A Global History
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A doggedly detailed history of imperial America, beginning before the establishment of the republic and continuing to the present.

There’s more than one way to found an empire, which, writes Hopkins (Emeritus, History/Univ. of Cambridge; editor: Global History: Interactions Between the Universal and the Local, 2006, etc.), “is a species of the genus expansion.” In the instance of the Roman and British systems, imperial power was imposed from outside by way of conquest and annexation, though with a few exceptions—e.g., Scotland was “acquired principally by negotiation and depended on local magnates to manage indigenous populations.” The word “manage” is particularly meaningful, for the author’s tome is largely a species in the genus economic history, and his principal concerns are the economic forces that propel and sustain empire. In the American case, empire was built in very modest measure on the actual acquisition of land—Hawaii being a strong case in point, one that figures prominently in the narrative as an economic and geopolitical prize—but more so on the hegemonic expansion of economic patronage. The collapse of tariffs and other market barriers enabled the spread of Pax Americana during the period between the Civil War and World War I, when, having “decolonized” by shaking off the last vestiges of membership in the British system, the U.S. became a power and then superpower. There is some question about how effective America has been as an imperial power. Certainly, Americans do not perceive of themselves as being part of an imperialist system, and isolationism is a constant thread in the nation’s history, for which reasons Henry Luce’s formulation of the last one as the “American Century” really doesn’t kick in until 1945. Still, there’s good cause for Hopkins to begin his vast book with the British experience in Iraq, a place to which more than one empire has gone to die, and to place the American experience in turn in the larger context of empires across history.

Ambitious though overly long; some streamlining would have been welcome. Still, a definitive account of a complex subject that’s hard to pin down.

Pub Date: Feb. 20th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-691-17705-2
Page count: 960pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2017


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