Friday, 26 September 2008

Retrospective Review: "Rise to Globalism", by Stephen E. Ambrose & Douglas G. Brinkley (Penguin)

Ten Years On, Still One Of The Best...

Every so often, a book is released that manages to stay relevant and peerless on its given subject. When it comes to histories of American Foreign Policy, Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley's Rise To Globalism (first published in 1971, and updated eight times) is one of those books.

Beginning in 1938, as Roosevelt was confronted with growing strife and uncertainty in Europe, and spanning the entirety of US foreign policy up to the end of Clinton's first term, Ambrose and Brinkley have created a superb description of how the United States got to where it is. Of specific quality and interest:
  • Insight into Roosevelt's battle to get America involved in the United Nations
  • Truman's implementation of the containment policy and NSC-68
  • Treatment of the Vietnam War and the policies that went into starting it as well as dragging it on far longer than it ever should have lasted
  • Nixon's foreign policy successes and domestic failure (Watergate)
  • Reagan's administration, full of bluster to begin with, calm and considered towards the end
  • The End of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its impact on the USA
  • The first Bush presidency: the interventionism (Gulf War) and caution (Yugoslavia), the uncertainty of America's new foreign policy direction
No issue or event is left out, and Ambrose draws from a number of ideologies to avoid too much bias - but, as with any political title, there is a certain amount of bias that is unavoidable (such as his disdain for Reagan, which creeps out in chapter 15 - "Reagan & The Evil Empire"), but even then he does not shirk from his duties as a historian to provide a well-rounded account of events. While not all presidents/decades receive the same amount of attention comparative to their times in office, there is still at least a chapter on those presidents usually forgotten by other historians and analysist (e.g. Carter).

Written in an accessible, fluid style, and devoid of overly-academic terms or passages, Rise to Globalism contains plenty of analysis as well as in-depth description of events and issues, and the characters involved in them. Whenever I need clarification of an issue or more details of an event for my PhD thesis, I turn to Ambrose and Brinkley.

If I had to recommend one book about this period in America's history, it would be this one.

Essential reading.


  1. After reading literally 4 paragraphs of chapter 10 in Rise To Globalism, the liberal bias of both these authors is obvious. They write "Republican rhetoric......, but Democratic actions....." This will be one of the tougher books to swallow.

  2. Get over yourself. The book is very well rounded (although no book is free of bias); he gives Ike great praise as well as other Republicans. Ambrose analyzes American foreign policy without attacking either side.

  3. I found this to be very democrat bias. They blamed a lot on the republicans and wrote of all the republicans that disagree to the plans we had during WWII.