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Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
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The Price of America’s Empire

A-ColossusFerguson, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, believes that we’re an "empire in denial." Instead of fully assuming our obligations to bring free trade, democracy, and rule of law to benighted nations, we’re masquerading as "a new Rome." An unapologetic imperialist, Ferguson sees our missed opportunity as a gross mistake. Without forcibly spreading our liberal ideals, the world, particularly the Middle East, will further fragment. But there’s a catch. Our crippled economy, manpower deficit, and "attention deficit disorder" that make us averse to foreign commitments have historically obstructed our efforts. In short, we have power, but we lack the will to wield it.
Penguin. 384 pages. $25.95.
ISBN: 1594200130

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The result is a book that largely succeeds in toning down the current rhetoric, whether anti-war or pro-war, that fuels the shouting matches that pass for debate on television." John Hartl

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Among the writers who have grappled to define U.S. power since Sept. 11, Niall Ferguson is rare. … finely detailed but highly readable new book …" Vivienne Walt

Kansas City Star 3 of 5 Stars
"The result is a balanced, lucid overview that properly roots the contemporary empire debate in history. … Ferguson is no Richard Perle, but he is prone to a neocon dreaminess that imagines country after country falling like dominoes before American might and right." Andy Nelson

Baltimore Sun 2.5 of 5 Stars
"But while Ferguson produces a powerful analysis of the realities of America’s international dilemma—from the costs of the current war on terror to the struggle to deal with antagonists capable of effectively resisting America’s seemingly overwhelming military power—Colossus falls short on core questions about America’s use of power around the world." Larry Williams

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"As a fulmination, [his theories are] splendid. As history, however, [they are] unpersuasive. … Colossus reads, in short, like a series of previously published essays too hastily stitched together." John Lewis Gaddis

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"[L]ike his last book, it is also a fiercely didactic work, often hobbled by its commitment to certain idées fixes. … Yet in laying out both the altruistic and the self-interested arguments for empire (from promoting economic growth to containing terrorism and regional wars), he fails to grapple with the question of how these unnamed countries might feel about being occupied or governed by an imperial power—how nationalism and religious convictions can fuel rage and dissent, and lead to broader animosities and destabilization." Michiko Kakutani

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"Ferguson’s book reads more like a long essay than a systematic work of history; it covers a wide swath of intellectual territory, but thinly. … The core argument of the book—that the world needs an American empire that Americans are unable to provide—is provocative but not convincing." David Ignatius

Critical Summary

Ferguson believes that empires are inherently good things. Colossus offers a provocative diatribe against America’s underutilized power, self-absorption, and refusal to embrace a crucial global role. In the process, he analyzes the interaction between domestic and foreign policy, the roots of empires, the fit between globalization and imperialism, and America’s many challenges, including funding the war on terror. Generally, Ferguson is balanced, readable, informative—and didactic. Critics mostly disagree about the thesis. Some buy it; others, like The Washington Post, question Ferguson’s constant comparisons to a romanticized British Empire. Still, Colossus will get you thinking about American expansion, responsibility, and yes, perhaps even your future colonial palace in … North Korea?

Also by the Author

AS-EmpireEmpire The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power | Niall Ferguson (2003): 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2003. In Colossus, Ferguson takes his own theories from Empire and applies them more directly to the United States. Another option would be to read Empire and draw your own conclusions.