Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors

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Overview

Contemporary America, with its unparalleled armaments and ambition, seems to many commentators a new empire. Others angrily reject the designation. What stakes would being an empire have for our identity at home and our role abroad?

A preeminent American historian addresses these issues in light of the history of empires since antiquity. This elegantly written book examines the structure and impact of these mega-states and asks whether the United States shares their traits and behavior. Eschewing the standard focus on current U.S. foreign policy and the recent spate of pro- and anti-empire polemics, Charles S. Maier uses comparative history to test the relevance of a concept often invoked but not always understood. Marshaling a remarkable array of evidence—from Roman, Ottoman, Moghul, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and British experience—Maier outlines the essentials of empire throughout history. He then explores the exercise of U.S. power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, carefully analyzing its economic and strategic sources and the nation's relationship to predecessors and rivals.

To inquire about empire is to ask what the United States has become as a result of its wealth, inventiveness, and ambitions. It is to confront lofty national aspirations with the realities of the violence that often attends imperial politics and thus to question both the costs and the opportunities of the current U.S. global ascendancy. With learning, dispassion, and clarity, Among Empires offers bold comparisons and an original account of American power. It confirms that the issue of empire must be a concern of every citizen.

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Editorial Reviews

London Review of Books

Having defined empire and laid out the precedents, Maier traces the last sixty years of American action on the world stage. Readers can judge for themselves if and when the U.S. turned imperial.
— James Morone

Journal of Modern History

Charles Maier has pulled off a remarkable feat by writing a book on empire that dwells largely on the recent history of the United States and that is explicitly and even agressively nonpartisan.
— Harold James

Journal of Modern History
Charles Maier has pulled off a remarkable feat by writing a book on empire that dwells largely on the recent history of the United States and that is explicitly and even agressively nonpartisan.
— Harold James
Publishers Weekly
Harvard historian Maier's brilliant study of the nature of imperial power throughout history offers a glimpse not only at the character of empire but also at how the current American political regime measures up to past empires. Maier distinguishes between "being" an empire (such as Rome) and "having" an empire (such as Britain); in the latter, power is exercised from afar and colonies are treated in ways that the imperial power's own citizens wouldn't accept. All empires require military supremacy as well as a class of elite rulers who seek to control human and natural resources. Violence is a component of empires, both on the part of those who resist empire and on the part of the ruling class. Empires, according to Maier, set out to mark out their frontiers, in order to control the movement of people and to settle colonists in defined areas. Finally, every empire in history has experienced a decline and fall. Modern America contains many, but not all, of these seeds of empire, writes Maier; for instance, the U.S. dominates through consumer capitalism rather than violence. America acts much like an empire in its quest to make the world more like itself. Maier's subtle study brooks no rivals in its assessment of American empire. 4 b&w illus. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Niall Ferguson
This is a truly masterly essay, which brilliantly succeeds in setting the phenomenon of American ascendancy in its proper historical context—as the one of many forms of imperial organization. Much has been written of late on the subject of American empire. In its multi-faceted erudition and its scrupulous ambivalence, Among Empires is in a league of its own. I cannot praise it too highly. I envy its author's scholarship and the wonderful subtlety of his analysis.
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Many of us wonder in what ways our country is--and is not--like the empires of the past. We wonder, too, if we can profit from their triumphs or learn from their failures. In this elegantly written tour de force of fair-minded comparative history, Charles Maier provides us with the materials for answering these questions for ourselves.
Peter J. Katzenstein
Charles Maier's explorations of imperial predicaments are both broad and deep. His historically rich and analytically focused approach illuminates America's ascendancy in world affairs. This elegant book is a gem of circumspect wisdom.
Ronald Steel
Powerful in analysis, rich in learning, dazzling in historical sweep and elegant in style, Among Empires will become a modern classic, indispensable to our understanding of the powerful forces that govern our world.
London Review of Books - James Morone
Having defined empire and laid out the precedents, Maier traces the last sixty years of American action on the world stage. Readers can judge for themselves if and when the U.S. turned imperial.
Journal of Modern History - Harold James
Charles Maier has pulled off a remarkable feat by writing a book on empire that dwells largely on the recent history of the United States and that is explicitly and even agressively nonpartisan.
Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare
Maier has a masterful historic grasp and his analysis is wide-ranging and comprehensive. However, this is by no means an introductory book, and students who wish to know more about the subject will be challenged by its discursive and reflective style. On the other hand, for those who have an understanding of the issues, Maier's virtuoso analysis and its broad historic sweep will be both informative and entertaining. The book makes a major contribution to current debates and should be widely consulted by anyone interested in contemporary international events.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674025561
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,435,553
  • Product dimensions: 0.79 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles S. Maier is the Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History at Harvard University, and the author of Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany.

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Table of Contents

Questions at the Outset

Part One: Recurring Structures

Introduction: The Imperial Arena

1. What Is an Empire?

2. Frontiers

3. "Call It Peace"

Part Two: America's Turn

Introduction: Highland Park and Hiroshima

4. Frontiers and Forces in the Cold War

5. An Empire of Production

6. An Empire of Consumption

Afterword: The Vase of Uruk

Tables

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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