In This Review

The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture

The Anarchy of Empire in the Making of U.S. Culture
By Amy Kaplan
256 pp, Harvard University Press, 2002
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Anarchy of Empire is in some ways a typical product of the academic sweatshop. Jargon abounds. The passive voice wraps whole paragraphs in gauze. Long words take the place of short ones; a voice that envisions itself as oppositional and penetrating distinguishes itself chiefly by its unbroken conformity to fashionable views. But let that go. Kaplan's faults are the common property of her professional generation; her strengths are her own. And she has a big and important idea: the outside world mattered intensely and intimately to Americans from the nineteenth century onward. Through writings such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's manuals for housewives, Mark Twain's dispatches from Hawaii, and W.E.B. Dubois' fiction, Kaplan traces how America's foreign relations shaped popular consciousness at a time when conventional wisdom has Americans slumbering in isolation and ignorance of the wider world. Kaplan is rightly fascinated with the contradictory impulses in American culture: we want the whole world to be like us, but being different and unique is part of who we are. We cannot have it both ways, but we endlessly try, and Kaplan provides real insight into the ways this conflicted agenda continues to shape American identity.