109 of 116 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book, with some ignorant reviews.
There have been some slightly disturbing comments left about this book, both in terms of failing to understand the underlying messages of the book, and in terms of individuals using the platform of leaving a review to impose their (frankly confused) ideas, safe in the knowledge that nobody can answer back directly. In particular the ramblings of the American reader from...
Published on 6 Sep 2004 by Considered 1980
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An insightful analysis of the disease, some dangerous prescriptions for the cure
In this assessment of America's relations with the outside world, Ferguson writes with his customary fluency,turns of phrase, and skill in drawing historical and other parallels. He is critical of the factors which he believes act as a brake on would-be American 'liberal imperialism': the short-termism implicit in its regime change initiatives, notably Iraq; the...
Published on 13 July 2009 by Mondoro
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109 of 116 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting book, with some ignorant reviews.,
This review is from: Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (Hardcover)
There have been some slightly disturbing comments left about this book, both in terms of failing to understand the underlying messages of the book, and in terms of individuals using the platform of leaving a review to impose their (frankly confused) ideas, safe in the knowledge that nobody can answer back directly. In particular the ramblings of the American reader from Hove (suzannemaria) who appears unable to see the irony of many of her statements, and who inadvertently manages to support some of the FEW genuine criticisms of the American population found within this book. That she feels it necessary to crudely insult the British nation and its citizens, while still living in this country (for far too long apparently!?) not only shows an astonishing lack of intelligence and respect, but also suggests that she must surely be being held against her will.:) I for one hope that her British oppressors release her from her hellish captivity soon, so that she can return to her beloved country and perhaps find work in the paranoid, inward-facing American media which promotes such confused and misconceived ignorance.
As a Brit who knows America well, and who genuinely enjoys the country and it's people (with the exception of narrow-minded individuals such as the aforementioned reviewer), I find it insulting to be told that Britain is fervently anti-American. While such feelings certainly exist (perhaps understandably given recent political movements emerging from the White House), they are FAR less prominent in Britain than in just about any other corner of the world. Perhaps the support given by Britain to America in recent conflicts, while the British government manages to retain a relatively high level of public approval is pure coincidence?
Likewise, while this book does contains some biting criticism of American foreign policy, to suggest that the tone of the book is overtly anti-American implies that some of the comments left here are from individuals who have either not read or not truly understood the tone and aim of this book. Ferguson does not seek to attack America beyond some of its ill-conceived political approaches and structure, but rather attempts to uncover some of the failings of a nation that has created responsibility beyond its borders, and which has not always managed to match words with actions.
Perhaps the main criticisms I would level at this book, are that a) it focuses more upon the military actions of America, than on the economic and cultural factors (although explored in part) that help to explain why such actions took place, and b) that the thematic links between the American, Roman and British Empires, while interesting and insightful, are often overplayed for effect.
Despite these minor criticisms, American Colossus is highly recommended read for anyone interested in trying to understand the only true empire of our generation, and the political and historical causes and consequences of its far-reaching actions. ****
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ferguson's warning to confused Americans,
An interesting book, 'Colossus' is Niall Ferguson's warning to US citizens about how their national myth deceives them. We are now seeing the consequences of generations of Americans being indoctrinated to believe that the United States was born in rebellion against an empire. Of course the truth is that the 13 colonies had expansionist ambitions from the outset, and in the 1770s it was London that wanted peace with neighbours and was urging restraint on the budding imperialists in North America.
Ferguson looks at empires in general, and discusses to what extent the US now runs a global empire. He suggests that liberal empires can be good things, spreading positive values, and that the United States could administer its world empire much better if only it could admit to its longstanding mistake in seeing itself as anti-imperial in foundation and essence. Instead the US is embarrassed by its empire. It uses proxy rulers abroad, deceives its own citizens, and keeps abandoning foreign possessions instead of administering them for the benefit of both the inhabitants and itself.
Apart from this book, I have only read Ferguson's two equally readable articles in a paperback collection of writing about the current economic crisis Collateral Damage: Global Crash Phase Two - of which (full disclosure) I am one of the two editors.
