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God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World Hardcover – October 9, 2007
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"Well-written and wide-ranging."
-Washington Post Book World Best Nonfiction of 2008
“Persuasively optimistic . . . he knows more theology and church than do most public intellectuals, and more Anglo-American history than do many of the more theologically learned; this makes for an interesting combination.”
“Entertaining . . .”
“Walter Mead’s new book is both delightful and outrageous: delightful in his mischievous, well-chosen use of poems, pamphlets, and political speeches to illustrate his arguments; and outrageous in the proper sense of the word–for it will outrage lots of readers: American know-nothings who assume life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness only began in 1776; liberal Brits who will be furious at the idea that they are the true and only forebears of our neocons’ obsession with changing the world and making a profit from it; and foreigners everywhere, especially in French-speaking and Arabic-speaking countries, who will have their worst historical myth confirmed, that the Anglo-Saxons have been intent on dominating world affairs for at least the past four centuries and have no plans to give up the habit now.”
“Ingenious . . . Mead enlivens the text with numerous amusing and illustrative anecdotes, artful literary allusions and helpful invocations of great historians and philosophers. A remarkable piece of historical analysis bound to provoke discussion and argument in foreign-policy circles.”
“Walter Russell Mead has done it again. With his distinctive sweep and penetration, America's premier archeologist of ideas and their consequences unearths the cultural roots of large political movements and developments. Readers of this scintillating volume will see the modern world afresh.”
-George F. Will
"Walter Russell Mead has written yet another fascinating, thought-provoking book about America's global role. Mead weaves together history, theology, economics and politics to tell the story of the rise of the English speaking peoples and the world that they made. Churchill would have approved."
“Well-written and very wide-ranging . . . God and Gold demands a serious rethinking of how we study and write modern history.”
“God and Gold is distinctive not just . . . because of its delightful wit, but also because it adds new depth to the familiar . . . Mead manages to be both trenchant and charming at the same time . . . brilliant.”
- Adam I. P. Smith, Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Walter Russell Mead is the Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a regular book reviewer for Foreign Affairs, a member of the editorial board of The American Interest, and a founding board member of the New America Foundation. He has written frequently for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Esquire. His books include Special Providence, which won the Lionel Gelber Award (“the world’s most important prize for nonfiction” —The Economist) in 2002, and Power, Terror, Peace, and War. He lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
He ranges widely, covering the last 300-400 years of history, especially European history it seems, This book covers so much ground and much of it is astute, creative original insight by Mead.
I had not seen this subject discussed that much at all before---why Britain and USA (the anglo saxons) have dominated the world so over the past 300 years...with the maritime strategy. Needs discussing and Mead nails it.
There are so many interesting discussions. An example is a discussion going back in history regarding the clashing viewpoints of multiculturalists versus the clash-of-civilizations group...multiculturalists and nationalists you might say....I am not using the precise terminology here, but you get the idea.
The breadth of Mead's knowledge is amazing. It is just quite a book..It did not seem to get a lot of attention..Wonder if it is too good?
The author chalks it up to the cultural traits of the Elders of Greenwich. These traits include an ability to rapidly adapt to change-indeed to seek out change, religious tolerance, philosophical pragmatism, a social system that is strong enough to avoid fragmentation but flexible enough to incorporate social change.
Anglo-Saxons also carefully align their morality to their self-interest.
In the author's view, Anglo-Saxon Societies occupy a spot between three opposing philosophical and religious views-traditional Roman Catholic style faith, radical Protestantism, and Rational Humanism. The society can thus make social progress while avoiding the tyrannical Big Idea advanced by such as the Jacobins.
This book is full of insight, profound ideas, and shows historical similarities with regards to England and her enemies.
The author leaves out mistakes the English made-the World Wars come to mind-and he also ignores the stable government that existed before the Normans arrived as well as the English Empire that included large parts of France during the time of the Plantagenet Kings. Instead he assumes that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was indeed a revolution rather than a political settlement that was a natural expression of English culture.
Ultimately, this book is an eye-opening study of Anglo-Saxon culture.
It's a valid lesson in this era of fundamentalist Christians, Moslems, Wall Street analysts, laissez fairists and other terrorists who assume they have discovered the perfect way of life, liberty, happiness and easy profits for all true believers. In brief, he doesn't suggest imposing change for the sake of change; he emphasizes the ability to change as conditions change and because our knowledge grows over time.
The delightful element is Mead's ability to use analogies, quotes and examples from sources as disparate as Lewis Carroll to John Milton to Thomas Cranmer and Reinhold Niebuhr and ranging from The Walrus and the Carpenter to Original Sin to Greed to the Invisible Hand and the Whig narrative. It's a relevant romp through history based on the premise that even conservatives can change -- even if slowly.
The writing is a delight, the history is masterful.
He succinctly rejects the neo-conservative follies who argue America is in moral, military, economic and spiritual decline; instead of the usual focus on guns, butter and Bibles. Mead argues America's strength is its ability to handle change when necessary.
Such intangibles are the foundation of a great society. The ability to change and yet retain impeccable financial integrity is a remarkable duality. It's why the bankers' bailouts are vital; not to prop up bozos, but to retain the integrity of the financial system.
Now, for the quibbles of a quidnunc: As brilliant as Mead is in his analysis, he overlooks an equally relevant factor -- the refusal to quit, to give up, to surrender.
"For three years, Hitler beat Britain and its allies everywhere he faced them . . ." Mead states, overlooking Hitler's failures to win the Battle of Britain, or to successfully blockade Britain or demoralize the people by terror bombing. It was not Churchill who stood alone against Hitler; it was 60 million Brits who refused to be bullied.
This refusal to give up is the quality that defeated Napoleon, beat the British in the U.S. War of Independence and Americans in Vietnam. Many countries share it in military terms; but, the British and Americans have the same stubborn determination in most things -- not just military -- they set out to accomplish. The Panama Canal was built by determination as much as by skill, talent and intrigue.
The unique American quality is often a persistence in demanding "new and improved" change, plus giving freedom to dissenters who challenge anything, everything and everyone in society. Every intelligent person can recognize a need for change; but, two further qualities are essential -- tolerating and even honouring those who advocate it, and the wisdom to know what, when and how to implement it.
All in all, a superb account of how we got to where we are today and what we need to maintain leadership.