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Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lectures on American Civilization & Government) [Hardcover]

John Lewis Gaddis
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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2 April 2004 Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lectures on American Civilization & Government
September 11, 2001, distinguished Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argues, was not the first time a surprise attack shattered American assumptions about national security and reshaped American grand strategy. The pattern began in 1814, when the British Army attacked Washington, burning the White House and the Capitol. This early violation of American homeland security gave rise to a strategy of unilateralism and preemption, best articulated by John Quincy Adams, aimed at maintaining strength beyond challenge throughout the North American continent. It remained in place for over a century. Only when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941 did the inadequacies of this strategy become evident: as a consequence, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt devised a new grand strategy of cooperation with allies on an intercontinental scale to defect authoritarianism. That strategy defined the American approach throughout World War II and the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11, Gaddis writes, made it clear that this strategy was now insufficient to ensure American security. The Bush administration has, therefore, devised a new grand strategy whose foundations lie in the nineteenth-century tradition of unilateralism, preemption, and hegemony, projected this time on a global scale. How successful it will be in the face of twenty-first-century challenges remains to be seen. This provocative book, informed by the experiences of the past but focused on the present and the future, is one of the first attempts by a major scholar of grand strategy and international relations to provide an answer.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (2 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674011740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674011748
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 1.8 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,469,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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In his very short book, "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience", John Lewis Gaddis takes a very long perspective on the part which the pursuit of hegemony has played in America's quest for security, first as an observer, then as a newcomer to the Great Power game.--James M. Murphy"Times Literary Supplement" (11/05/2004)

About the Author

John Lewis Gaddis is Robert A. Lovett Professor of History and Political Science at Yale University. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
3.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DREADFUL 29 April 2007
By Maria
Format:Paperback
If I could give this book no stars at all I would. Gaddis abandons the mantle of a historian completely in this overtly patriotic eulogy to American expansionism. (See the final line in the conclusion: he relays an anecdote about a student who asked him on 11th Sept whether it would be ok now to be patriotic. Gaddis concludes the book with the line,"Yes, I think it would".)

Gaddis argues that American expansionism--both across North America and overseas--has only ever been an attempt to find security against constant threats to the United States. For example, he argues that Native Americans were the 19th century equivalent of terrorists, who threatened the security of the US. In fact the Native Americans, who occupied the country long before the European settlers arrived, were slaughtered indscriminately in a simple case of genocide. Instead, Gaddis claims that this expansion amounted to an "empire of liberty" from the East to West coast. His critique completely omits economic factors that drove expansionism, which is probably why he is so quiet on the issue of slavery: that would put rather a blot on the "empire of liberty" thesis, along with the Native Americans.

