New book: The Short American Century: A Postmortem, edited by Andrew J. Bacevich *82 (Harvard University Press)
The author: A professor of international relations and history at Boston University, Andrew Bacevich is the author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (2010) and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008). Previously he taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins.
The book: In a famous 1941 Life magazine essay, Henry Luce declared the arrival of “The American Century.” “To the extent that an American Century ever did exist,” writes Bacevich, “that moment has now definitively passed.” Nine historians — including David M. Kennedy, Emily S. Rosenberg, and Nikhil Pal Singh — analyze the postwar period in America in this collection of essays. The contributors look at U.S. achievements and failures and cover issues including the rise of consumer culture, the persistence of racism, and the advent of transnationalism. “The aim here is not to prop up American self-esteem,” writes Bacevich. “Before history can teach, it must challenge and even discomfit.”
Opening lines: “As contemplated by average Americans, sitting in their living rooms and leafing through their favorite magazine, the outside world in mid-February 1941 seemed nothing if not troubled. Occupying the center of attention was Great Britain, its people stoic in the face of a widely expected invasion. Although the intensity of German air raids had diminished in recent weeks (a pause that some called the ‘Lullablitz’), Londoners were still spending their nights in underground shelters.”
Review: “Every single essay in this book is thought-provoking and engaging, however much one agrees or disagrees with their specific analyses. Though not filled with policy prescriptions, The Short American Century implicitly suggests that the country would benefit from lowered sights. Paradoxically, an America less focused on international dominance would find itself in a better position in the world. If the book’s lessons are heeded, Americans may find that decline is no more inevitable than are delusions of international dominance,” wrote Jordan Michael Smith for Columbia Journalism Review.