In her modest and useful book, Von Hippel summarizes recent U.S. efforts to use military intervention to rebuild nations. Of the case studies on Panama, Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia, she finds qualified successes everywhere but Somalia -- which she judges a resounding failure -- and tries to draw out some lessons learned.
A good place to find such lessons is Latham's fine study of the nation-building struggles of the Kennedy administration. Social science hubris, especially among economists, is a constant then and now. Another constant is the impatience of American purveyors of modernity with local "traditional" ways of doing things. On the positive side, many Kennedy-era officials genuinely seemed to care about the gritty details of political and economic development in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Latham rightly argues that the Cold War does not fully explain this secular evangelism, which has much older roots. As America's civilizing mission continues, more disingenuously, into the twenty-first century, Latham's story hints at present foibles while evoking some nostalgia for the idealism of the past.