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James Kurth
The American Way of Empire: How America Won a World But Lost Her Way
James Kurth, author
In this ground-breaking analysis, author James Kurth (a Harvard student of Samuel Huntington) explains that the roots of America's current foreign policy crisis lie in contradictions of an American empire which attempted to transform traditional American national interests promoted by Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt and FDR into a new American-led global order that has unsuccessfully attempted to promote supposedly universal, rather than uniquely American, ideals. Kurth dates the creation of the American empire to the morning of September 2, 1945, when General Douglas MacArthur accepted the surrender of the Empire of Japan aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay; and its end to the failure of American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. About the author: James Kurth is Claude C. Smith Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Swarthmore College. A Stanford graduate who received his doctorate under Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington, he has published over 120 articles and edited Orbis: A Journal of International Relations, as well as two books. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. A decorated Navy veteran, he taught strategy at the U.S. Naval War College, was advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group, and has been awarded the Department of the Navy Medal for Meritorious Civilian Service. A world-traveler who has visited more than 50 countries, he serves as an elder at Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
In this impressive and accessible work of scholarship, Kurth, professor emeritus of political science at Swarthmore, collects enlightening essays arguing that historic empire-building decisions—both successful and disastrous—shaped American foreign policy from the Revolutionary War to the present. A theoretical overview of imperialist structures leads to analysis demonstrating how Protestant beliefs created an “American creed.” Kurth then analyzes past military strategies and geopolitical events, examines how current strategies may affect the U.S.’s ability to accomplish its foreign policy goals, and thoughtfully extrapolates into the future.

The meticulously organized text helps the reader follow Kurth’s lines of reasoning. He makes connections that even dedicated readers of history will find both illuminating and applicable to current events, and novice readers can easily parse his ideas with the help of his strongly articulated theoretical framework. Kurth writes that the year 2001 ushered in “a long and trying period of descent and disintegration” from the peak of the triumph of the U.S. and its allies over Soviet Russia, and now sees that alliance system fracturing, suggesting “impending breakdown” both within the individual countries and in their alliances. He considers what might replace this geopolitical system and how the declining powers of the “Free World” will influence their successors. His essays provide an exceptional grounding in the whys and wherefores of American actions in relation to major powers such as Russia and China.

General readers will find some aspects difficult. Because the chapters were originally separate articles, primary concepts such as “the American way of war” are revisited in detail, which is an advantage for someone dipping into the book on different occasions but could prove irksome for some reading it straight through. The absence of maps is a challenge to readers interested in historical changes in boundary lines and areas of hegemonic influence. While not strictly necessary, such maps would be a bonus, particularly for a wider audience. Considered in terms of its arguments, however, this book has few flaws, and it would be a splendid gift for anyone seeking an in-depth look at the causes of current world tensions.

Takeaway: This deep dive into American imperial urges and their consequences will enlighten anyone interested in historical or present-day geopolitics.

Great for fans of Andrew Bacevich, Alfred McCoy.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: C