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The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad 1750 to the Present [Paperback]

Walter Lafeber

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Book Description

21 Feb 1994 0393964744 978-0393964745 2nd Revised edition
In the Second Edition, LaFeber has revised nearly every chapter in the book. In the early chapters, there is more attention to the origins of foreign policy institutions and practices, including precedents for the executive agreement, and new discussions of U.S. relations with Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The more recent chapters feature fresh insights of Potsdam, the origins of the Korean War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis--all based on new evidence drawn from Soviet archives. The new edition amply covers the momentous events that brought the Cold War to an end and thrust the United States into the uncetain position of the world's only superpower.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great resource for the analysis of US foreign policy 22 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on
I had this as a textbook for my foreign policy and decision making class last fall and found it to be a great book on the history of US foreign policy. It starts at the very roots of the history of the United States and continues to the present day, giving numerous examples of policy decisions. The book is laden with numerous political cartoons and even anecdotes from popular culture (including movies), to show how America's view of itself on both the international and national view has changed over the decades. Lafeber does not write in stilted jargon that only a true blue political science/international relations major can comprehend. This book is written in a professional yet enjoyable manner that does not get overtly dull. Read it for a good intro to America's foreign policy dillemas.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding Account of the Development of U.S. F.P. 10 Feb 1997
By A Customer - Published on
It was with great anticipation that I began reading Walter Lafeber's The American Age. After reading his Inevitable Revolutions, I instantly became a fan of his writings. In The American Age, LaFeber takes the issue of U.S. Foreign Policy and systematically analyses it with great clarity and focus. He has made effective use of primary sources throughout the piece and has clearly shown the different veins of U.S Foreign Policy that have arised, from the evasion of military alliances of the Washington Period, to Taft's Dollar Diplomacy. I felt that the usage of editorial cartoons throughout the text was an excellent idea, as it allowed the reader to have a sense of the public mood during the era in question. In sum, I would declare that The American Age is a must for any reader interested in American Foreign Policy, not only as a reliable guide for facts and figures but also for a thoroughly enjoyable read
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Tour de Force of American Foriegn Policy 7 Feb 2005
By Ben Phenicie - Published on
Walter LaFeber's masterwork, this text is a detailed, high-impact summation of American foriegn policy throughout our history. What truly makes the book stand out, however, is the fact that LaFeber evaluates foriegn policy with democratic ideals in mind. Rather than plunging off the deep end of ultraliberal America-hating, LaFeber evenhandedly doles out praise and criticism to foriegn policy actors depending only on which is deserved.

And as is too often NOT the case with history books, LaFeber also aviods the pitfalls of taking in too broad a sweep of subjects. Despite America's great strength, LaFeber does not pretend we are omnipotent or that our attitudes and values define the whole world's. Rather, events and actions that have the most impact on people and their lives are camly and deliberatly traced, described, and evaluated. Also to his credit, the author introduces the myriad of characters, places and ideologies that the topic demands be addressed with dashing flair and memorable phrase. While the vastness of World War Two quite nearly bests him, LaFeber, with determination and thorough scholarship, manages to write altogether servicable chaptes on the immense conflict.

One wishes only for another edition, so that the same steady hand of diligent scholarship might come to balance and explain the too-tumultuous happenings of our late era. As a former foriegn policy student, I urge other students to keep the book after the class you use it for ends. LaFeber's worth and insight will likely long continue, and the perspective he provides will help anyone better understand the current foriegn policy mess we're in, and what our priorities should be.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual Rock-Star 14 Feb 2014
By CJA - Published on
Verified Purchase
I took 3 classes under Walter LaFeber 35 years ago. He is the best and most inspiring teacher I've ever had. I'm pleased with the generally favorable tenor of these reviews, particularly given the bad and cursory review printed in the New York Times by an historian who must not have read the book.