He goes on to argue that the rise of American power in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries led to an extension of the "empire for liberty" overseas (although not an empire in the literal sense obviously).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 8 Dec 2007
Format:Paperback
Extremely pithy (it took only two hours to read) and very insightful. Transformed my understanding of how (some, influential) Americans see the world. Highly recommended for any foreigner trying to understand contemporary American foreign policy.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb 3 Dec 2004
By burkean
Format:Hardcover
This is quite possibly the single greatest book I have ever read on the subject of America's role in the world. For those who have read Robert Kagan's "Paradise and Power", this book is an ideal companion for placing current American Foreign Policy in context. You may not like what he says, but you should be in awe of how he does it. As a student of a Master course in International Relations, I can safely say that this book is essential for understanding Amercia's past, present and future. it also comes highly recommended by the Economist.
Buy it and enjoy it.
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11 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
John Lewis Gaddis, an apologist for the War on Iraq, claims, "The American ideal -- the reason so many people over so many years were willing to risk so much to become Americans -- had been to insulate domestic life from a violent external world: to avoid the collision between the personal and the historical that causes dates to be divorced, in our minds, from the years in which they occur."
Unknown to Gaddis, many other lands let people "insulate domestic life from a violent external world." Australia is a classic example. In the 1860s, Canada offered the security of "life, liberty and good government;" an alternative was going to the US to enlist in the Union armies and face "death, injury and constant risk." The US was the overwhelming choice.
Why? The lure of the US was the absence of intrusive government, stifling tradition, a static state religion and the old habits and ancient customs of one's fellow villagers. "Freedom" isn't the right to vote for George Bush or John Kerry -- it's the right to be left alone, to live as one pleases and to chart one's own future.
Gaddis is also weak on the history he uses to justify the war on Iraq. The basis of his book is the American reaction to three surprise attacks on US soil -- the burning of Washington in August 24, 1814; the attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec. 7, 1941; and the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, no reputable historian can claim "the first surprise attack on United States soil" was the burning of Washington.
This attack was part of a war which the United States unilaterally launched on Canada in 1812. However, the US had been soundly defeated at Detroit, the Niagara Peninsula and enduring a total blockage of New England to the extent that some states considered seceding to join Canada.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grand Strategy and its Discontents 31 Dec 2004
By Izaak VanGaalen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The surprise attack of September 11 brought about, in the eyes of many learned observers, a radical shift in American national security policy. Since World War II and up until the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a policy of containment and deterrence. During the 1990s, in the wake of the collapse, there was a feeling that democracy and capitalism would eventually triumph everywhere; the Clinton administration reasoned that the US "only needed to engage and the rest of the world would enlarge the process."

In response the 9/11 attack the Bush administration formulated a new strategy, outlined in the national security speech at West Point on June 1, 2002. This speech called for a new strategy which looked like a departure from American tradition. The key elements of this new strategy were preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony. In the beginning, it was little noticed; however, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, people began to examine this strategy more closely.

Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis, in this short and well-written little book, argues that this was not a new policy, in fact it had deep roots in American history that go back to the earliest days of the republic. Gaddis demonstrates that after the British attack on Washington DC during the War of 1812, the then secretary of state, John Quincy Adams asserted the same three principles. Preemption was the rationale for Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida, the "failed state" of its day being a haven for marauding Seminoles, runaway slaves and profiteering pirates. With the diminishing authority of the Spanish in Latin America, the US sought to restrict the influence of other European powers in the Western Hemisphere. The Monroe Doctrine was a unilateralist declaration even though the US did not have the means to enforce it without the backing of the British navy. And in the end, the policy of John Quincy Adams was to be the predominant power in the Western Hemisphere, or at least on the North American continent - a hegemon in all but name.

Preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony was indeed a US strategy up until World War II. The US was seeking merely to assure its security by keeping the European powers out of the hemisphere. Most Americans believed it was a mistake to seek an oversees empire as the brief foray into the Phillipines proved in the early part of the 20th century.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt was forced the build alliances with the Soviet Union and other great powers in order to defeat Germany and Japan. It was thus necessary to forgo preemption and unilateralism in deference to the alliance. During and after World War II, the US took the lead in building multilateralism institutions - a multilateral system that not only ensured American hegemony, but made it desirable at the same time. Forgoing preemption gave the US the moral high ground, which it maintained until the invasion of Iraq.

The Bush administration's invasion of Iraq had all the elements of a grand strategy: preemption, unilateralsim - when multilateralism failed - and American hegemony. There was also an innovation to this strategy: there would be an active promotion of democracy in the Middle East. This idea swayed many liberals to the cause, including members of the media and the academic community.

The problems with this strategy became apparent after the invasion. They are too numerous to go into and obvious to anyone following the news. The mistakes made during the occupation leaves the Bush Doctine with only a few remaining supporters. The failure to enlist the great powers, not to mention many of the smaller powers, destroyed our status as a benign hegemon and jepardizes our moral high ground.

