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Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 11, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (February 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307268179
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307268174
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The recent revelations concerning spying on leaders of our allies by the NSA may have surprised many. However, in this survey of American foreign policy over the past seven decades, Sestanovich, a former diplomat and currently a professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University, makes clear that all administrations have used ethically questionable tactics in the pursuit of broader strategic foreign-policy goals. But Sestanovich is more concerned with consistency than ethics in the conduct of our foreign policy. He asserts that between and even within administrations we have lurched from active (or overactive) involvement to retrenchment. After WWII, we understandably shrank our military and shrank from confrontation until forced into involvement by the Korean War. Similarly, the failures in Vietnam and Iraq have caused similar reluctance to intervene abroad. The result, Sestanovich maintains, is a dangerous uncertainty among both our allies and adversaries. What he views as retrenchment could be considered sensible restraint. Still, this is a valuable and provocative interpretation of our diplomatic and military conduct. --Jay Freeman

Review

"[An] analytic tour de force . . . a useful and often original look at the strategies of the last 12 American presidents . . . a strong case . . . Anyone interested in the past or the future of American foriegn policy and power would benefit from its insights."
—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs 

"In his engaging and richly anecdotal new book, Maximalist, Stephen Sestanovich applies that understanding as a framework for reexamining post-World War II U.S. history to find the persistent truths and lessons that he believes can inform our understanding of the present. . . A scholar of the Soviet Union and a former U.S. diplomat who now teaches at Columbia University, Sestanovich shows that the ambitions of policymakers and the cycles of public opinion that drive them are inevitable and recurrent. He is at his best in describing the Johnson and Nixon administrations, capturing the infighting among those presidents and their senior advisers as they grappled with America’s role in the world."
—Marcus Brauchli, The Washington Post

"Maximalist . . . makes clear that the U.S. has never achieved strategic continuity. American strategy has frequently shifted, sometimes over the course of a single administration, and these disruptions have often proved beneficial to our national security. . . [An] excellent book."
—Sohrab Ahmari, The Wall Street Journal

"Among the many virtues of Maximalist is the mathematical elegance of its thesis. . . Maximalist surveys American foreign policy from Truman to Obama . . . Compelling . . . Refreshingly non-partisan."
—Michael Doran, Commentary

Maximalist is a highly readable account of American engagement during the Cold War and the War on Terror. It provides a commonsense means to assess American military and diplomatic policy without the fog of political rhetoric.”
—Karl Wolff, New York Journal of Books

"A leading voice. . . Offers a provocative reasssement of America's global dominance . . . Sestanovich finds fresh lessons in the past that clarify our chaotic present."
The Record

“Incisive and provocative. Written by one of our country’s foremost scholars, Maximalist is rich with anecdotes and enlivened by little-known details about well-known events. Sestanovich has made a masterful contribution to the history of modern American diplomacy.”
—Madeleine Albright
 
“This is one of the most important books ever written about U.S. foreign policy. It will immediately join George F. Kennan’s classic American Diplomacy as essential reading for all students of America’s behavior in the world. In fact, it should replace it. Sestanovich is a brilliant and insightful writer. His book couldn’t be more timely.”
—Robert Kagan, author of The World America Made
 
Maximalist is a nicely provocative and highly readable account of how presidents have used American power since World War II. It combines carefully researched history with advice that is very relevant to the situation of the United States today.”
—Joseph S. Nye, Jr., author of Soft Power and Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era 

"Americans routinely need to be reminded that our past was not as smooth and rosy as we like to remember it; Stephen Sestanovich provides a masterful and entertaining corrective.  Maximalist is beautifully written, with engaging anecdotes woven throughout. Most important, it  will change your view of Obama's foreign policy."
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO, New America Foundation; Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University

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Customer Reviews

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A very arguable point of view.
Gderf
If one enjoys this kind of reading, worth buying.
Jeffrey L. Vairin
This is a very informative book and an easy read.
overqualified

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Drew F. Schufletowski on April 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I learned some things about the tumultuous post-World War II policy-making environment in Washington of which I was not aware despite considerable previous reading on the subject. Every current student of international relations and the U.S. role in the world really ought to read Sestanovich's new book.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gderf on April 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent history of maximalist presidents who needed or desired to use American power to fix the world alternating with those who needed to follow a minimalist or retrenchment course. Sestanovich relates the poor results of multilateralism and how American success has not depended on international institutions like the UN and NATO.

