How to Hide an Empire

A History of the Greater United States
Narrated by: Luis Moreno
Length: 17 hrs and 25 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,999 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A pathbreaking history of the United States' overseas possessions and the true meaning of its empire

We are familiar with maps that outline all 50 states. And we are also familiar with the idea that the United States is an "empire", exercising power around the world. But what about the actual territories - the islands, atolls, and archipelagos - this country has governed and inhabited? In How to Hide an Empire, Daniel Immerwahr tells the fascinating story of the United States outside the United States. In crackling, fast-paced prose, he reveals forgotten episodes that cast American history in a new light. 

We travel to the Guano Islands, where prospectors collected one of the 19th century's most valuable commodities, and the Philippines, site of the most destructive event on US soil. In Puerto Rico, Immerwahr reveals how US doctors conducted grisly experiments they would never have conducted on the mainland and charts the emergence of independence fighters who would shoot up the US Congress. In the years after World War II, Immerwahr notes, the United States moved away from colonialism. Instead, it put innovations in electronics, transportation, and culture to use, devising a new sort of influence that did not require the control of colonies. Rich with absorbing vignettes, full of surprises, and driven by an original conception of what empire and globalization mean today, How to Hide an Empire is a major and fully enjoyable work of history.

©2019 Daniel Immerwahr (P)2019 Recorded Books
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How to beat a straw man to death

Daniel Immerwahr has done an impressive amount of research to support his theory. I just got tired of hearing how racist, evil, and scumsucking old, dead white guys were. A few hours were enjoyable, 17 hours is beyond tedious. What amazed me is that he seemed to think white, American men were unique in their racist, ugly, nationalistic, and patriarchal views of the world. Hello! Welcome to history. Outside of myth, I'd struggle to identify many cultures that were not racist, ugly, patriarchal with plenty of trash that doesn't look so good under a current day microscope of political correctness. I hope someday our current lack of civility seems as barbaric as some of the things Immerwahr's book describes. I tried to finish it in the hope that I could find a real theory, but after 11 hours, I thought walking across shards of glass was preferable to this torture.

This book sucked all the joy of history out of me. It was like listening to a political preacher screaming to a choir of true believers. I started to feel as if I needed to take a shower to wash the dirt and venom off me. It was like hanging out with the "mean girl," who was gleefully spreading all the terrible gossip she could and twisting things to support her agenda. It's all so very titillating, but I feel nasty after indulging in such base pleasures. The past is a foreign place, and I learn nothing by sitting on my high stool of superiority and looking down my nose at their "unenlightened" ways. I'm not supporting, advocating, or even excusing past deeds. Still, I surely want to understand them and find out why they believed X--that's what makes history so fascinating--to stroll around these "foreign" streets and try to understand the people walking them. What do I learn about any country if I merely smugly say, "that's not how it's done in America." Isn't that the POINT of foreign travel and reading history? It's supposed to be different. I don't have to agree with it, but I deprive myself of learning if I refuse to give up the judgemental Judy pose. This author has spent so much time looking for dirt in one spot that he's missed the fact that the entire past is a complicated and sometimes ugly place.

Politically, I'm probably pretty close to many of Immerwahr's views. As far as history goes, I want to understand the past, not just set up straw men that I can knock down to feel morally superior. This is 17+ hours of trash talk. Ugggghhh. I wish I would have stopped much sooner, but there is something about a train wreck that can be compelling. I hate myself for gawking, but it can be tough to turn away. I'm so happy to be returning this book. I want to get a refund for my time as well.

202 people found this helpful

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Very Interesting Read!

I learned a lot from listening to “How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States,” by Daniel Immerwahr (Macmillan, February 2019). For example, I have always had difficulty understanding where the pejorative term, “Yankee Imperialism” came from. And I definitely did not know that in 1940, approximately 1 in 8 Americans lived “outside” the United States. (This was before Alaska and Hawaii achieved statehood and the Philippines achieved independence, etc.)

The author carefully details how the United States evolved from a traditional “territorial” colonial empire (like nineteenth century Great Britain), to a form of “pointillistic” colonialism. Today, relatively few Americans live “outside” of the United States (as in Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.). Nevertheless, the US continues to maintain a worldwide “imperialistic presence.” This is evidenced by the fact that, while all of the other major world powers combined have approximately 30 “foreign” military bases — in total — the United States has approximately 800, an astonishing number!

