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The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Cornell Studies in Security Affairs) [Paperback]

Christopher Layne
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 1, 2007 0801474116 978-0801474118 1
In a provocative book about American hegemony, Christopher Layne outlines his belief that U.S. foreign policy has been consistent in its aims for more than sixty years and that the current Bush administration clings to mid-twentieth-century tactics—to no good effect. What should the nation's grand strategy look like for the next several decades? The end of the cold war profoundly and permanently altered the international landscape, yet we have seen no parallel change in the aims and shape of U.S. foreign policy. The Peace of Illusions intervenes in the ongoing debate about American grand strategy and the costs and benefits of "American empire." Layne urges the desirability of a strategy he calls "offshore balancing": rather than wield power to dominate other states, the U.S. government should engage in diplomacy to balance large states against one another. The United States should intervene, Layne asserts, only when another state threatens, regionally or locally, to destroy the established balance. Drawing on extensive archival research, Layne traces the form and aims of U.S. foreign policy since 1940, examining alternatives foregone and identifying the strategic aims of different administrations. His offshore-balancing notion, if put into practice with the goal of extending the "American Century," would be a sea change in current strategy. Layne has much to say about present-day governmental decision making, which he examines from the perspectives of both international relations theory and American diplomatic history.

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Editor's Choice—Christopher Layne's 'The Peace of Illusion,' the most penetrating, intellectually daring work I've read on post-Cold War foreign policy."—Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2009

"The Peace of Illusions is the clearest and most sophisticated argument for a radical alternative to the last sixty years of grand-strategy orthodoxy. It also signals a significant fluidity of ideological labels in the new debates on the direction of U.S. policy, itself a symptom of the widespread disorientation among American intellectuals on the world-political role of their state. In that sense, Layne's book can also be read as a product of the crisis in American realist thought, which its unorthodox conclusions may serve to deepen."—Peter Gowan, New Left Review, September/October 2006

"For over a decade, through a series of influential articles, Layne has been the leading advocate within the academy of an entirely new and much more detached foreign policy strategy he calls 'offshore balancing.' In The Peace of Illusions, he puts his argument in book form, addressing conceptual as well as historical and policy issues. . . . It combines deep historical reading with rigorous theory-building and bold policy prescriptions. It is undoubtedly the most serious scholarly argument in many years for a U.S. policy of strategic disengagement, and should be considered required reading for students of international relations."—Colin Dueck, Perspectives on Politics, March 2007

"The Peace of Illusions is an excellent analysis of U.S. grand strategy since World War II that demonstrates the continuity of President Bush's foreign policy with the past. It provides a critique of the U.S. quest for hegemony over the past 60 years and proposes a policy of offshore balancing to protect American interests."—David F. Schmitz, Journal of American History, June 2007

"In Layne's telling, confronting the war-weakened Soviet Union was almost an afterthought. Stalin, he claims, actually wanted to persue detente with the United States and was only dissuaded when the Marshall Plan revealed U.S. intentions to force open Eastern Europe and achieve hegemony on the continent. Layne unconvincingly asserts that Harry Truman could have struck a deal with Stalin to set up Germany as an independant state, thereby reestablishing a balence of power in Eurasia and allowing the United States to withdraw across the Atlantic."—Jack Snyder, Foreign Affairs

"As an historical study and theoretical analysis, The Peace of Illusions succeeds in demonstrating that America's extraregional hegemony is not driven by security considerations but by economic and political interests and by a powerful ideology. U.S. global military power provided the United States with the opportunity and means to seek hegemony in Western Europe and other parts of Eurasia. But the real motivations that animated the hegemonic grand strategy are found at the domestic level. . . . Layne's ideas are an intellectual breath of fresh air. . . . As an offshore balancer, the United States could maximize its relative power effortlessly by standing on the sidelines while other great powers enter into security competition with each other."—Leon Hadar, The American Conservative, June 5, 2006

