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HALL OF FAMEon October 7, 2015
Studying this book gives ample justification for the belief that the United States is an empire that is built upon the ashes of old empires. However unlike the empires of the past, the United States has through subtleness and tact caused many of its citizens to believe that empire-building is not only historically and economically justified, but also the morally proper thing to do. Even the use of military force, which has been used over and over again in US imperial adventures, is viewed as an ethical imperative, even “healthy to a nation”, as Henry Cabot Lodge is quoted as saying in this book. Other empires in history have been deemed “evil” for carrying out the same sort of actions that the US has indulged itself in for the last 200 years, and is continuing to do, albeit under the guise of “security” rather than under the banner of “extending civilization to lesser peoples abroad”.

This book however is not a study in the psychology of mass hysteria, xenophobia and jingoism, but rather a detailed account of the policy-makers/plunderers who attempted to maneuver events to their benefit throughout American history. This story is not a pretty one, but readers who desire the raw, naked truth about US foreign policy will find sound scholarship in between the covers of this book. There is much more waiting to be uncovered when it comes to this aspect of US history, but the author gives a fairly unbiased account, and one that does not show any signs of being seduced by the doctrine of American exceptionalism or sycophancy to any political party.

After finishing this book one can conclude with fairness that there does not seem to be any country in the world that has not been touched by US foreign policy. But even though the violence the US has deployed to attain its goals does not compare perhaps with other nations, many countries that showed promise for development and self-determination were decimated by the decisions made by weak-minded, ethically austere American government officials. Countries like Cuba, Chile, Haiti, Guatemala, and Vietnam come to the immediate forefront in the carnage, terror, and body count they experienced as the result of misguided US foreign policies, but there are many other places that have found themselves under the yoke of these policies. Newcomers to the history of American foreign policy may be surprised to hear for example of US presence in the Russian revolution, the US invasion of Mexico, or the attempts to force Japan into opening up its markets.

The attempted control of the “weak and semi-barbarous people” delineated in this book has not only lead to disasters for the peoples trampled upon, but also for the United States. Using a pistol rather than rational persuasion has been viewed as the more intelligent alternative, and like other empires in the past, the United States is now feeling the burden of its loyalty to this alternative. It remains to be seen of course what country in the world will attempt to build upon the ashes of the American empire.
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on April 24, 2014
Herring presents ably a very long history (from 1776 to 2000) of US diplomacy in a relatively small space, and this is the major drawback of the book. Important events need to be treated in a very short space that is too small to really talk about the nuances. To give an example, liberation theology appears in a single sentence in the chapter on Reagan's presidency as something developped by radical priests "following principles set forth by Pope John XXIII" with gives short thrift to the role of the Catholic church in Central American politics and to liberation theology itself. A difficult topic that deserves are more nuanced treatment cannot receive it in a single volume. This problem shows up repeatedly. By having to concentrate on the US site, the narrative frequently glosses over big changes in the minor players of the drama be that the fall of the fourth republic and the coming of de Gaulle or the shift from Christian Democrat led government to Social Democrat led one in Germany.

I am not sure about the quality of fact checking, but Egon Bahr was not Brandt's foreign minister (he was a secretery of state and the chancellery), but nevertheless the architect of his foreign policy. Did the May 1968 upheaval in France " helped to bring down de Gaulle"? He did resign in April 1969, but the Gaullist had won the election in June 1968. Again, lack of space prevents a nuanced description that needs to be given.
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on September 23, 2014
This is an interesting book that gives the history of US foreign policy from colonial days through 2007. It was a huge undertaking for this author. It flows well from era to era, giving a good sense of continuity. History often is taught as chunks of time with no transition from one generation to the next. This book avoids that pitfall. The author does a good job of explaining how the US was expanding territorially and commercially even during times in which the country had on the surface turned inward. I particularly liked learning how the US acquired our overseas possessions. For example, islands in the Pacific that we learn about when studying World War II were acquired much earlier, and this book explains how they came to be US possessions.

