- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 30, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674025563
- ISBN-13: 978-0674025561
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,365,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Harvard historian Maier's brilliant study of the nature of imperial power throughout history offers a glimpse not only at the character of empire but also at how the current American political regime measures up to past empires. Maier distinguishes between "being" an empire (such as Rome) and "having" an empire (such as Britain); in the latter, power is exercised from afar and colonies are treated in ways that the imperial power's own citizens wouldn't accept. All empires require military supremacy as well as a class of elite rulers who seek to control human and natural resources. Violence is a component of empires, both on the part of those who resist empire and on the part of the ruling class. Empires, according to Maier, set out to mark out their frontiers, in order to control the movement of people and to settle colonists in defined areas. Finally, every empire in history has experienced a decline and fall. Modern America contains many, but not all, of these seeds of empire, writes Maier; for instance, the U.S. dominates through consumer capitalism rather than violence. America acts much like an empire in its quest to make the world more like itself. Maier's subtle study brooks no rivals in its assessment of American empire. 4 b&w illus. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
This is a truly masterly essay, which brilliantly succeeds in setting the phenomenon of American ascendancy in its proper historical context―as the one of many forms of imperial organization. Much has been written of late on the subject of American empire. In its multi-faceted erudition and its scrupulous ambivalence, Among Empires is in a league of its own. I cannot praise it too highly. I envy its author's scholarship and the wonderful subtlety of his analysis. (Niall Ferguson, author of Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power)
Many of us wonder in what ways our country is--and is not--like the empires of the past. We wonder, too, if we can profit from their triumphs or learn from their failures. In this elegantly written tour de force of fair-minded comparative history, Charles Maier provides us with the materials for answering these questions for ourselves. (Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The Ethics of Identity)
Charles Maier's explorations of imperial predicaments are both broad and deep. His historically rich and analytically focused approach illuminates America's ascendancy in world affairs. This elegant book is a gem of circumspect wisdom. (Peter J. Katzenstein, author of A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium)
Powerful in analysis, rich in learning, dazzling in historical sweep and elegant in style, Among Empires will become a modern classic, indispensable to our understanding of the powerful forces that govern our world. (Ronald Steel, author of Temptations of a Superpower)
Maier's brilliant study of the nature of imperial power throughout history offers a glimpse not only at the character of empire but also at how the current American political regime measures up to past empires...Maier's subtle study brooks no rivals in its assessment of American empire. (Starred review) (Publishers Weekly 2006-02-20)
Maier has a masterful historic grasp and his analysis is wide-ranging and comprehensive. However, this is by no means an introductory book, and students who wish to know more about the subject will be challenged by its discursive and reflective style. On the other hand, for those who have an understanding of the issues, Maier's virtuoso analysis and its broad historic sweep will be both informative and entertaining. The book makes a major contribution to current debates and should be widely consulted by anyone interested in contemporary international events. (Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 2007-06-01)
Having defined empire and laid out the precedents, Maier traces the last sixty years of American action on the world stage. Readers can judge for themselves if and when the U.S. turned imperial. (James Morone London Review of Books 2007-06-21)
Charles Maier has pulled off a remarkable feat by writing a book on empire that dwells largely on the recent history of the United States and that is explicitly and even agressively nonpartisan. (Harold James Journal of Modern History)
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Top Customer Reviews
However, after the theoretical part one cannot escape the impression that the books turns too detailed. It is doubtful whether the long discussions about the US foreign policy during the Cold War could help to understand the essence of empire. And Maier delicately avoids answering to the question whether US is empire or not. And sometimes the text may be difficult for non-American (I'm Estonian).
Still, the book can be recommended to the readers who are familiar with issues of the international relations and contemporary history. For the beginners the book may be too difficult.
Maier looks at these possible consequences and political choices both abroad and at home, arguing that the transnational structure of empire both depends on and consolidates "social cleavages throughout its domain," which seems to define the operative political mode in the U.S.
Whether or not the growing American hegemony benefits more than simply the powerful and well-connected, or even the citizens at home, Maier adduces many economic criteria, but the damage to cultures, ethnic identities, and values other than consumerism must be balanced against the potential for greater, though not always equitable, economic prosperity. If we are to continue the spread of American dominance, then discussions like these must be part of the public dialogue, because individual citizens can no longer simply ignore the rest of the world when making political choices. We have already seen the consequences of such complacency.
A lot of the current controversy in academic circles (government and military circles have no such difficulties) about whether there is an American Empire gets tangled up in comparisons with past empires. True, the American Empire does not look like previous empires. The real problem is trying to pigeonhole the contours of empire based on past experiences. As if the builders of each empire doe not learn something from the mistakes of previous empires. Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin long ago analyzed the basis contours of modern imperialism in his seminal work Imperialism- The Highest Stage of Capitalism. That outline, although in need of updating to reflect various, mainly technological, in the global capitalist structure remains an important document for militants today. By his or virtually any other definition the United States gets the nod.
But let's get down to brass tasks. Hell, the American Empire, is the mightiest military machine the world has ever known defending a nationally-based global economic infrastructure. Previous empires, like the Roman and British, are punk bush league operations in comparison. Academics can afford to have an agnostic view about whether an empire exists or the effects of imperial power. However, when one's door is kicked in by a foreign, heavily armed soldier in some god forsaken village in Iraq or Vietnam, or your city is flattened in order to `save' it a ready definition of imperialism comes to mind. And a good one.
One of the issues that cloud the question of the American Empire is that there is no readily apparent imperialist ideology. In fact, it is argued, for historical reasons, that there is some kind of popular anti-imperialist ideology in America that has always countered the trend toward empire. I take exception to that notion. While there has always been a section of the chattering classes that has held this position it has never really taken popular root. What is really the dominating popular theme is more like-don't tread on me. That is a very different proposition. And it can be seen most unequivocally when a war, any war, comes along and virtually everyone- from the groves of academia to the local barroom- gets on board. Then the imperialist fist is bared for all to see.
With that caveat, this writer recommends this book. Agnostism on the question of empire in acceptable in the academy. It is the nature of such an institution-unless that heavily-armed soldier mentioned about comes kicking down those doors.