From Colony to Superpower

US Foreign Relations Since 1776
Narrated by: Robert Fass
Length: 40 hrs and 41 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.5 out of 5 stars (247 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, this prize-winning and critically acclaimed history uses foreign relations as the lens through which to tell the story of America's dramatic rise from 13 disparate colonies huddled along the Atlantic coast to the world's greatest superpower.

Robert Fass narrates George C Herring’s stunning history of successes and sometimes tragic failures with calm engagement, capturing the fast-paced narrative that illuminates the central importance of foreign relations to the existence and survival of the nation, and highlights its ongoing impact on the lives of ordinary citizens.

From Colony to Superpower is the most recent volume in the peerless Oxford History of the United States, which was described by the Atlantic Monthly as “state of the art” and “the most distinguished series in American historical scholarship.”

Please note: The individual volumes of the series have not been published in historical order. From Colony to Superpower is number XII in The Oxford History of the United States.

Listen to more of the definitive Oxford History of the United States.
©2008 George C. Herring (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
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A Thoughtful History Of U.S. Foreign Policy

What did you like best about this story?

I really enjoyed the parts about our foreign policy in the 1800's that aren't as well known. The author's discussion of the Spanish American War was very interesting.

Any additional comments?

A good listen overall. The only issue I had was that I felt the author was more biased as the end of the book approached. His views of Kissinger were very harsh.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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The Rise and Stall of the American Empire

This is the second longest book I've read through Audible and it did that special thing...it made me THINK.

I believe this book began as a research project during the second Bush administration because the author....like many of us.....had concerns about American behavior after 9/11 and began looking for precedents in American history. What he found in his journey became a monumental analysis of ALL U.S. foreign policy since the beginning.

He viewed our founding fathers as kind of ???proto-Twentieth-Century-ists,??? which I found fascinating. Unlike most historical books, this one managed to capture each presidential administration through the lens of problem-solving America???s own unique relationship with other nations and people. Our collective and individual decisions, for better or worse, all seemed to be leading up to today???or to ???The American Moment.??? The end of the 20th Century was simply the actualization of American principles worldwide. The race ended. We won.

But the book doesn???t take the time to flesh out America???s past for the fun of it. The book???s conclusion demands the most important question: what next? When the audio book says ???Audible hopes you have enjoyed this book,??? I instinctively knew that it???s wasn't really over. There will be other presidents and a continuation to this story whether I like it or not.

I finished the book feeling as though the author successfully highlighted something important. Perhaps the time HAS come for new ideas...ones as powerful as those that led generations of unrelated people to come and build an unparalleled civilization.

11 people found this helpful

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Sweeping, Masterful, and Magisterial

This book has all the ingredients needed to make it a classic in American history. It is sweeping, covering the whole of United States history, the foreign policy of just about every President, and every major and minor American intervention abroad.

It is deep, delving into the doctrines, strategies, and personal tendencies that animated American foreign policy. It is not just some rehash of the working out of policy between the President and Secretary of State; rather, the book presents the complex and often baffling interactions amongst a wide array of characters both foreign and domestic. In this sense, it gives the inside scoop.

This is also an extraordinarily well-researched book. Herring appears to have mastered the material, twisting and turning it around, speculating on events from every available angle. In this sense, From Colony to Superpower feels like the last word. It is authoritative, transcending and including the views of other historians and foreign policy analysts.

Most important to me, it didn't just cover the same old tired conflicts: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and Iraq. While it was long enough to go into great depth on these conflicts, it also penetrated into the causes and consequences of the Spanish-American War, early twentieth century interventions in Central America, our overturning of the democratically elected governments of Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973, and the impact of Vietnam on Cambodia. But better still, these seldom mentioned, but nevertheless momentous, events were contextualized within the wider contexts of the Cold War, American geo-strategic interests, and the personal goals and values of various Presidential administrations.

Starting in the early twentieth-century, Herring begins to systematically evaluate the foreign policy successes and failures of each American President. He is a deep and serious enough thinker that you should come away unsure of where he sits on the political spectrum.

This is a very academic book, in the best sense. It is serious, deep, earnest, objective, comprehensive, and lacking in narrative. This makes it a poor book to take to the gym. It requires some concentration. But it also makes this a vastly more rewarding and quite simply a better book than most. Why waste our lives listening to books when we can be breathing deep and loving the world around us if not to learn and better understand the world? Too much history is mere entertainment, playing to our prejudices and, in the process, skewing our understanding of world-historical events

Since any comprehensive view of American foreign policy must necessarily include numerous interventions Americans would rather forget, a book like this can be used as ammunition from critics of American foreign policy. It can also be used as a set of cautionary tails. Further, it can be used to better understand the American Presidency. And surprising to me, having studied numerous other nation-states in great depth, since the United States is such a global power, the book can be used to help you better understand every other country where we have intervened (and this is probably more than you think).

Listening to this book will make you a better citizen insofar as it will allow you to better evaluate any potential future interventions in which we may engage. If we are to avoid making stupid mistakes abroad, we need citizens who know what is going on in the world. And if getting to know your country means getting to love it more, reading a book like this will make you a better American. Certainly, the world would love Americans more if we knew some more of this history.

I hope you get as much from this book as I did. :-)

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More effort to say that decisions were good or bad than to describe them.

