- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Simon & Schuster Hardcover Ed edition (January 1, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743294084
- ISBN-13: 978-0743294089
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.7 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,159,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation 1st Simon & Schuster Hardcover Ed Edition
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"A book of stunning breadth, analyzing past efforts at transcending isolation and conflict and explaining the inescapable need for global cooperation. A fast-moving survey, elegantly accessible with illuminating autobiographical touches. A rare feat for a large public." -- Fritz Stern, author of "Five Germanys I Have Known"
From Publishers Weekly
Talbott, deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, makes an eloquent but predictable appeal for progress toward global governance under the auspices of the United Nations, which he sees as humanity's destined path since tribes began forming states, and since states have sought an alternative to international anarchy. The major obstacle to the new order, according to Talbott (Engaging India), is the United States, whose massive power and individualist principles encourage its citizens to regard limiting national authority as unnatural. In the face of cultural resistance, however, presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton regarded some form of world authority as both a natural development in a nuclear era and a useful element of U.S. foreign policy. The villain of the piece, not surprisingly, is George W. Bush, who Talbott claims asserted America's right to make and enforce rules for other nations, rejected facts that did not support his preconceptions and ignored advice from more experienced foreign-policy hands. The resulting havoc wrought by triumphalism and evangelism, according to the author, will require the careful attention of wiser, more temperate people, presumably in a Democratic administration. While the roots of Talbott's argument run deep, it echoes so much conventional wisdom on the subject that its impact is likely to be minimal. (Jan.)
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Top Customer Reviews
So, what is a "nation"? A consolidation of tribes, as in the Bible? Groups joined by common interests, background, or language? Talbott shows that the OED definition isn't very helpful--and quotes Julian Huxley: "A nation is a society united by a common error as to its origins and a common aversion to its neighbors"--humorous, to be sure, but probably no worse than other definitions. Interestingly, the earliest successful empires often featured tolerance of different customs and beliefs and decentralization, so as to keep the subject nations or tribes from becoming rebellious. Talbott describes how Rome, Greece, the Mongols, etc, managed this.
The second part of the book deals primarily with the 20th century--with the League of Nations and the United Nations, and the transition from imperial views to the idea of shared responsibility. The concepts are more familiar to us, so this part is not as thought-provoking as the first part, but the analysis of the successes and failures of the League and the UN in terms of conflicts, civil wars, etc is very well done.
The final part of the book deals with the shift from multilateralism to unilateralism by the US, and the beginnings of a shift back to a more multilateral view. This, for Talbott, seems to be the most personal part of the book as well as being the most provocative. He quotes Truman saying that preventive war is a weapon "of dictators, not of free democratic countries like the United States", and he also quotes Bush I "We seek a Pax Universalis built upon shared responsibilites and aspirations." There's a lot in this section to think about, particularly as regards the role of the US in the world. Communication and transportation have made everything in the world very close: if a sparrow dies in Indonesia, should we care? If that sparrow was a pet and died of avian flu, and the owner arrives in the US 15 hours later, should we care? If Pakistan goes into chaos, is it our business? As Talbott notes, can the US remain aloof from problems elsewhere in the world? Talbott also talks about "a la carte multilateralism" where the US picks and chooses which tidbits it likes and ignores the rest. There's much here to make you pause and think--and that's what a fine book like this should do.
Strobe Talbott has succeeded admirably. It is a pleasure to read something that is not only illuminating, but is also well written (something very rare these days). Moreover, the tone is erudite without being stuffy, precise without being boring. I especially appreciated how he saved his personal commentary for only those moments when it was appropriate--and even then, he does so in a way that is subtle but powerful. He adroitly leads the reader to confront conclusions within the context of relevant facts. I could go on, but suffice to say that this is probably one of the best books I have read in the last several years.
There are two problems with the book. Talbot attempts to present the history of world federalism and he simply is not up to the task. Centuries fly by in the space of sentences. Talbot simply fails to provide any insight into much of the historical past. That's no big deal on say Napoleon's ambitions. There are a lot of good accounts of the rise and fall of Napoleon out there. But it is a problem when Talbot gets into the 20th century. World government had three windows in the 20th century: after World War One, after World War Two and after the fall of the Soviet empire. World federalism failed each and every time. Talbot offers little insight on these blown chances.
The other problem is harder to pin down. Talbot is not a dull writer but he is an inconsistent one. Some chapters of the book are full of passion while others make the reader think that Talbot was merely going through the motions.
Strobe Talbot was my commencement speaker when I graduated from college. I can't remember a thing he said despite being interested in international affairs and world federalism. I remember almost every episode of "Star Trek:The Next Generation" which I watched most nights in my dorm room. Gene Roddenberry was able to find a way to present world federalism in an entertaining fashion. Talbot should have taken a few lessons from Picard and Kirk. If he wanted to make a serious case for world federalism, Talbot should have tried to reach a greater audience. Instead this is a book that will only appeal to readers who already support Talbot's positions.