An intelligent, highly readable contribution to the historical literature, usefully updating such standard texts as Howard...

FIRST GREAT TRIUMPH

HOW FIVE AMERICANS MADE THEIR COUNTRY A WORLD POWER

A vigorous history of America’s rise to global power in the closing years of the 19th century.

Ambassador to Yugoslavia during the first Bush administration—Origins of a Catastrophe (1996) details his experiences there—Zimmerman is no stranger to power politics and saber rattling. He opens this lucid account by noting that modern Americans do not much like to think of their country as having an imperialist past. Indeed, he writes, imperialism “was not very popular in 1898 either,” so that two of the chief architects of America’s global expansion, Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, resorted to euphemisms such as “Americanism” and “large policy.” Whatever they called it, Roosevelt and Lodge, along with naval strategist Alfred Mahan, Secretary of State John Hay, and lawyer-administrator Elihu Root (later Secretary of War and of State), developed an encompassing policy that first led to the acquisition of huge chunks of territory by defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898. This was so resounding a victory, Zimmerman observes, that the issue was not what the Spanish were willing to concede, “but what the Americans would demand.” What they took was nearly direct economic control of places such as the Philippines and Cuba. To one degree or another, the author notes, all these men operated under conceptions of manifest destiny and a variant of social Darwinism that considered it the white man’s burden (Kipling wrote the poem of that title after an argument with Roosevelt) to rule the world, a goal that could be achieved only through war. Zimmerman examines the legacy of those attitudes in light of subsequent history, observing pointedly, “Many in Congress still remain wedded to triumphal rhetoric about the primacy of U.S. power without doing much to make that power relevant or acceptable to others.”

An intelligent, highly readable contribution to the historical literature, usefully updating such standard texts as Howard K. Beale’s Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (1956).

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-17939-5

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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