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The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War Hardcover – November 24, 2009

433 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Theodore Roosevelt steers America onto the shoals of imperialism in this stridently disapproving study of early 20th-century U.S. policy in Asia. Bestselling author of Flags of Our Fathers, Bradley traces a 1905 voyage to Asia by Roosevelt's emissary William Howard Taft, who negotiated a secret agreement in which America and Japan recognized each other's conquests of the Philippines and Korea. (Roosevelt's flamboyant, pistol-packing daughter Alice went along to generate publicity, and Bradley highlights her antics.) Each port of call prompts a case study of American misdeeds: the brutal counterinsurgency in the Philippines; the takeover of Hawaii by American sugar barons; Roosevelt's betrayal of promises to protect Korea, which greenlighted Japanese expansionism and thus makes him responsible for Pearl Harbor. Bradley explores the racist underpinnings of Roosevelt's policies and paradoxical embrace of the Japanese as Honorary Aryans. Bradley's critique of Rooseveltian imperialism is compelling but unbalanced. He doesn't explain how Roosevelt could have evicted the Japanese from Korea, and insinuates that the Japanese imperial project was the brainstorm of American advisers. Ironically, his view of Asian history, like Roosevelt's, denies agency to the Asians themselves. Photos, maps. One-day laydown.(Nov. 24)
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From Booklist

Bradley’s first books, Flags of Our Fathers (2000) and Flyboys (2003), were sensationally popular World War II combat stories. His new one, about U.S.-Japanese diplomacy in 1905, represents a departure. Asserting a causal connection between diplomatic understandings reached then and war 36 years later, Bradley dramatizes his case with a delegation Theodore Roosevelt dispatched to Japan in the summer of 1905. Led by Secretary of War William Taft and ornamented by the president’s quotable daughter Alice, it sailed while TR hosted the peace conference between victorious Japan and defeated Russia. As he recounts the itinerary of Taft’s cruise, Bradley discusses attitudes of social Darwinism and white superiority that were then prevalent and expressed by TR and Taft. They modified their instincts, Bradley argues, in dealing with nonwhite Japan, and secretly conceded it possession of Korea. This is what Bradley asserts was a prerequisite to Pearl Harbor in 1941, a dubious thesis when the tensions of the 1930s stemmed from general Japanese aggressiveness, not its control of Korea per se. Bradley does fine on 1905 but falters when predicting the future. --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 387 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (November 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316008958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316008952
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (433 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #300,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I was born in Wisconsin surrounded by a loving family of ten and loved swimming in cold lakes. When I was a boy I read an article by former president Harry Truman recommending historical biographies for young readers. His reasoning was that it was easy to follow the storyline of someone's life, and they would absorb the history of the times on the journey. History soon became my favorite subject and I have been an active reader all my life.

When I was thirteen years old I read an article by James Michener in Reader's Digest which I paraphrase: "When you're twenty-two and graduate from college, people will ask you, 'What do you want to do?' It's a good question, but you should answer it when you're thirty-five." Michener went on to write that his experiences wandering the globe as a young man later inspired his works on Afghanistan, Spain, Japan and other places.

When I was nineteen years old, I lived and studied in Tokyo for one year. I later brought my Japanese friends home to Wisconsin. My father, John Bradley, had helped raise an American flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima and had shot a Japanese soldier dead. My dad warmly welcomed my Japanese buddies.

I traveled around the world when I was twenty-one, from the U.S. to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, England and back to the United States.

At twenty-three I graduated with a degree in East Asian history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

For the next twenty years I worked in the corporate communications industry in the United States, Japan, England and South Africa.

In my late thirties I took a year off to go around the world again. On this trip I made it to base camp on Mt. Everest and walked among lions in Africa.

My father died when I was forty years old. My search to find out why he didn't speak about Iwo Jima led me to write Flags of Our Fathers and establish the James Bradley Peace Foundation.

Flags of Our Fathers went on to be a bestseller and a movie, but few saw its potential at first. In fact, as this New York Times article documents, twenty-seven publishers turned the book down over a period of twenty-five months. This difficult and humbling birthing process inspired my live presentation Doing the Impossible.

In 2001 a WWII veteran of the Pacific revealed to me that the U.S. government had kept secret the beheading deaths of eight American airmen on the Japanese island of Chichi Jima, next door to Iwo Jima. After researching their deaths, I informed the eight families and the world of the unknown facts in my book second book Flyboys. (One flyboy got away. His name was George Herbert Walker Bush.)

After writing two books about WWII in the Pacific, I began to wonder about the origins of America's involvement in that war. The inferno that followed Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor had consumed countless lives, and believing there's usually smoke before a fire, I set off to search Asia for the original irritants. The result of that search is my third book, The Imperial Cruise.

I am working on my fourth book, about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and China.

Above my desk are the framed words of James Michener:

"Just because you wrote a few books, the world is not going to change. You will find that you will go to sleep and awaken as the same son-of-a-bitch you were the day before."