The, as yet incomplete, series that this book is a part of is generally exemplary in giving equal space to the more and the less popular periods of American history; books pretty consistently cover thirty year periods.
Herring has talked in interviews about how much he was thinking about Iraq when he wrote this book, and boy does it show. The first two and a half books of the Oxford history take America up to independence. These books receive no counterpart pages in this; "From Colony to Superpower" includes the superpower part, but not the colony. In general, events that can be used to talk about Iraq get a lot of space, which means that the first century and a bit he does cover goes by quickly.

While the superlative volumes of the series at its best do include value judgments, this book repeatedly devotes three or even four sentences in close proximity to describing Herring's view on the correct policy (often in the form of deriding the intelligence or education of those who disagreed with him; it appears from this volume that no intelligent or moral people were on the wrong side of historical foreign policy debates, no hucksters and charlatans on the right side).
Given the degree to which details are often smoothed over, this is not because he had space to spare.
We are told that the Afghan war was important, for instance, in the context of deriding Bush for Iraq, but we receive no description of the importance of Afghanistan. The degree to which this position mirrored the Obama speeches at the time may just be coincidence, but, Wilson and Vietnam aside, it falls into a general pattern of Democrats being uniformly correct in their foreign policy positions. The decision not to intervene more in the Chinese Civil War, for instance, is not a trade off that later saw America pay a high price in Korea (to say nothing of the price paid by China in the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution). Rather, this was a struggle between the noble Truman and villainous and ignorant Republicans.
To put it another way, the language used is that appropriate to the OUP, but the substance is that of the Victorian children's histories parodied in 1066 And All That.

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Informative, but kind of boring.

Very interesting subject, with lots of details, but dull writing made it (for me) a constant fight against putting it away. It took me at least 'till the US civil war before getting some traction. It doesn't have the splendor of eg. 'Streelife' (Europe, 20th century). I think the author is foremost a great researcher, but lacks the skill of presenting facts in a accessible way.

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Was a bit of a slog... so hang in there worth it!

IF you want the full gamut of US foreign policy since we threw out the Brits (yikes I am one of them!) well here it is in all its glorious detail. Make sure you listen on long trips, it will help pass the time and is full of detail. Enjoy

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting overview of US system.

I found this title to be an interesting overview of the US political systems operations over the past 200 years or so. I did not find much of the content revelationary, but its a great single source of information of most of this counties major historical events in the international arena. Gives perspective around the many events that were taugnt in abstract when I was in school. Maybe this should have been my textbook instead! I would have seen the forest instead of the trees.

5 people found this helpful

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A different take...

It was quite informative to hear a panoramic view of US history from a foreign policy perspective. And surprisingly apolitical until reaching the modern era.

In the last chapter covering the George Bush III presidency, the author's view abruptly changed from neutral to a liberal progressive globalist interpretation. Which was disappointing, and a sad commentary on the current state of elite academia.

Strongly recommended for anyone interested in either US or world history, or in gaining an understanding of how we got to the world of today.

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Very Informative

I thought this book was highly erudite. I do not agree with some that say the voice was dull, in fact I found the reader captivating and voiced quotes exceptionally. George Herring, in my opinion, provides little bias towards or against the US doctrine through the ages and gives a brilliant conclusion in the end when all things are considered.

The only lacking aspect was when discussing the topic at this grand of scale, it is hard to go into detail about things - for example: a shocking event would typically get about 5 minutes worth of text before moving onto another event. This does not leave the listener repined for further expatiation, however, as such time must be devoted to a topic in order to keep the narrative moving along.

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Fascinating account. . .

of our Foreign Policies journey. At times shameful, at times exuberant, at times proud, but mostly an emotional “thank you” to our leaders. The book carefully and skillfully outlines the path from a great big world to a small global, but congested world. It was an incredible digestion of “wow, that really happened?” information. Highly recommend it during nice afternoon walks :)

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  • Petra
  • 07-08-13

5 stars and stripes

If you could sum up From Colony to Superpower in three words, what would they be?

Complete US resume

What other book might you compare From Colony to Superpower to, and why?

Post War - both huge in scope with a light but authoritative styleBoth books are superb and can only be critisied for clumsy editing of presumed mistakes that didn't bother me.

Have you listened to any of Robert Fass’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

No

Any additional comments?

More than a comprehensive history of US foreign policy.Comprehensive information (to my untutored mind) is presented as a narrative that flows and is never boring despite the considerable length of the work. I enjoyed the author's scholarly approach that was peppered with unintrusive opinion of events and characters.

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  • Lord Peridot
  • 01-04-14

Dry but illuminating history

If you could sum up From Colony to Superpower in three words, what would they be?

Well paced and well researched history. Written and read with a sympathetic tone. Much anecdote, character appraisal and passing character portraiture alleviates and illuminates what might be in another authors hands be dry and unreadable material. This is conventional untheoretical history but none the worse for that.

In three words? Silly question!

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Marcus
  • 04-08-13

Solid history

The advantage of telling just the diplomatic history is that you can see more easily the roots of diplomatic events.  If we take the Cuban crises, there was no way the US could back down.  The book shows this wasn't just about the cold war, the US had a close history with Cuba stretching back to the 19th century.  Similar themes emerge from the book, but at times it felt a bit of a slog.