Gaddis does an excellent job of explaining the grand strategy and showing that it has precedents in history, better than Bush or anyone in his administration. However, he does not show that this strategy is justified, morally or legally, and he does not seem to fully appreciate that many of our friends and allies find this strategy frightening and repugnant. They do not call us arrogant for nothing.

Nevertheless, the jury is still out. Immediately after the invasion, it looked as though one regime after another would fall in the region, along the lines of the dominoes of Eastern Europe. At the present writing, with the Iraqi elections approaching, a decent outcome seems remote and a civil war possible. Yet, there are stirrings of hope and change elsewhere in the Middle East, such as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The upheaval in Iraq is also creating debate that did not exist before in Egypt and the Gulf States. The pendulum may again swing the other way and the grand strategy may be working inspite of itself.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Puts the U.S. Response to 9-11 in Historical Perspective 29 May 2004
By Jeffery Steele - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
After 9-11, when the Bush administration began laying out the framework for a new strategy to deal with security threats to the United States, several scholars and commentators judged elements of the nascent strategy to be without precedent in American history. John Lewis Gaddis, a scholar who has written extensively about the history of U.S. national security, argues otherwise. Rather than an unprecedented strategy, Gaddis says the Bush administration has put forward a security framework that reaches back into the nineteenth century for its central ideas.
This short book, which was based on a series of lectures Gaddis presented at the New York Public Library in 2002, builds its case of an evolving U.S. security strategy around three events: the 1814 burning of the White House by the British, the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and 9-11. Gaddis argues that each of these events forced the U.S. to change its strategy to fit the new circumstances of the time. Bush's recent unilateral policies after 9-11 and FDR's multilateral response to the U.S. entry into WW2 (that was also the basis of the U.S. Cold War strategy) are familiar to most readers, but it is Gaddis's description of John Quincy Adams and his nineteenth century strategy (one that was largely followed by almost all American presidents until 1941), and the comparison of Adams's strategy with Bush's, that is likely to spark the reader's interest.
Gaddis makes the case that Bush's so-called "unprecedented" strategy combining preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony finds its precedents in Adams's policies. Like Bush, Adams felt it necessary to occasionally preempt neighboring states, non-state actors (Indians), and even failed states (Spain's faltering hold on its colonial possessions). Like Bush, Adams felt unilateralism was sometimes necessary to secure America's long-term interests. And finally, like Bush, Adams sought U.S. hegemony; the only difference between the two presidents was one of degree; Bush seeks to maintain U.S. global hegemony while Adams had to make due with the goal of regional hegemony in the Western hemisphere.
Gaddis does not claim that the Bush administration borrowed consciously from Adams, and the scholar concedes there are differences between the nineteenth and twenty-first century security environments for the U.S. He maintains, however, the similarities are striking enough to note. He also argues that there is a common thread to American strategy passing from Adams to FDR to Bush: whenever Americans have felt threatened, their response has been to take the offense, not to play defense; to expand, not to shrink behind walls; to confront and overwhelm, not to flee.
This is an excellent book, concise and strikingly persuasive. It makes the Bush case for a new U.S. strategy better than the administration itself has made it, and yet Gaddis is not a Republican supporter. By giving historical precedents to the controversial tenets of preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony, Gaddis attempts to show that Bush's new security framework is less radical than many now fear.
43 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of American foreign policy 27 May 2004
By N. Tsafos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For all that has been written about the American reaction to September 11, who could have thought that a mere 128 pages could offer a sweeping and refreshing look into America's historic quest for security-and to do so while demonstrating the relevance of that historical exercise for the present.
John Lewis Gaddis, a historian at Yale University, aims at "an admittedly premature effort to treat, as history, an event that remains inescapably part of our present": the September 11 attacks on America and the Bush Administration's response to them. The product is an intellectual and historical tour de force, which dissects the American desire for security by looking at what its government did the last two times it was faced with a similar predicament: after the British burned the White House and Capitol Hill in 1814, and after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
