The Age of Illusions

How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory
Length: 7 hrs and 19 mins
Categories: History, American
4.5 out of 5 stars (56 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A thought-provoking and penetrating account of the post-Cold war follies and delusions that culminated in the age of Donald Trump from the best-selling author of The Limits of Power.

When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Washington establishment felt it had prevailed in a world-historical struggle. Our side had won, a verdict that was both decisive and irreversible. For the world’s “indispensable nation”, its “sole superpower”, the future looked very bright. History, having brought the United States to the very summit of power and prestige, had validated American-style liberal democratic capitalism as universally applicable.

In the decades to come, Americans would put that claim to the test. They would embrace the promise of globalization as a source of unprecedented wealth while embarking on wide-ranging military campaigns to suppress disorder and enforce American values abroad, confident in the ability of US forces to defeat any foe. Meanwhile, they placed all their bets on the White House to deliver on the promise of their Cold War triumph: unequaled prosperity, lasting peace, and absolute freedom. 

In The Age of Illusions, best-selling author Andrew Bacevich takes us from that moment of seemingly ultimate victory to the age of Trump, telling an epic tale of folly and delusion. Writing with his usual eloquence and vast knowledge, he explains how, within a quarter of a century, the United States ended up with gaping inequality, permanent war, moral confusion, and an increasingly angry and alienated population, as well, of course, as the strangest president in American history.

©2020 Andrew J. Bacevich (P)2020 Macmillan Audio

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Badly named, but pretty good overall

I appreciated this book. I haven't spent much time reading about the last few decades of US foreign policy. I think it was really beneficial for me to zoom out from the daily/weekly news cycle that has been electrifying my nerves for the last few years now. Granted, I disagree with Bacevich's take on various events that he describes. But I never struggled to distinguish from what he describes as recent US historical facts, and his opinion. While I don't always follow his views on events, I didn't find them to be frustratingly skewed from reality at any point. I also don't agree with Amazon ebook reviewers that took umbrage to his conclusion about climate change being a potential catalyst for political/societal change. He only touches on the topic briefly in the last chapter, so why fixate on that one point? I didn't start reading this book expecting to find all of our answers by the end.

I'll also disagree with the positive reviewers that describe this book as any more than a historical brief. There are events in this book that are briefly touched on, and that I now wish to read much more about. The actual aim of the book is to frame what the 2016 election was really about. On that side of things, I found the book agreeable.

While I was reading I wondered if the book misunderstood the concept it describes as the "Emerald City." I couldn't help but think of Steven Pinker's book Enlightment Now. That book makes the point that the wider society, including those of us not doing well financially, have more and better access to creature comforts than ever before. He describes modern day life for a person with modest income having features and benefits that higher classes didn't have many decades ago. Point being, if we were already in the Emerald City, would we even know it? Perhaps we didn't fail to reach the Emerald City, but instead failed to recognize it altogether. We're facing new challenges, wrought by globalization as Mr. Bacevich correctly points out.

On reflection, I think his point is that the Emerald City was always an illusion (hence the awful title of the book). If that's the case, he's definitely right. I think he makes a good point that the end of the cold war resulted in taking our foot off the brakes. The national debt would seem to confirm this.

Anyway I'm sure I have much more to contemplate and learn about this from Mr. Bacevich. I found out about his book on the Bloggingheads podcast. I had stopped about 10 minutes in because the topic was interesting, then resumed after finishing the book. All in all, I'm quite glad I've listened.

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An explanation of the rise of Trump

Andrew Bacevich presents a valuable lesson of why we have Trump. He traces our history to show why we created him.

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A great way to get focused on why the past matters

Great book. Explains and reviews many of the causes of our current situation. Excellent for those who wish to be as clear headed as possible going forward as informed Americans or as fellow citizens of the world.

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Excellent analysis of the “End of History” Era

I am a progressive so expected to be at odds with the analysis of more conservative thinker. However Bacevich stands outside of the current left/right paradigms and offers a valuable critique of the post fall of communism world. His insights into how America got it wrong and how he weaves Trumpism into the historical context is excellent. He shows how Trump is a symptom and not a cause. Outstanding and important read.

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meticulous accessibility

Professor Bacevich pulls you into our current state of affairs and the key events that contributed to the downfall of decency and with the need for empty victory in favor of crucial progress. Without refrain he holds up a mirror to us and our forgotten history lending itself to a much needed lesson.

"peace has cost you your strength, victory has defeated you."

1 person found this helpful