The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000

In This Review

The Dominion of War: Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000

By Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton
Viking, 2005
400 pp. $27.95
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Anderson has written important books on colonial military history (notably Crucible of War); Cayton is a leading historian of the Midwest. The Dominion of War, which seeks to explain the influence of war on American history and society through an examination of the lives of key leaders, sparkles when it focuses on the terrain they know best. The discussion of the complex and evolving balance of power among European and Native American groups through the War of 1812 and its aftermath is fresh and illuminating and provides indispensable background for understanding the period as a whole. As the authors move away from these scenes, their grip slackens. Sometimes they seem seduced by other events and themes into writing what feels like a general history of a period rather than a more focused examination of their central subject. The chapters on Douglas MacArthur are the weakest. It is not that the authors seem to detest MacArthur. (Lytton Strachey's hatred for General George Gordon inspired a divinely malicious short biography.) It is that Anderson and Cayton do not fillet MacArthur, they just bash him -- an anticlimactic finish to a book of great promise.