The three dominant themes employed (or conceived) by John Quincy Adams were unilateralism, preemption, and hegemony. Roosevelt's reaction to Pearl Harbor, on the other hand, rested on multilateralism and a rejection of preemption; ironically, he still achieved the third: hegemony. The book then proceeds to carefully craft an analysis (and critique) between those two historical precedents and President Bush's reaction after September 11.
It is hard to imagine another book that can look so clearly and refreshingly at the major security issues confronting American foreign policy at the time; and to do so in so few pages. Nor is it imaginable that anyone could have summarized in a single paragraph his or her suggestion about what America foreign policy should be aimed at (no spoilers here: read the book). Yet, this is precisely what one will encounter reading "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience."
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Vision Thing 10 Mar 2004
By Steve Booth-Butterfield - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mr. Gaddis has written one of the best books on current US foreign policy available. His grasp of history provides a strong context for analyzing the Bush administration's policy in a way many commentators, particularly from the left, overlook. Gaddis clearly sees the grand strategy (the Vision Thing) that animates Bush and his foreign policy team. Gaddis connects this vision to similar events in American history, then provides an analysis that compares and contrasts our times with those earlier "suprises" of 1814 and 1941. This brief book (you can read it in a couple of hours) operates at a wide scope of time, yet provides a clear structure that links the past with the present in a rational and empirical way. Regardless of your political philosophy, this is a book you should read if you want to form a thoughtful opinion.
There are not many people who could write a book that is this wide, deep, and clear (the Vision Thing again, but it belongs to Mr. Gaddis - what kind of seminar this guy must run); I am moved to a great deal of respect for Mr. Gaddis and his skill as a thinker and writer. I also appreciate that he considers in his analysis other strong writers like Francis Fukuyama (End of History and the Last Man), Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilizations), Fouad Ajami (Dream Palace of the Arabs), and Bernard Lewis (What Went Wrong).
This is a very strong book.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gaddis Gives Us Some Much-Needed Perspective 12 July 2004
By M. Thomsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
American foreign policy and international relations are made up of wars, treaties, doctrines, and so forth. A lot of details and sometimes a unifying perspective (e.g., Cold War and containment of USSR/Communism) gives us the sweep of history and content for many other books.
This little book offers something a little different: the meta-policy of America. The even larger scale of American foreign policy. On this scale the grounding in the country's principles together with the continuity of concerns and decisions becomes clear and understandable.
Three attacks surprised Americans - the burning of the capital in 1814, the attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and 9/11/2001. Based on concern for security and national principles the foreign policy (on this scale) was set, driven by three leaders.
The first leader was John Quincy Adams. The meta-policy combined notions of preemptive action, unilateral authority, and hegemonic power. The scope for these was this hemisphere. The meta-policy lasted pretty well until Pearl Harbor, though in practice it was not regi;ar;y (or even at all?) applied after World War I.
Second was Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the policy altered the notions somewhat. For WW II and the Cold War era. The scope was world wide and the actors were nation states and alliances of nations.
Third is George Walker Bush. In this era America has reverted somewhat to the Adams era approach. The scope is still world wide however the actors include transnational entities (such as al Queda).
I will leave the review there. The author marshalls events, documents, and the usual historical elements to support this continuity of American meta-policy. While President Bush's doctrine of preemption has far more historical context and perspective than many give him credit for (the neocons hardly invented this), there are also deviations and expansions that the author calls into question.
This book is neither a critique of Bush, nor a full fledged critique of these policies. The author does not attempt to compare President Bush to President Roosevelt for greatness.
The book left me considering a much larger historical perspective for American actions, and a greater sense of continuity and even consistency than the chattering press credits. It might also be good for a few foreign correspondents to read since it seems many outside American are unaware of American foreign policy (there is none, or it is shoot-from-the-hip Cowboyism) and American perspective on security. For all who read this book tomorrow's newspaper articles on the war, Iraq, terrorism, etc. will read just a little bit different.
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