"Anyone who believes U.S. foreign policy has been mainly defensive since World War II, or thinks that this policy became transformed after the 9/11 attacks, should read this superb analysis of the Bush administration's diplomacy, the central roots of which run back nearly a century to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. With a sure grasp of both the historical facts and the theories that have driven the U.S. quest for global hegemony, Christopher Layne has made a masterful contribution to the intensifying post-Iraq-invasion debate over the course Americans are taking in their foreign policies."—Walter LaFeber, Tisch University Professor, Cornell University

From the Back Cover

"Editor's Choice -- Christopher Layne's The Peace of Illusions, the most penetrating, intellectually daring work I've read on post-Cold War foreign policy." Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2009

"As a historical study and theoretical analysis, The Peace of Illusions succeeds in demonstrating that America's extraregional hegemony is not driven by security considerations but by economic and political interests and by a powerful ideology. U.S. global military power provided the United States with the opportunity and means to seek hegemony in Western Europe and other parts of Eurasia. But the real motivations that animated the hegemonic grand strategy are found at the domestic level. . . . Layne's ideas are an intellectual breath of fresh air. . . . As an offshore balancer, the United States could maximize its relative power effortlessly by standing on the sidelines while other great powers enter into security competition with each other."--Leon Hadar, The American Conservative, June 5, 2006

"The Peace of Illusions is the clearest and most sophisticated argument for a radical alternative to the last sixty years of grand-strategy orthodoxy. It also signals a significant fluidity of ideological labels in the new debates on the direction of U.S. policy, itself a symptom of the widespread disorientation among American intellectuals on the world-political role of their state. In that sense, Layne's book can also be read as a product of the crisis in American realist thought, which its unorthodox conclusions may serve to deepen."--Peter Gowan, New Left Review, September/October 2006

"For over a decade, through a series of influential articles, Layne has been the leading advocate within the academy of an entirely new and much more detached foreign policy strategy he calls 'offshore balancing.' In The Peace of Illusions, he puts his argument in book form, addressing conceptual as well as historical and policy issues. . . . It combines deep historical reading with rigorous theory-building and bold policy prescriptions. It is undoubtedly the most serious scholarly argument in many years for a U.S. policy of strategic disengagement, and should be considered required reading for students of international relations."--Colin Dueck, Perspectives on Politics, March 2007

"The Peace of Illusions is an excellent analysis of U.S. grand strategy since World War II that demonstrates the continuity of President Bush's foreign policy with the past. It provides a critique of the U.S. quest for hegemony over the past 60 years and proposes a policy of offshore balancing to protect American interests." -David F. Schmitz, Journal of American History, June 2007

"In Layne's telling, confronting the war-weakened Soviet Union was almost an afterthought. Stalin, he claims, actually wanted to persue detente with the United States and was only dissuaded when the Marshall Plan revealed U.S. intentions to force open Eastern Europe and achieve hegemony on the continent. Layne unconvincingly asserts that Harry Truman could have struck a deal with Stalin to set up Germany as an independant state, thereby reestablishing a balence of power in Eurasia and allowing the United States to withdraw across the Atlantic."--Jack Snyder, Foreign Affairs

"Anyone who believes U.S. foreign policy has been mainly defensive since World War II, or thinks that this policy became transformed after the 9/11 attacks, should read this superb analysis of the Bush administration's diplomacy, the central roots of which run back nearly a century to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. With a sure grasp of both the historical facts and the theories that have driven the U.S. quest for global hegemony, Christopher Layne has made a masterful contribution to the intensifying post-Iraq-invasion debate over the course Americans are taking in their foreign policies."--Walter LaFeber, Tisch University Professor, Cornell University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product Details

  • Series: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801474116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801474118
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #769,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Analysis October 8, 2006
Format:Hardcover
The Peace of Illusions may be the most important book on America's security strategy published in the last decade. Layne accomplishes three difficult feats, when achieving even one would have been impressive. He provides a controversial yet well-documented interpetation of U.S. grand strategy since the end of the 1930s. At the same time, he shows convincingly that Washington's current approach to world affairs does not serve the best interests of the American people and is ultimately doomed to failure. Finally, he articulates an alternative grand strategy--"offshore balancing"--that would reduce America's costs and risks and prove to be far more sustainable.