I always wanted LaFeber to turn his brilliant class lectures into a book, and he does so in this very satisfying text. LaFeber respects the form of the textbook -- he is intent on reporting the facts in an interesting and concise fashion. Of course, his interpretations are there, but he does not overdo it. Nor is he the type of writer who is going to make it easy on the reader by employing snappy metaphors and buzzwords. You are required to think long and hard about what he is saying. After you are done with the book, re-read his preface, where he does give you some important themes he is trying to develop.

While I found the book to be completely satisfying, LaFeber's real talent is as a lecturer. Here is this nerdy-looking guy and son of a grocer who always wears a suit and seems to be a Middle-America conservative. But he writes a three word outline on the chalkboard and proceeds to give a spell-binding lecture without notes -- which brings to life the policymakers involved in history and which raises profoundly Revisionist questions about history. The man is a Rock-Star. I've been practicing law for 30 years and would just once like to be able to grab hold of an audience like LaFeber did in every class.

Of course, the great man would have little patience for all of the above observations and would expect me to respond to the substance of his work. So here goes.

For LaFeber, the U.S. was a great and important power from its inception. The entrepreneurial, restless, optimistic, and individualist spirit of the country resulted in expansion that conquered and united the tremendous resources of the continent. The weight of the census was overwhelming: no Native American or European presence on the continent could resist it. The population would repeatedly double by reason of birth-rate and immigration, and all barriers would be swept away.

As the frontier closed, the nation increasingly embarked on a worldwide commercial expansion. The driving imperative of American diplomacy was to promote the free passage of ideas and goods across borders. Perhaps the seminal figure in modern American diplomatic history is Wilson: liberals and conservatves are all good Wilsonians. Hoover and Reagan and Bush were every bit as Wilsonian as were FDR and JFK. The idea of Wilson was to make the world safe for democracy - and for American capitalism. Even the so-called isolationists of the 1920s were Wilsonians in the sense of attempting to use American economic power to encourage political and trading systems that would be orderly and friendly to American goods and ideas.

The American Age hit its zenith by 1955. After that we have seen a long decline in American economic and political influence. We have all the hallmarks of a declining power -- increasing reliance on military power, debt, trade imbalance, and a refusal to recognize the reality of our own decline. We ruined ourselves in winning the Cold War and now are in an existential crisis seeking to find some new principle to order our foreign affairs. It is not surprising that Bush seized on the "Global War on Terror." We need an easy enemy, and we need to be fighting wars -- it's the old Truman playbook in a different form.

Do the traits that led to the rise and triumph of America serve the nation in the challenges presented by the new Century? Or do those same traits guaranty the nation's ultimate demise? In the more complex multilateral world faced with serious resource limitations, overpopulation, and vulnerability to man-made destructive forces, do we need individualism, unbridled capitalism, expansionism, and resistance not just to international authority but even to national federal authority? Or do we need a more European perspective. The Europeans, having ruined themselves in two wars, lack our hubris and are more amenable to communitarian ideas, limitations on resource use, and stronger international authority. Ironically enough, Wilson was himself perhaps the first modern European. He parted company with the U.S. by insisting on a real set of international commitments, restraints on U.S. freedom of action, and collective security. We didn't go in his direction, but Europe did and is perhaps the stronger for it.

Well, not all of the above is from LaFeber, but this is what I get out of his book. I highly recommend the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent work 3 Dec 2011
By David - Published on
This book is an excellent overview of US foreign policy, covering topics all the way up to the 21st century. LaFeber keeps it pretty fresh and it's an enjoyable read. I had this assigned for a US foreign policy class and it served me very well. Of course, it will condense into a few pages what many scholars will write volumes on, but it condenses events succinctly. LaFeber cites everything and his bibliographies are easily accessible for anyone who wants to delve into the sources. Like other reviews said, LaFeber puts in several images of political cartoons, maps, photographs, paintings, video captures, and so on which provide the reader with more than just text. While LaFeber is not unfair, he does tend to take a moral stance.
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