For the past ten years, the James Bradley Peace Foundation and Youth For Understanding have sent American students to live with families overseas. Perhaps in the future when we debate whether to fight it out or talk it out, one of these Americans might make a difference.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

233 of 274 people found the following review helpful By Ian C. Ruxton on November 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I downloaded the Kindle edition of this book and right away read Chapter 8 on Theodore Roosevelt's flattering and self-interested secret proposal to the Japanese Government of a 'Japanese Monroe Doctrine' for Asia, in essence a private invitation to play the imperialist game which, as Baron Kaneko later lamented in a paper written in 1932, Roosevelt never admitted making or endorsed and took to his grave in 1919, despite promising to Kaneko in a farewell lunch at Sagamore Hill on September 10, 1905 that he would publicly announce it after he left office.

Other reviewers have pointed out that there is not much about the cruise undertaken by W.H. Taft and Alice Roosevelt in this book, and I feel it is mainly a convenient device to tell a tale which is really expressed in the sub-title 'A Secret History of Empire and War.' There are in fact two main narrative threads here: a rather gruesome and to many readers upsetting one about American imperialist ambitions and 'westering' colonization of the Pacific (Hawaii) and East Asia (the Philippines), and another to me more interesting one about U.S.-Japan relations. This review will focus on the latter.

James Bradley has done an excellent and well-researched job of presenting the history in detail of the exchanges between Kaneko and Roosevelt, though he seems unaware, or at least does not mention, that Kentaro Kaneko (1853-1942) had already met Theodore Roosevelt before 1904 through an introduction arranged by Harvard-educated William Sturgis Bigelow (1850-1926), the Bostonian collector of Japanese art. They first met in 1890 when Roosevelt was Head of the Civil Service Commission and Kaneko was returning to Japan via the U.S.
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Bif Bechenschnifter on April 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have pointed out, Bradley relies heavily on secondary sources for his history. One of the sources he quotes liberally is Morris' excellent biography of the young Roosevelt, "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt." Early in "The Imperial Cruise", Bradley says, "The author Edmund Morris thought the Nibelunglied so central to Teddy's life that he used phrases from it as aphorisms to begin each chapter of his first Roosevelt biography." This is not true (each chapter begins with a stanza from Longfellow's "The Saga of King Olaf"), and this misrepresentation is characteristic, I think, of a work that is produced with a flimsy agenda. Bradley stretches, paraphrases, and twists to serve this agenda, and decontextualizes history to provide a narrow enough focus to support his bias. There are entertaining moments in the book, but Bradley is no historian.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Bradley's book is provocative, and he certainly scores some legitimate hits on the appalling race politics of Roosevelt's time. But I have two major problems with this book:

1) I am deeply disappointed by the bias evident in the "factual" underpinnings of his thesis; Bradley clearly is massaging the facts to fit his simplistic argument in the same way that a 19th century Social Darwinist would. Two concrete examples: during his brief overview of the Mexican War, Bradley refers to the Neuces River as the "internationally recognized border", portraying the US presence there as illegal. The reality is significantly more complicated. Following the Battle of San Jacinto, the Mexican president had signed the "treaty" of Velasco (subsequently renounced by Mexico) recognizing the Rio Grande as the border. No other documents ever concluded the Texas Revolution, so it is safe to say that the border situation was ambiguous; if there was any "recognized" border from 1836 to 1846, it was the Rio Grande. Moreover, there certainly was no United Nations corollary in 1836 to provide the imprinatur of "international recognition" - I would be interested to see any documents from European or Asian legations backing up Bradley's claim.

Second, during his section on Japan, Bradley repeatedly refers to the "closed" period of Tokugawa Japan as a benevolent time where "the samurai class set down their swords and became teachers", where culture flourished and Japan prospered. Again, the reality is significantly more complicated.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful By S. R. Stout on January 24, 2011
Format: Paperback
Being a history teacher I love to read all things history. I'm also open to new interpretations of history - revisionist histroy - as long as its intelligently presented. Bradley does take a new look at our policy towards the Pacific and in his defense he does paint a good (but very sloppy) picture regarding American Imperialism.

Unfortunately it's presnted in such a fashion that the reader feels insulted; or that she/he may be reading a term paper from a 9th grader (and NOT an honors student). The concept is good but the writing and presentation are a mess. While historians know that William Taft was nicknamed "Big Bill" and that Alice Roosevelt was a bit of a spolied, wild "princess"; Bradley CONSTANTLY refers to them as Big Bill and Princess Alice. It shows a total lack of professionalism in his writing. It's as he's pushing a little joke that isn't funny to begin with. Such as - how many times do we need to hear about Taft's weight? Unless his large frame sank the USS Manchuria it has no need to be discussed. Bradley makes out that Teddy Roosevelt, one of our best presidents but yet a man with many faults, is something of a closet Nazi. And while the concept and mentality of Manifest Destiny did exsist (and still does to a degree) Bradley makes it seem that anyone of Anglo-Saxon race was in on a master plan. The incredible literary license the man takes is incredible. Bradley also loves to pad his text with unnecessary information - its almost as his presentation is a bit thin so he needs to bulk it up with any facts or quotes that may have some connection to the larger idea.

I was so looking forward to this book. I think if Bradley either had a better editor, co-writer, or ANYTHING....
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