The US expanded in many different ways. Early on it was treaties with European nations. There were treaties with or expulsion of native American tribes. We bought some land (Louisiana Purchase, Alaska, Gadsden Purchase), went to war to acquire others (the American Southwest from Mexico; and Florida, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Phillipines and Guam from Spain), and annexed others when enough Americans had moved there to influence those decisions (Texas, Hawaii). We helped create new countries when it was in our interest to do so (Panama broke away from Colombia and secured its independence by allowing the US to build a canal across the isthmus, earning the protection of the US). In more modern times, we established military bases in many countries around the world.

We also have intervened much more than I realized in Central America and the Caribbean. The filibusters of the 1850's were very interesting. These were small groups of private people in the US, not affiliated with the government, who banded together to try to take over small, weak countries. They were usually from Southern States trying to find new areas to expand slavery.

The author is fairly even handed with his criticisms of US presidents, and there are many criticisms. He gives credit where credit is due, but these are much fewer than the criticisms. He is overall pretty critical of US foreign policy as a whole, and seems to only reluctantly recognize good works and humanitarian missions by the US in foreign affairs. He is quick to label almost all foreign activities as "imperial" even if it is simply trying to establish trade relations with another country. I understand the perspective that the US often had superior bargaining power and that once a country became a trading partner, they became dependent on the US. I bristle at the idea that expanding our trade creates an empire. Compared to other empires, most of which were intent on dominating people, the US must be viewed as almost benevolent. In this book, there is sometimes a sense that the US could do no right no matter what it chose to do. He is critical when the US intervenes to help a country and when the US chooses not to intervene. The author is far too fond of labeling people and policies as 'foolish.' He also repeatedly states that the fear of a Soviet threat was exaggerated or imagined without providing any details or rationale. The Soviets were very aggressive and imperialistic, and this book tends to downplay that.

Despite my criticisms of the author's criticisms, I enjoyed the book. It is interesting how we as a nation can accept our past actions and presidents more easily once they are securely in our past. The author does a good job of showing how some like Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson and Truman were heavily criticized at the time, but are considered model presidents today. Will history be as forgiving to our most recent presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama? When the book transitions from past history to recent history, it reads more like how I remember watching these things unfold on the evening news. It reminds me that today's current events are tomorrow's history, and that the way the story is told is how we will remember it forever.
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on August 2, 2015
This entry into the Oxford History of the United States focuses its attention on the diplomatic affairs of the nation since its founding in 1776. In doing so, this volume examines US history through the lens of two centuries and more which sets it apart from the other volumes which focus on smaller time spans. I found the book to be interesting as most histories tend to focus on all aspects of eras and denote foreign affairs only as sideshows to domestic events. Herring’s lens placed foreign affairs at the center of attention and showed how they impacted domestic affairs. This was a rather interesting change of pace.

Herring is the Alumni Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Kentucky. He has specialized in studying American foreign affairs as a career field and has written several books on the subject. This volume is the culmination of that specialized study. Beginning with Benjamin Franklin and his incredible achievements in France during the American War of Independence right up to the first decade of the 21st century, Herring covers the often mishandled foreign policy of the nation.

The thing that struck me the most in reading the book is that Herring seemed to show how there has never been a general US foreign policy. It has always changed depending on the will of the president and political party in control of the federal government. I would think this would be extremely frustrating for other nations who constantly had to adapt to a new president and their desires. If one thing stands out, it is that the nation’s leaders often regulated foreign policy to the backburner in favor of domestic affairs, but soon found out that this approach often failed. Woe to the American president who ignored foreign affairs after WWII. In some cases foreign policy influenced their decision making process far more than they wanted to the point where foreign affairs played a make or break role in their administration’s success in the long term.

A prime example of this would be Lyndon Johnson. The conflict in Vietnam sapped his ability to sustain his liberal domestic policy which resulted in conservative assaults upon it that severely crippled the legislation’s ability to live up to its promises. The nation still deals with the effects of that event. In the case of early American presidents, Herring also shows how foreign policy impacted their choices. Jefferson and Madison are often well known for their domestic policies and political idealism, but foreign affairs played such a strong role in their choices that contemporary Americans often felt those administrations were nowhere nearly as successful as modern Americans make them out to be.