'Colossus' is thoughtful, easy to read, and provocative - an unusual mix. I'm curious how many readers, especially in the US, really grasp the full force of Ferguson's case.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another must-read from the Great Contrarian,
This review is from: Colossus: The Price of America's Empire (Hardcover)
This excellent and thought-provoking book is a companion and follow-on to Professor Ferguson's best-selling and critically acclaimed `Empire.' Whereas `Empire' was an examination of the historical legacy of the British Empire, `Colossus' brings the USA and its role in the world under the spotlight. Ferguson is of course not the first academic writer to do this but he does bring an original and radical perspective to the subject.
The fundamentals of Professor Ferguson's thesis are that the USA is, and has been for some 50 years, an `Empire in Denial.' His controversial and `politically incorrect' perspective is that there is nothing wrong with empire, per se: if one examines human history empires have been the norm not the exception; that the 19th century invention of the `nation state' is artificial and flawed, and has demonstrably led to an unnecessary level of poverty, to petty tyrannies and internecine tribal warfare, to `failed states' and misery for millions, excluded from credit and prosperity. He also sees the UN as chronically under-funded with a General Assembly dominated largely by unelected despots, an impotent paper tiger which can not and will not for the foreseeable future do anything effective to keep global peace.
In the first half of the book, the author gives a good overview of the history of the USA and its de-facto empire-building tendencies: its continental expansion westwards, wars against Spain and Mexico, adventures in The Philippines and in various parts of Latin America, and how it came to colonise parts of the Pacific region and gain military bases around the globe.
In the present day (the book was written in 2004) Ferguson sees the USA as an empire in all but name because of, among other things:
1. Complete dominance in military power with a global reach unlikely to be matched by any other state or combination of states in the foreseeable future, with a qualitative technological supremacy which makes it unique in human history
2. Economic and political power not so obviously complete or unchallenged as its military dominance but nevertheless significant, challenged only by a politically weak, uncertain and incompletely unified EU & a not yet developed economic superpower in China
3. Due to the international media power of Hollywood in particular and US popular culture in general, plus the world dominance of the English language, the USA is THE globally-dominant cultural superpower
Ferguson sees the current 180-plus independent and disparate nation states making up the geopolitical map as an inherently unstable and unsustainable model which results in permanent warfare, instability and inequities. His thesis is that because Europe, the only possible alternative, is insufficiently united and demonstrably lacks the political will, the USA has to act as global policeman simply because no-one else will exercise the responsibility. However the author sees the USA as de-facto global superpower to be disappointing with poor results, and points to several inherent weaknesses which make it ill-suited to exercising its global responsibilities:
1. Chronic fiscal indebtedness due mainly to federal spending on Medicare and other welfare commitments - >US$50 trillion and rising
2. Addiction to consumerism at any price leading to a chronic imbalance of trade
3. The manifest unwillingness of American citizens to take up their global responsibilities and serve abroad
4. A national `attention deficit' - let's get in and bomb, then get the troops out quickly, never mind about clearing up the mess or making a long-term commitment to ensure stability
The author makes the case that a global hegemon - `Pax Romana' in the ancient world or `Pax Britannica' in the 1800s - is A Good Thing for global stability. These former empires brought rule of law, stable government and huge investment to the regions under their control. In contrast, the recent era of US geo-political dominance has seen the `developing world' starved of investment with corrupt, despotic and kleptocratic governments indulged and tolerated; the erosion of human rights, poverty and bankruptcy for millions all in the name of `independence' and `sovereignty.'
As outlined above, Ferguson sees the primary causes of this woeful state of affairs to be a reluctance on the part of US policy makers, and the population as a whole, to get involved. He cites examples in the mid-20th century of the US making long-term commitments to Germany and Japan following WW2 and to South Korea in the 1950s, resulting eventually in free, democratic and prosperous nations with respect for human rights and good, non-corrupt governments, net contributors to the world. However these three examples have been exceptions: the USA has subsequently been hyper-sensitive about being seen as `imperialist' and in most cases does not follow-through its interventions with sufficient commitment or thoroughness to see a worthwhile result.