In his historical analysis, Layne argues that the United States has consistently pursued global dominance since the early days of World War II. Probably the most controversial thesis in the Peace of Illusions is the argument that Washington would have embraced such a strategy during the Cold War era even if the Soviet Union had not existed. Layne attributes much of the U.S. drive for global hegemony to the goal of maintaining a liberal world economic order--the "open door." In advancing that thesis, he builds on the work of a number of "revisionist" historians and economists, most notably William Appleman Williams. Critics may contend, with some justification, that Layne overstates the open door thesis and does not give sufficient weight to other factors, including the impact of crusading idealism on U.S. policymakers. Nevertheless, it is hard to rebut his case that the United States, instead of adopting a more sober and restrained foreign policy following the demise of the USSR, has expanded both the definition of its interests and the aggressivness of its pursuit of those interests.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creating a Foreign Policy for America August 30, 2006
Format:Hardcover
Many of the problems stemming from George W. Bush's grand

neoconservative crusade are practical, resulting from the sort of

mistakes to be expected from a gaggle of arrogant incompetents.

Iraq, of course, is the most obvious example, but by no means the

only one.

Also fundamentally flawed, however, are the principles

behind the Bush program. At these the redoubtable Chris Layne

takes aim.

Layne is a professor at Texas A&M University. He has long

been writing trenchant articles and studies attacking the

imperialist temptation, and especially the idea that the end of

the Cold War allows--no, mandates--that Washington manage the

rest of the globe down to the most insignificant civil war and

local disturbance.

The culmination of Layne's work is The Peace of Illusions,

which focuses on matters of American grand strategy. The book is

a serious read, but a necessary one if you want to understand why

current policy would still have been a disaster even if Bush &

Company hadn't been guided by fantasies when attempting to

implement their vision. It is the imperialist vision itself that

is flawed.

Layne's analysis is thoroughly substantive, a sharp contrast

especially with so much of the junk pouring forth from alleged

"conservative thinkers." And the work is historical, recognizing

that what happened yesterday still matters today. Layne explores

the relationship between current controversies, past events,

current players, and past strategies.

It is a modern cliche to term books a "must read," but The

Peace of Illusions surely is a must read for anyone who wants to

understand and especially to change U.S. foreign policy.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Christopher Layne's work The Peace of Illusions is a book published on the onset of a new millennium. It is a book about hegemony and preponderance and equally a book about grand strategies. More precisely, it is about US hegemony and US grand strategy. Layne argues that in order for the US to preserve its preponderant role in the world affairs a strategy of off-shore balancing is required. America could remain the main player in international affairs without necessarily engaging in costly and dangerous wars of expansion.

In order to convince the reader that he is right, Layne wrote a book whose intellectual foundation is three-fold. First, at the theoretical level Layne offers probably the best taxonomy of realist theories. In the present academic world in which notions such as defensive or offensive realism are often open to debate and more often not clearly understood or, by the same token, not clearly defined, Layne's book brings precious theoretical clarifications. The author does not seek to find out what the foundation of a certain theoretical approach is or may have promised to be. Layne already knows all that. He shares his theoretical knowledge with the reader in a clear and direct language which makes his sophisticated analysis of theories of international politics accesible to the intellectual reader, regardless of his background. Layne's theoretical analysis is at the same time a taxonomy and a superb in-depth analysis of realism.

Second, for those readers out there, political scientists, as well as, historians who believe that America's grand strategy since 1940s until the present was driven only by the noble purpose of saving the world from all sorts of -isms such as communism, totalitarianism.
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