Herring is extremely critical of the unilateralist policies of George W. Bush and his neo-conservative base. He saw these policies as disastrous which probably reflects the attitudes of the academic community at large during those times as well as the hindsight which has clearly shown unilateralism to have significantly damaged America’s standing in the international community. I thought the book was excellent even without that analysis. While some readers may object to that analysis, the facts bear out Herring’s assessment.

Herring supported his interpretations quite well with a great deal of scholarship as borne out by his supporting documentation. He used a rich mixture of primary and secondary sources to develop them. I really liked the book and its set up as working the different eras via chapters. Each one could be read separate from the other which is helpful for instructors who are looking for information on specific time periods. The drawback is this is a big book and the separation can cause readers to set it down for long stretches. All in all I found the book to be a very good study of US foreign policy which has greatly enriched my understanding of the nation’s development over time.
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on November 1, 2014
I used this book as a student in a history of American foreign policy class. This book was used to give us a baseline understanding of events and policies for the time period we were studying. I loved reading this book. It's actually an enjoyable read and I moved very quickly through the pages because it's written in a storytelling style. My professor also noted that Herring does a good job of presenting the many international relations theories at play in foreign policy equally. I agree after reading the majority of this book. We did skip a few chapters, but I kept the book to go back and read them when I have free time. That's how well written this book is, especially if you already enjoy learning about history.
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on August 17, 2013
This is an excellent history of the diplomatic activities of the US. It is a must read for diplomats and anybody interested in US foreign policy. The writing style is clear and friendly, so readers can focus on the content. Herring provides comprehensive background for US foreign policy decisions, linking foreign policy to domestic political, economic and social developments. I am delighted I bought this, and am happy to recommend it unconditionally.
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on June 30, 2010
This is a monumental synthesis and assessment of U. S. foreign relation from 1776 to the early 21st century. It is an unprecedented American historical decathlon, exploring long forgotten corners of the evolution of U. S. foreign relations and melding these into a cohesive account that is invaluable both for the generalist and the specialist. Professor Herring relies on hundreds of books, both familiar and less known, and an equally broad array of professional journal articles to illustrate long-term continuities in U. S. relations with Latin America, Asia, and elsewhere. Half of this tour de force covers the period from 1776 to 1931, with nearly 500 pages devoted to 1931 up to the present.

For this writer, steeped in early editions of Thomas A. Bailey's A DIPOMATIC HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE,I was surprised by the new insights and interpretations presented by Herring. I call his book an American history decathlon because it, with admirable success, interweaves domestic and international considerations into his flowing narrative of U. S. foreign relations. As such, he will distress American history diplomatic and domestic period specialists because of his expansive scope and, at times, outspoken opinions.

I am reminded of a World History Association conference nearly twenty years ago, when a member of a panel on 12th century Spain sought to provide an overview assessment of the period. Several 12th century Spain social and religious panelists ignored the validity of this broad overview and focused on their own parochial nitpicking. The same has already occurred with FROM COLONY TO SUPER POWER: U.S. FOREIGN RELATIONS SINCE 1776. I prefer first to applaud the boldness of this delectable historical bouillabaisse before zeroing in on the appropriateness of some of the ingredients.

Professor Herring, one of our generation's most distinguished historians, as well David Kennedy, the current general editor of the Oxford History of the United States series, are fully familiar with the ground rules of traditional historians. They chose a bold approach intended to complement the period volumes in this series. The result is a highly readable, well-conceived narrative that provides remarkable insight into both the complexity and consistency of U. S. foreign relations from early days to the present.

Herring shines light into many long-forgotten corners that, in Latin America, in regarding American exceptionalism and racism, and in the myth of U. S. isolationism, contribute to a keen appreciation of how the past often is reflected in the present.

I doubt that anyone is qualified to assess all of the components of Professor Herring's invaluable compendium. He seems equally topical in his assessments of long-past situations asin his modern-day syntheses. Personally, I have been a student of American history for over two generations and an American history professor for the past 18 years. As a Foreign Service Officer, I enjoyed an insider's view of foreign affairs. As the creator of Moody's Investor Services' international bond and commercial paper credit ratings, I developed a global view of finance and politics. The great bulk of Herring's unique magnus opus rings true. Some, to my mind, do not.

