American Power, Past and Present

The state of the world is such that thoughts about American power and its role in the world is of heightened importance. I happen to have a master’s degree in history with an emphasis on foreign policy so I find the subject interesting from both an academic and personal perspective. In addition to my more literary orientated reading I have decided to dig into some books published by foreign policy scholars. Sometime back I read Robert Kagan’s Of Paradise and Power: America and… and found it to be insightful and thought provoking. I probably need to read it again. I just recently finished John Lewis Gaddis’s Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, which was also thoughtful and enlightening. This works prompted me to dig a little deeper so next on the list is Walter Russell Mead’s Power, Terror, Peace, and War. After that comes Niall Ferguson’s Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire. Finally, to get a unique perspective I have ordered America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire by Claes G. Ryn. All of these authors are intelligent and respected scholars, but none of the works are dense tomes filled with jargon and theory. Rather they are really extended essays and thought pieces. I am thinking about writing a more formal book review essay touching on these works and perhaps even submitting it for publication. I hope this doesn’t make me the NYTRB of blogs by focusing on so much non-fiction!

BTW, with almost perfect timing, Slate has an exchange between Ferguson and Kagan on American Power and the arguments of Gaddis and Mead. I highly recommend it. You can start with Tuesday’s exchange and move on to Wednesday. It is illuminating to read two intelligent scholars discuss these important issues from a historical and scholarly perspective yet connecting them to our present situation. I will of course give you my take on the books when I have finished them.

UPDATE: Here is today’s (Thursday) exchange.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).