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The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project) Paperback – April 28, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bacevich's dense text may not be ideal for an audiobook. In this critical exploration of American cultural and political breakdown in the global state of affairs, Bacevich's succinctness works great in text format but may be detrimental to the listener, who must tune into every sentence or risk losing the larger meaning. His sharp criticism for American decay, in part as a result of winning the Cold War (or maybe not losing is a better way to frame it), represents both sides of the political aisle specific examples. Eric Conger's narration proves challenging to the listener; his individual sentences are easy to follow, but he fails to provide a larger narrative emphasis, which can make Bacevich's analytical prose that much harder to follow. A Metropolitan Books hardcover (Reviews, June 16).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Crisp prose, sweeping historical analysis and searing observations on the roots of American decadence elevate this book from a mere scolding to an urgent call for rational thinking and measured action, for citizens to wise up and put their house in order.” ―Publishers Weekly

“In this utterly original book, Andrew Bacevich explains how our ‘empire of consumption' contains the seeds of its own destruction and why our foreign policy establishment in Washington is totally incapable of coming to grips with it. Indispensable reading for every citizen.” ―Chalmers Johnson, author of the Blowback Trilogy

“A clear-eyed look into the abyss of America's failed wars, and the analysis needed to climb out. In Andrew Bacevich, realism and moral vision meet.” ―James Carroll, author of House of War

“In The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich takes aim at America's culture of exceptionalism and scores a bulls eye. He reminds us that we can destroy all that we cherish by pursuing an illusion of indestructibility.” ―Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor USMC (Ret.), co-author of The General's War and Cobra II

“Andrew Bacevich has written a razor sharp dissection of the national myths which befuddle U.S. approaches to the outside world and fuel the Washington establishment's dangerous delusions of omnipotence. His book should be read by every concerned US citizen.” ―Anatol Lieven, author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism

“In The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich delivers precisely what the Republic has so desperately needed: an analysis of America's woes that goes beyond the villain of the moment, George W. Bush, and gets at the heart of the delusions that have crippled the country's foreign policy for decades. Bacevich writes with a passionate eloquence and moral urgency that makes this book absolutely compelling. Everyone should read it.” ―Mark Danner, author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror


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Product Details

  • Series: American Empire Project
  • Paperback: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1 edition (April 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805090169
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805090161
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (249 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

599 of 630 people found the following review helpful By David R. Cook on August 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the bluntest, toughest, most scathing critique of American imperialism as it has become totally unmoored after the demise of the Soviet Communist empire and taken to a new level by the Bush administration. Even the brevity of this book - 182 pages - gives it a particular wallop since every page "concentrates the mind".

In the event a reader knows of the prophetic work of the American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, you will further appreciate this book. Bacevich is a Niebuhr scholar and this book essentially channels Niebuhr's prophetic warnings from his 1952 book, "The Irony of American History". The latter has just been reissued by University of Chicago Press thanks to Andrew Bacevich who also contributed an introduction.

In essence, American idealism as particularly reflected in Bush's illusory goal to "rid the world of evil" and to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East or wherever people are being tyrannized, is doomed to failure by the tides of history. Niebuhr warned against this and Bacevich updates the history from the Cold War to the present. Now our problems have reached crisis proportions and Bacevich focuses on the three essential elements of the crisis: American profligacy; the political debasing of government; and the crisis in the military.

What renders Bacevich's critique particularly stinging, aside from the historical context he gives it (Bush has simply taken an enduring American exceptionalism to a new level), is that he lays these problems on the doorstep of American citizens. It is we who have elected the governments that have driven us toward near collapse. It is we who have participated willingly in the consumption frenzy in which both individual citizens and the government live beyond their means.
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94 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Edwin C. Pauzer VINE VOICE on September 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of those books you might find yourself sitting down to read chapter and verse over and over again, only because the writing is so intelligent and so profound. "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism," by Andrew Bacevich, is one of those works that will enthrall the reader with its insight and analysis.

According to the author, the US has reached its limit to project its power in the world. His rationale for this conclusion are three central crises we now face: economic and cultural, political, and military, all of which are our own making.

The first crisis is one of profligacy. Americans want more, whether it is wealth, credit, markets, or oil, without consideration for cost or how these things are acquired. There is complete apathy in what policies are being produced as long as they provide plenty.

The political crisis was born of our mobilization in World War II to meet the threat of tyranny, and from the Cold War to meet the challenge of the Soviet Union. Both gave rise to unprecedented presidential power, an ineffectual Congress, and a disastrous foreign policy. Bacevich contends that our legislature no longer serves their constituents or the common good "but themselves through gerrymandering, doling out prodigious amounts of political pork, seeing to the protection of certain vested interests" with the paramount concern of being re-elected. Our presidents have been willing accomplices in keeping the American dream or greed alive by using our military as part of a coercive diplomatic tool to feed and fuel the first crisis.

Bacevich traces the end of the republic to the start of both wars, which gave rise to the "ideology of national security.
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256 of 279 people found the following review helpful By D. Stamatis on August 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's amazing how much PALEO-conservatives, like Col. Bacevich (and Pat Buchanan), have in common with progressives, especially when it comes to foreign policy.

My wife and I are very progressive (I'm a Democrat; my wife's a Green), but after watching Moyers' interview with Col. Bacevich, we were blown away. We agreed that if Bacevich was running for president as a Republican, we could see ourselves crossing party-lines to vote for him: that's how profound his effect was.

I hope both sides of the aisle listen to him, because Bacevich is absolutely dead-on in what he's saying.

I'm buying this book and telling everyone I know to read it, or at least watch the Moyers interview.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on August 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
When I read books like this one about America's descent into empire, the threshold question for me is always, to what extent does the author blame George W. Bush (or related bugaboos like Cheney, Rumsfeld, John Yoo, the Weekly Standard, etc.) for the state of the nation and the world today. For while all those worthies do deserve no small measure of vilification, the baseline insight for coming to grips with it all has to be that the roots of America's national security, welfare-warfare state far, far predate September 11, 2001. Andrew J. Bacevich, of course, knows this fact very well -- which is one reason I consider him one of the finest analysts of American empire, and why "The Limits of Power" is so worth reading.

In fact, Bacevich goes well beyond blaming Bush to point the finger, fundamentally, at the American people themselves (ourselves). Far more than a simple "You voted for the guy," Bacevich argues that Americans now understand "freedom" to mean unlimited consumer choice. The American calling to "promote freedom abroad" thus now really means doing whatever is required to ensure Americans never have to face cutting back, doing without, or otherwise living within our means. As one example of the implications of this new, twisted definition of "freedom," Bacevich asks us to consider the military consequences alone of substantially reducing our dependence on imported oil. For one thing, he argues, the whole structure of America's military presence in the Persian Gulf region, including Centcom and the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, would become redundant. Bases could be closed, soldiers brought home, ships mothballed, and "weapons contracts worth tens of billions of dollars would risk being canceled" (p. 173).
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