I believe that his description of the Mexican-American War would have benefitted from John Eisenhower's SO FAR FROM GOD: THE U. S. WAR WITH MEXICO 1846-1848. Eisenhower's INTERVENTION: THE UNITED STATES' INVOLVEMENT IN THE MEXICAN REVOLUTON: 1913-1917 resents Woodrow Wilson in a less noble light that does Herring. The section of the American empire in the late 19th and early 20th century does not reflect the importance of five key individuals that were so brilliantly described in Warren Zimmermann's FIRST GREAT TRIUMPH: HOW FIVE AMERICANS MADE THEIR COUNTRY A WORLD POWER. Also David McCullough's THE PATH BETWEN THE SEAS, is the definitive account of the Panama Canal saga.
I thought that Herring do not give full measure to FDR's difficult domestic situation as he sought to lead America into becoming the arsenal for democracy. I also considered his treatment of Truman overly harsh. While Alonzo L. Hamby's MAN OF THE PEOPLE: A LIFE OF HARRY S. TRUMAN is more judicious than David McCullough's Pulitzer-winning TRUMAN, the latter provides a more favorable account of Truman's actions during a tumultuous time.

In a book with hundreds of bold opinions and judgments, every historian would find reason to cavil. However, overall I consider Herring's book a remarkable accomplishment. In less than 1,000 pages he has provided a cohesive, comprehensive account of U. S. foreign relations over more than two centuries. His themes have a credible timbre. They result in an overall appreciation of how U. S. foreign relations have evolved and how this relates to present-day situations from which the generalist and the specialist can richly benefit. I doubt that anyone will again have the guts and competence to undertake such a monumental overview of our global foreign relations as they evolved within a fast-changing domestic America.

In my opinion, economics is the primary driving force behind the growth and power of the United States. Initially, a volume, The American Economy by Stuart Bruchey, was included in the projected outline for the Oxford History of the United States. Evidently this did not work out and Professor Bruchey, in 1991, published independently Enterprise: The Dynamic Economy of a Free People. While Professor Herring constantly refers to economics in his history, he includes some stunning economic statistical errors. For example:
* On page 127 he states that the War of 1812 cost $158 billion. Does he mean million?
* On page 374 he states that the U. S. government gave Nicaragua $3 billion for a naval base and canal rights. The figure was $3 million.
* On page 597 he states that the U. S. GNP rocketed from $886 million in 1939 to $135 billion in 1945 (an astonishing increase). While I don't have my library at my Long Island summer home, the GDP for this period rose from $92.2 billion to $223 billion.

On balance I believe that Professor Herring has made a remarkable contribution to appreciating the nature of U. S. foreign relations from 1776 to the present. Personally, I will find it invaluable when I teach each of the periods. His overall scope, as well as his many priceless nuggets, renders this an imperative resource for all American historians. Hopefully, some students will discover that the nitty-gritty of American foreign relations is both fascinating and essential to understanding where we came from. Indeed, modern-day policy makers would benefit before they stumble into another Iraq or Afghanistan situation. As Professor Herring wisely concludes "The United States cannot dictate the shape of a new world order, but the way it responds to future foreign policy challenges can help ensure its security and well-being and exert a powerful influence for good or ill."
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on May 29, 2013
If you are studying American history, this book is a must. It provides a detailed account of events. I advise to buy it in electronic format, so you could be able to look up for words and events very fast, just writing a related word in the search entry of your Kindle. That is what I did. Thanks to this book I've got a very high grade in my studies! I've found this book so important to achieve my goal of getting a high grade that I've also bought the audio book version, so I could read and listen to it. As it is very detailed it is also very long, so be aware of this if you choose to buy it. But this is precisely the good thing about it: its thoroughness. I am very grateful to the author!
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on October 30, 2017
Good item
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on December 14, 2014
Very good book. The author goes into a lot of detail about the time period. He is also very quick to judge historical events. Most judgments are well supported even if you do not particularly agree with his viewpoint. The only exception is that he constantly asserts that after WWII the United States could have negotiated with Stalin and the USSR. This is clearly a bit silly since Stalin was great at negotiating and rose to power through using it. All in all its a good book with one ludicrously bad opinion.
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