This book joins others recently published, which outline features of the decline of American predominance in the world. Its editor, Andrew Bacevich, and eight contributors look at different aspects of global changes during the last seven decades, i.e. since Henry Luce published his article in 1941 proclaiming the impending American century. Most of them critically enumerate America's failures and setbacks culminating in the premature end of America's primacy during the Bush-43 presidency and the U.S. financial crisis of 2008. In fact, W. LaFeber asserts somewhat blusteringly, the American century was stillborn and never happened. My feeling was he was part right and part wrong. He was wrong by basing his conclusions on selective reasoning, considering only our failures and ignoring the wealth of America's splendid cultural and scientific accomplishments, its mastery of space travel and computer technology, its steadfast protection of the non-communist world and its appeal to worldwide admiration. Yet he was right in condemning the foolishness and hubris of the popular belief in divinely granted "American Exceptionalism". That condemnation is, in fact, shared by almost all the other contributors. E. McCarraher points to its historical origin all the way back among the Puritans, "who believed in their predestined, redemptive role as God's chosen people". He shows how it stubbornly persisted to the idea of the so-called Manifest Destiny of the 1840s and on all the way to the God-inspired, pugnacious views in the G. W. Bush White House. He says, the decline of our imperial hegemony will be a pivotal feature of the new century and, yes, lists its details in devastating terms.
According to Bacevich's introduction, these discussions were intentionally meant to be critical rather than celebratory, for history needs to discomfit before it can teach. That is exactly what this book does.