So in summary, Ferguson's view is that policy-makers in the USA might learn from the British example and impose a new global order for the 21st century by force if necessary rather than let the world continue to live in factional instability and chaos, populated by too many bankrupt failed states and aid-beggars. He sees only the USA as capable of implementing such a New World Order dominated by free democratic institutions and prosperity due to its military, political and economic power and its global reach. The thesis is less ideological than practical, and asks - in reality, what is the alternative and are the results better or worse?
`Colossus' is a rewarding, intelligent and original thesis offering a new perspective on the responsibilities of being a global superpower. It opens up interesting discussions on the desirability or otherwise of global hegemony and slays a few sacred cows (like the myopic ideological belief that Empire is a bad thing, period - `compared to what?' he asks). Even if you find yourself disagreeing with all or part of the author's thesis, it's healthy to have the debate and think out of the box for a change.
The book is highly recommended by this reviewer, especially to the more intelligent reader who welcomes new and original thought and is not afraid to have his preconceptions challenged by new ideas.
39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Economic perspective on America Hegemony,
By A Customer
The core argument of this book is that a world without an empire can be a dangerous place. Stability within the international system is guaranteed by the overwhelming power vested in the hegemon. Moreover, not all empires are despotic and Ferguson argues that liberal empires are beneficial for all parties in a range of ways.
The liberal empires (first the British empire and now, somewhat reluctantly, the American empire) are guided by the principle of the spread of liberal values across the globe. They are motivated by the desire to bring responsible representative government to countries in which it does not exist, to engender respect for the rule of law, create the stability needed for economic growth and encourage the peaceful coexistence of nations. Ferguson decisively rejects the Hobson theory of empire as some quasi mafia style protection racket run by elites in the imperial core.
Looking at the historical record, Ferguson argues that imperial status has done a great deal of good. The stability thereby created enhances the colonial state's credit ratings, thus allowing it to borrow and service its debts more cheaply than countries outside the imperial system. Also the guarantee of intervention by the imperial power in cases where the colony is threatened or otherwise in difficulty promotes further stability and positive attidues to the future, so necessary for investment and growth. This is backed up by statistical argument that growth rates within the British empire were superior to those of the same countries once outside the imperial framework.
This book is however about America. Following the British Empire's decline, the Americans slipped into the role of system hegemon, adopting responsibility for developing favourable political climates in countries falling under its influence. Thus the likes of Japan, Germany and Korea were transformed from dictatorships into vibrant market economies with healthy growth rates, high standards of living and respect for the rule of law. He argues that Empire is not a money-spinner in itself - in fact the normal running costs of maintaining standing armies are high - but that the principal benefit comes from increased stability, and hence greater international integration, trade, growth and prosperity.
The complaint underlying all of this is that, according to Ferguson, America is yet to acknowledge its role as the new imperial power. It is reluctant to commit its forces in the long term to any country, it tries to leave as soon as circumstances permit, rather than (as say the British in Egypt) linger on trying to condolidate the liberal values it promotes. Moreover, American elites (again in contrast to their British counterparts of the last century) are unwilling to spend their entire careers, or even lives, in some far-flung outpost of empire in the service of the imperial system. This all goes together to make the US an "empire in denial" which de facto ends up having to behave like an empire, but lacks the political conviction to see through its policies to the end.
A particularly fascinating part of this book is the analysis of the current world financial system based on the dollar as the almost universal reserve currency. American spending is essentially bankrolled by the East Asian economies, which run a huge trade surplus with the US. Thus while this makes the US vulnerable to creditors calling in their dollar debts, at the same time the resulting shock in the US in terms of consumption may have strong reverberations in Asia. Thus this precarious balance maintains America's status as a paradoxical debtor empire (in contrast to the capital exporting British empire).