Immerwahr explains how wars and colonial expansions in the 19th Century began largely over shortages of or control of natural resources (e.g., guano, oil, rubber, steel, etc.). But he then documents how advances in technology (e.g., the Internet, GPS, etc.) and chemistry (think fertilizer, explosives, plastics and other synthetics) have combined to completely change international trade and the fundamental meaning of “colonialism.” Throw in a few unusual terms like "Coca-Colonialism" (as in the worldwide distribution of CocaCola) and the “logo map” of the US (it's a real thing!), then add the influence of US military bases on places like Liverpool (think the Beatles) and you have a very interesting read!

15 people found this helpful

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We Get It, The USA is Always in the Wrong

This is a frustrating book to listen to. According to this author, no matter what the U.S. does, it is always on the wrong side of history. So when the U.S. colonizes, people are oppressed and die so the U.S. is in the wrong. When the U.S. fails to colonize, people are not rescued from oppression and they die so the U.S. is in the wrong. The overt hatred of every policy decision in U.S. history regarding empire building slants this book heavily toward opinion rather than fact. The bias is so strong that all facts have to be looked at with a grain of salt as they are all filtered by an author making no effort to present all sides of a story.

Just by the title of the text and the author's background, you know this book is going to lean hard to the left, which it does. However, the bias is not where this book falls apart. It is quite disjointed and the editor really dropped the ball. Was a chapter on James Bond really necessary? Isn't this a history book? He then goes on and on about standardization of screw threads. The connection to his topic is distant at best, but for the time he put into standardization he could have written another book on it.

That all said, the first half of the book (Part 1) is very interesting and well written. As long as you know the author's bias, you enjoy reading about events that you probably didn't know about. However, feel free to shut it off after you finish Part 1. Part 2 feels like a hodgepodge of the author's stream of conscious thoughts.

13 people found this helpful

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not a scholarly history but good counterpoint<br />

Rather than coming from a pure historian I think of this as coming from a talented investigator. I just finished the history of the United States in 36 lectures. This definitely added to that experience and brought my view of the country into a new perspective. Regardless of whether I agree with every assumption, this was well worth the listen.

36 people found this helpful

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Countless Great Stories, Told So Well

Immerwahr's central idea is insightful and challenging. No matter whether you agree and no matter whether he is ultimately correct, this thesis is worth knowing. I did not finish thinking "this is IT," but I did finish thinking "I wish I had been exposed to this idea long ago." Immerwahr is meticulous in developing his argument, but his tone is engaging and without stridency. Indeed, he builds his case in an unhurried way by telling really great stories. The stories build on familiar events, but the context, characters, and narrative skill made each brief story mesmerizing as though wholly new. If you listen to this Audible book in the car, be prepared to sit in the garage for a few minutes after arrival -- and then hit pause quickly, so as not to be drawn into the next story.

So, so enjoyable -- but this book also makes a point. Many points. I'm not sure that I agree with every single point, but nothing about Immerwahr's approach makes genuine disagreement uncomfortable. Like exceptions that prove a rule, a few negative reviews from extremists simply reinforce the currency of Immerwahr's ideas. The tensions he reveals in history yet exist today. And so, I am glad for this new (to me) window on the American experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and suspect I will "use" it for years to come.

Luis Moreno's performance is top notch.

113 people found this helpful

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What US history left out

Detailed account of the uglier side of US history. A must to understand the complexity of the United States.

6 people found this helpful

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Fascinating listen...

I rarely write an actual review of the books I listen too and I listen to many!! In addition I am a dedicated fiction listener and only a few nonfiction books catch my interest... This was one of those books. Most nonfiction listens will produce an “ah well that was mildly interesting” reaction from me this one far exceeded that general spot on the scale. Fascinating information, details in history I’d never heard and hearing those details produced such an “AH-HA so that’s why!” revelation for me that I will never be the same!
Kudos to the author and narrator - together you have produced the History 102 class ALL should hear.

83 people found this helpful

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Ho-Hum History

This retelling of the history of the US acquisition and governance of its diverse territories includes some interesting anecdotes and footnotes to history. However, the author is not objective in relating historic events, and his preachy judgments of 19th century practices make for tiresome reading. In a history such as this, I'd like the author to present the facts and allow me as the reader to draw my own conclusions. Also, the narrator mispronounces quite a few words throughout the reading.

58 people found this helpful

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The US in a Whole Different Light

Excellent! I teach AP World History, and this will definitely enhance my lectures and class discussion on US territories and their rippling effect on a global scale then and now. The narrator was superb in cadence and timing. I will buy the hardback.

75 people found this helpful

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Learning the deeper details of history is fascinating

I’m a fan of history and I love books like this one. I learned a ton about the place I’ve loved my entire life. I’d recommend this to anyone.

3 people found this helpful