Written by a historian at San Diego State University, this study sets the story of the Peace Corps against larger trends in American culture and the experience of other volunteer developmental organizations in the West. The author gracefully conveys the spirit of idealism that accompanied the birth of the Peace Corps in 1961 under John F. Kennedy and writes skillfully of its subsequent travails. By the end of its first heady decade, radicals were denouncing it as an imperialist plot while many conservatives were writing it off as a waste of time. The author, a chastened liberal, finds it valuable not only because of the good work that many of its 145,000 volunteers accomplished abroad but also because its reaffirmation of American ideals contributed (ironically) to "nation-building" at home. However one resolves the conflict between ideals and self-interest in American foreign policy, this richly textured history makes a convincing case that the Peace Corps has made a notable contribution to both objectives.