to Obama. Professor Suri's research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America's "Top Young Innovators" in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. Professor Suri is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By HB on October 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In this important and timely work Jeremi Suri explains America's proclivity to nation build, to export our governmental system and philosophical beliefs. Americans have always felt it important that others recognize the superiority of the American way of life, be that in business, religion or our system of government. This missionary zeal for "Truth, Justice and the American Way" has not always worked out well. In this work, Suri calls this "nation-building" and links it closely to the concept of popular sovereignty, to the concept that a valid national government cannot exist without a collective will.

Suri is at his best when he uses his vast knowledge of American history to explain current geopolitical events while at the same time proposing solutions to current nation-building attempts. In Liberty's Surest Guardian, Suri, the Mack Brown Professor of History at the University of Texas, demonstrates the American proclivity to nation-build, citing five important examples: The American Revolutionary experience, the reconstruction of the South after the Civil War, the often overlooked Philippine occupation, and Vietnam and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He explains the confluence of forces that led to successful operations in the Philippines and post-war Europe as well as the mistakes that led to failure in Vietnam.

This book is a must read for those interested in our extrication from Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope it makes it to Obama's nightstand.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By L. White on April 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Suri has written a book that should be required reading for politicians, soldiers and diplomats. It is a reminder of how the U.S. can be a powerful force for good in the world but how the best-intentioned actions can turn out badly.

The book is mainly two parts -- how America builds nations and an analysis of successful nation-building after the Civil War, the Spanish-American war, and World War II, followed by an analysis of why we were not so succcesful in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

I found what I considered to be the heart of the book and Professor Suri's message on page 195: "The United States operated most effectively when it isolated discredted actors, coopted empowered groups, and displayed its commitment to local self-improvement through direct, often non-military, actions. From Southern Reconstruction through the transformation of postwar Germany, nation-building pivoted on the American capacity to adapt, to change course, and to remake its relations with allies and adversaries. Dogmatism and self-righteousness were never favorable attributes for U.S. policy."

This book provides a very direct game-plan for how to make the world a better place under American leadership. It reads well and is uplifting while at the same time providing a beneficial but critical analysis of American policy over the last 60 years.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an interesting read so far. However I am not done reading this book yet. I do have one major critique of this author's take on United States actions in Vietnam and it truly stains this book in my opinion.

He says that we should have backed Ho Chi Minh and his supporters believing that they would have been the most effective partners in nation building in the region. Despite the fact that Ho Chi Minh had direct support from the Soviet Union and wholeheartedly wanted to join that international alliance in opposition to the United States's broader goals. This position is at best terribly naive and at worst willfully ignorant of the motivations of the Vietminh.

I understand arguments about how the U.S. could have done things better and even the argument that the U.S. never should have gotten involved but this argument has to put on the blinders, hard core, for that to be considered the proper course of action. I cannot take this argument seriously.

Does the author believe we should have aided with the incorporation of Laos and Cambodia into the Soviet sphere of influence after Vietnam went Communist?
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Wayne C on April 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If I had remembered to sell this book back within the week, I would have. Unfortunately, Dr. Suri & affiliates now have my money for good. This will be long, so bear with me.

Jeremi Suri’s book is, he claims, an impersonal account of the history of nation-building from the perspective of the United States. In this he has failed. Throughout reading the book, all I could do was imagine “Proud To Be An American” playing in the background. I find it, after all, impossible to be impartial when you downplay the criticism of someone who has been in the field, walking the walk, by disregarding Kissinger when he calls America’s vision of global democracy “Quixotic.” For Heaven’s sake, the man won a Nobel Peace Prize for the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. My own glasses are not quite so rosy and if Suri can’t withhold personal criticism, I don’t see why I should. I must assert that safety and security must not be synonymous with homogeneity.
Suri espouses the policy of Path Dependence; that the way we define and look at events today are deeply conditioned by experience that our society and other societies have had over the long term. Comfort zones we’ve fallen into. To this end, I believe he is correct. Manifest Destiny has not ended on the Eastern shore of the Pacific. America today has too many economic interests to let the world go about its own way. Our economic, strategic, and cultural values simply won’t allow that. Unfortunately, that has as a consequence expressed itself in the countries we’ve entered into. The issues which have arisen are as diverse as the manners of interference so far employed, and will only grow in such respects.
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