Truman's legacy is the loss of China and the Korean war and the expansive Truman doctrine in Turkey and Greece. On the positive side, he instituted the Marshall plan that preserved western Europe from communism. Truman after implementing the Marshall Plan, fought the Korean War and promulgated the Truman Doctrine regarding policy towards Turkey and Greece.

Eisenhower cut back military expenditures, backed dictators and started the nuclear arms race. George Kennan originated the cold war policy of containment. Hungarians expected more help. Our allies were surprised at betrayal in the Suez crisis.

Kennedy combined an activist bent with extensive deliberation. He was forced into activist roles in the Berlin air lift and Cuban missile crisis. He expanded the Cold War into a nuclear arms race while beginning the policy of limited test ban treaties.. The book embellishes the near danger of nuclear war triggered by Cuba and the Russian submarine incident.

We still suffer from the aftermath of the well documented LBJ era of war and Great Society. Johnson is depicted as a compulsively hands on president, exhibiting totally uncertain policy, being drawn into the Vietnam War by inches by his advisors McNamara and Westmorland. Stepanovich calls him the only president who attempted to carry out the policy of his predecessor. A very arguable point of view.

Nixon never understood VN culture.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By GraniteSapper on April 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Much of the recent spate of writing decrying the decline of U.S. power and influence centers on issues of domestic decay and turmoil, with the view that the United States has somehow lost its way in the world. Some authors argue that these domestic political, economic, and social challenges have hamstrung the current administration in pursuing the kind of aggressive, engaged foreign policy needed in this volatile time. Stephan Sestanovich, the author of the recently-published Maximalist, shows that the current challenges of the Obama administration are not new, but part of cycle that can be traced back to the post-World War II Truman administration.
Sestanovich is a former U.S. diplomat, and an official under both Presidents Reagan and Clinton. He is currently a professor of international relations at Columbia, as well as a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Sestanovich has written a highly-readable and very thorough history of U.S. foreign policy since 1947. The book does not introduce much in the way of new research or detail. However, the author is successful in repackaging previous works and incorporating a great many anecdotes to retell the story in a slightly new way. It is a worthy addition to U.S. foreign policy scholarship, and should be read by any serious student of diplomatic history, or for anyone in a position to advise on or craft future foreign policy.
The book expands on a thesis, that of a “maximalist” tradition in U.S. foreign policy, one Sestanovich first examined in a Spring 2005 article from The National Interest. Sestanovich, in this new book, describes a foreign policy and diplomatic continuum cycling between periods of maximalism to retrenchment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David J. Wallace on April 12, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Excellent treatment of the administrations from Truman to Obama without any partisan rhetoric. Sestanovich is a credible and competent source who provides a well-written decryption of these various administrations.

He shows how momentum and internal politics can often have a major effect on the goals of a president--often overriding or subverting it.

Well worth reading!
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By CentreRite on August 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I titled this review "Living History" because I have lived during this entire period and remember much of what happened. Not to say I didn't learn a lot from this book; it should be required reading in middle school. The author's writing is very clear and any middle school student should be able to read this without too much aid from the dictionary...a love of recent history would help, though. The book is divided between "maximalist" and, if I remember correctly, "retrenchment" or "minimalist" presidents...a very few were both at one time or another. I had not considered presidents in that light before, but the author makes his case convincingly. One doesn't have to be middle school to learn from and enjoy this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ron Lombard on June 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Excellent review of all aspects of American foreign policy from end of WWII to the present
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very well written historical treatise on American foreign policy from Truman to early Obama. It is simply written by a neutral observer who has taken part in many important decisions. It may seem that Sestanovich is neutral but there are subtle hints regarding his personal opinions..This is a very informative book and an easy read.
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