A comprehensive, sweeping history of America’s rise to global superpower—from the Spanish-American War to World War II—by the acclaimed author of Dangerous Nation
“With extraordinary range and research, Robert Kagan has illuminated America’s quest to reconcile its new power with its historical purpose in world order in the early twentieth century.” —Dr. Henry Kissinger
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the United States was one of the world’s richest, most populous, most technologically advanced nations. It was also a nation divided along numerous fault lines, with conflicting aspirations and concerns pulling it in different directions. And it was a nation unsure about the role it wanted to play in the world, if any. Americans were the beneficiaries of a global order they had no responsibility for maintaining. Many preferred to avoid being drawn into what seemed an ever more competitive, conflictual, and militarized international environment. However, many also were eager to see the United States taking a share of international responsibility, working with others to preserve peace and advance civilization. The story of American foreign policy in the first four decades of the twentieth century is about the effort to do both—“to adjust the nation to its new position without sacrificing the principles developed in the past,” as one contemporary put it.
This would prove a difficult task. The collapse of British naval power, combined with the rise of Germany and Japan, suddenly placed the United States in a pivotal position. American military power helped defeat Germany in the First World War, and the peace that followed was significantly shaped by a U.S. president. But Americans recoiled from their deep involvement in world affairs, and for the next two decades, they sat by as fascism and tyranny spread unchecked, ultimately causing the liberal world order to fall apart. America’s resulting intervention in the Second World War marked the beginning of a new era, for the United States and for the world.
Brilliant and insightful, The Ghost at the Feast shows both the perils of American withdrawal from the world and the price of international responsibility.
About the Author
ROBERT KAGAN is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for The Washington Post. He is the author of The Return of History and the End of Dreams, Dangerous Nation, Of Paradise and Power, and A Twilight Struggle. He served in the U.S. State Department from 1984 to 1988. He lives in Virginia with his wife.
“To succeed in its foreign policy, a nation needs history and self perception. With extraordinary range and research, Robert Kagan has illuminated America’s quest to reconcile its new power with its historical purpose in world order in the early twentieth century. The Ghost at the Feast will influence America’s self-perception for years to come with its lucid analyses and thoughtful perspectives.” —Dr. Henry Kissinger
"A professional historian’s product through and through, sharply focused on its period and supported by amazingly detailed endnotes....Probably the most comprehensive, and most impressive, recent analysis we have of how Americans regarded the outside world and its own place in it during those four critical decades....Mr. Kagan recounts presidential decision-making and official actions in great detail, yet offers even greater analysis of the swirls of U.S. public opinion, the arguments of the press and pundits, the evidence in Gallup polls, and the ever-important actions of senators and congressmen." —Paul Kennedy, The Wall Street Journal
"In a series of nimble polemics, and in expansive, finely wrought historical works, Kagan has spun variations on his theme: America’s unfolding purpose is to be the world’s organizing power, it owes this sense of mission to deeply ingrained American ideals, and the chief threat to this will-to-primacy comes not from without, but from within....Staggering...Kagan succeeds brilliantly in calling up the emotional temperature of the period." —Thomas Meaney, The New York Times
"In his judicious, vibrant The Ghost at the Feast...Robert Kagan excavates the transformational early decades of the 20th century and the nation's rocky emergence onto the global stage....A briskly written, engaging tutorial at a moment when foreign policy has again run aground in the shallow waters of our self-absorption." —Hamilton Cain, StarTribune
"Gripping...Kagan is a fine writer and an indefatigable researcher....His book is the product of a monumental amount of work....I recommend it." —Richard Cohen, Air Mail
"The Ghost at the Feast...sets the competing impulses in domestic politics — the instinct to stand back versus shining-city-on-the-hill internationalism — against the breakdown of the balance of power arrangements that had kept the global peace since the Congress of Vienna of 1814-15. The story is fluently told." —Philip Stephens, Financial Times
"Robert Kagan’s The Ghost at the Feast could not hit the bookshelves at a better time....Kagan’s second installment shows how the real wonder is not that the Americans joined the fight in 1917 and 1941 but rather that they entered the Cold War without having been directly attacked. If Kagan’s finale is anything like the trilogy’s first two installments, it will provoke, inform, and enliven our debates for years to come." —Mike Watson, Washington Examiner
“Kagan has produced a formidable work of synthesis and analysis based on prodigious reading and deep thinking. He adroitly places the evolution of U.S. policy in the context of developments in Europe and Asia, illuminating the challenges emanating from external events without losing sight of the domestic political context. His provocative conclusions will force scholars and students, policy makers and lay readers to reassess their understanding of America’s role in the international arena from the Spanish-American War to World War II.” —Melvyn P. Leffler, Edward Stettinius Professor of History Emeritus, University of Virginia
"With a facility for clear and cogent prose, Kagan is determined to prove that, far from exemplifying an isolationist approach to world affairs long proclaimed by many scholars, Americans have gathered and deployed massive strength to shape the international system to their liking.And yet, in spite of this spirited pursuit of power, Americans have seldom been happy in its possession or comfortable in its use...Kagan’s treatment of the various motives underpinning America’s entry in the First World War is exemplary...The Ghost at the Feast is thus essential for statesmen who acknowledge American ambition without hypocrisy." —Brian Stewart, Commentary
"A broad-ranging history of America’s early evolution as a world power...Kagan cogently examines what he considers certain inevitabilities (e.g., the attack on Pearl Harbor) while delivering novel interpretations of events....An insightful study of the birth of the American empire and the resulting 'American century.'" —Kirkus, starred review
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