A few qualms to add to this otherwise rosy review. Ferguson does tend to cherry pick examples which support his view of benign empire, ignoring those which do not fit in with the scheme of liberal empire. Ferguson often cites the venture in the Philippines, but is rather more reticent on the blood-stained details of the US occupation. Some other questions: Why for example did the US bankroll the Indonesian regime committing acts of genocide in East Timor, continuing to sell it weapons for the duration of an invasion which left up to 30% of the pre-war Timorese population dead? Why should a liberal empire support a sanctions policy against Iraq which led to over 1,000,000 excess deaths over 10 years? Why did a liberal empire interested in establishing the rule of law support the mafia in 1940s Italy and rig the 1948 elections? Why did a liberal empire overthrow the Arbenz government in Guatemala? Why did a liberal empire support the Suharto coup in Indonesia which led to the murder of 1,000,000 communists? Was it necessary to kill these people in order to save them from communism? Just how liberal is this sort of Empire? This is not of course to say that America is a great Satan, far from it, but a review of its foreign policy needs to be nuanced enough to account for these different and often contradictory policies towards the third world. In always focusing on positive aspects of US power, Ferguson's account risks one-dimensionality.
Nonetheless recommended reading. It's not his best book but it's comfortably in the same league as Empire and the Cash Nexus.
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5* Read,
This review is from: Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (Hardcover)
This readable treatise on the US empire is accessible to both the academic and non-academic alike. It should be required reading of all US citizens, many of whom do not understand why the world does not automatically love them. This explains the thinking behind, and development of, the US empire across the globe. It also examines the reasons behind the way the US looks at its empire building. A challenging, thought provoking book.
30 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent surevy of American foreign policy,
Colossus is one of the best books I have read on current affairs on politics in recent years, and the foreward for the paperback edition is the best piece of writing on the problems in Iraq I have read to date. He never holds back from being controversial, and his book is continually thought provoking, especially for anyone with a theoretical knowledge of international relations.
His argument that American has already been an Empire is a compelling one. Americans would certainly struggle to deny that America expanded westwards, displacing an indigenous population, whatever the merits or otherwise, and their interventions in South America demonstrate their imperial pretensions in ensuring that regimes sympathetic to their own interests are in place.
The real interest in Ferguson's argument is not that America is an Empire, but the strengths that can be gained from it and its possibility as a force for good. He stresses that America has already been doing this, and firmly believes that it has contributed much to security. He issues a stirring defence of globalisation and makes the rather neat point that globalisation hasn't created problems in Africa, as African economies aren't integrated into a globalsied system. He does acknowledge that the problem is that developed countries do not allow Africans to enter into that integrated economic system.
Whilst he presents an interesting argument and compelling about America being an "Empire in denial", I do not necessarily think he explained why it is in "denial" enough. This is surely necessary in order to understand and predict America's response to its decline if (or when) it occurs, and the dichotomy between this and what is often perceived as a willingness to exert influence where it is not needed or wanted.
His arguments concerning the reasoning behind the invasion of Iraq was not as concrete as I think he assumes. He appeared to fundamentally misunderstand why people were concerned about the invasion, and whilst Saddam perhaps did deserve what happened to him given the repeated opportunities he had to stop flouting UN resolutions, to blame the invasion on Saddam was perhaps putting things a bit strong.
This book is an excellent exploration of America's foreign policy through history, and a magisterial survey of the contemporary global political system. Worth reading for anyone with at least a passing interest in international relations.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 50% history book. Some interesting ideas about the future.,
A good summary of the recent history of the American Empire - mostly WWII and after. I found the book to be an informative summary of US military interventions over the last 100 year. However, from an economic historian, I was expecting more about the alleged cultural and commercial imperialism (Coca-Colonisation).
The author points out the both the positive outcomes and good intentions of US military actions as well as the failures that influenced subsequent policy. The US comes off well (as the UK did in his history of the British Empire).
I expect history books to focus on the past, not the future. It must have been tempting for the author in 2004 to speculate on the outcome of the Iraq War, American policy post 9/11, and the weaknesses of the EU as he clearly holds strong views on these subjects. However, these chapters (about half the book) now look dated as he muses about the chance of oil reaching $30/barrel, the possibility of the US remaining in Iraq for 3 or more years, and laments the policies that have made Germany the sick man of Europe. This review was written in 2011, if you're reading it in 2018, then more fool me.
There is a chapter about the EU with very little to anchor it to the rest of the book.
A very good read, but too much irrelevant material and soapbox to be considered a good history book.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The price before the fall,
Colossus, Ferguson's natural successor to his best selling history of British imperialism 'Empire,' is a must read for anyone interested not only in how America came to dominate the world scene, but in how the world has developed since America became the world's number one power after WW2.
