Top positive review
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A brilliant reframing of the early 20th century
on December 20, 2014
First, a comment or two on the negative reviews. The negative comments have two point- first, that the book is poorly written and edited and 2. that it is unoriginal in content.
As to the first, I can only disagree. I read nothing but scholarly nonfiction and, while Tooze is not a great writer, he is a fine writer of history.
I did not find that it could have been a much shorter book either. He is covering a lot of territory and he tries to do it justice. The only real problem I had with the editing occurs with Figure 3 on page 357. I have no idea what the Y axis represents. If anyone knows, please leave an explanation in the comments.
As for the content, while I am no expert in this period of history, I found the content to be original and fascinating. Americans of a certain age were told that Wilson tried to change what wars were fought for and how the international community would handle conflict in the aftermath of WW1. Tooze's story is more complicated, nuanced and believable.
Tooze's basic theme is the recasting of American power in the aftermath of WW1. America through its military, economic and cultural strength(by which I mean the appeal of Wilsonianism) was able to provincialize (Tooze's ugly word) Europe. America was economically able to veto or render impotent many of the governmental policies of Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, China and Russia. The fact that there was real differences of opinion between the Congress and the Presidents (Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover) which made it difficult for the other powers to know what to expect from the U.S. in terms of consistent policy made it that much harder for any of them to know what to do.
I feel that Tooze tells his story with great understanding of the individual politics of each of the above countries. We read how the Irish conflict and the struggle of Indian independence limited Britain's options, of the different parties contending for power in Japan and of the struggles for control by different factions of Chinese warlords and parties. We also get a good sense on how the business and political communities in each country clashed over policy.
As stated above, I am no expert. If there is a book that tells this story better and more comprehensively, I wish the critics would name it so I can read it. What I can tell you is that this book has driven me to read some of his sources. Tooze has awakened my interest in this period of history by exposing my ignorance. For that, I bow in his direction.