Ferguson's central contention is that America has long been an empire in denial, one that avoids ostensive control of the countries that it dominated. America as a nation and an empire is in relative terms far more powerful than any other hegemon in recent world history. This makes it even more disappointing that in retrospect it appears to have achieved so little.
Whereas previous empires brought stability, the rule of law and investment to the areas that they control, the period of American dominance has been characterised by declining living standards, growing corruption and degradation of human rights over much of the developing world.
This has not been caused by any malicious intent on the part of the US, quite the contary, but by lost opportunities and an unwillingness to get involved. America and it's electorate are wary of foreign entanglements, and particularly dislike being viewed as operating in an imperial manner.
Since world war two, capital flows have become concentrated almost exclusively within the developed world marketplace, with many developing countries now just seen as sources for primary products. This has meant increasing marginalisation for many from the world economy, and a poorer life for many of its inhabitants.
America seems to have dodged the 'Spiderman' maxim, 'with great power comes great responsibilty,' by being powerful, but not particularly responsible. Ferguson's conclusions are particularly bleak, firstly that even a disinterested dominant state such as the US is better than none at all, but that America's own emerging fiscal nightmare will inevitably massively reduce its ability to project power. Those that think this is a good thing should read this book, and take heed of what's said
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars O.K but you must make some assumptions,
There is no room here for a Doyle-esque treatise on what is an Empire or if there is a difference between Empire and Hegemony. Indeed, written in Ferguson's thundering tone these distinctions melt away.
Personally, I have no problem with the defining the U.S as an Empire, historians from accross the spectrum do that all the time (Callincos, Cox, Westad, Ferguson, Schama) and there is not much of an agenda going on in this book. However, as with all of Ferguson's balance sheet evaluations it tends to ignore the general feeling of imperialism. Self-determination does mean alot more now than it did in 1899 when the U.S dreamed of colonies - people are willing to fight and die for it.
Another point is that even the weakest countries in the world are powerful enough not to be occupied thanks to the enormous diffusion of power that has occured since the U.S won the cold war. Indeed the brazen way in which these countries can now criticize the world hegemony is perhaps more of an indicator of the success of american policies than there faliure.
Despite these criticisms it is an enjoyable book, well worth 4 stars and will provoke an internal debate
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking,
As usual with Mr Ferguson, a good read. Some factual errors-p265 states that Iraqis' income was once between a quarter and a half of Americans. Possibly in 1980 at the height of oil production the theoretical figure might have reached 25%, but that was never reflected in Iraqi living standards. P.262 that U.S share of world output hit a low of 10% in 1980. The figure was about 21% which rose to 26% in1981-such are the vagaries caused by exchange rate movements.
Mr Ferguson's statistics and therefore premise have been overtaken by seismic shifts over the last twelve years. His pessimism over "the sick man of Europe", Germany has been confounded; American unemployment is now three percentage points higher than German. The developed countries GDP per head listed on p.175 have all made substantial gains on American levels since 1998.
His contention that China will not surpass the U.S in total GDP until 2050 looks unlikely, 2020 now looking highly probable due to continuing strong Chinese growth of c8% per annum and American economic stagnation. Indeed China has now surpassed the U.S as the world's largest energy producer and consumer,exporter,motor vehicle producer and market and also the world's largest manufacturer.
His statement on p.299 "there is no regime it(U.S) could not terminate if it wanted to...
(it)would emerge from the rubble more or less unscathed."
This is plainly untrue with regards to Russia, which could equally devastate the U.S. China, Britain and France could also inflict vast damage in a nuclear exchange.
His view that the nation state is a modern invention is denied by ancient Egypt,Israel,Assyria,Armenia and even Japan, that were nation states par excellence.
Nevertheless,his core contention that financially irresponsible countries with feckless,venal governments would benefit from competent foreign rule has merit.
One can only hope that the U.S becomes a Chinese protectorate in the very near future.
One final point,describing John Lennon's "Imagine" as a dirge shows Mr Ferguson, whatever his merits as an historian, has no ear for music.
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Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire by Niall Ferguson