In This Review

Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World, from It's Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century
Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World, from It's Earliest Days to the Dawn of the 20th Century
By Robert Kagan
Knopf, 2006, 544 pp.

This is a landmark study that belongs in the library of every serious student of American foreign policy. A brilliant and original survey that challenges long-held assumptions and puts important but forgotten events and ideas under the spotlight, Dangerous Nation is a tour de force of historical writing that should change the way many people view the country's past. Kagan has plenty of axes to grind, and he grinds them with gusto to a fine-honed edge. Many readers will feel that he has gone too far in trying to place key themes of neoconservative foreign policy at the heart of the American political tradition, but few will deny that he makes some important points. He demonstrates that key ideas of the realist tradition simply do not describe the actual history of American foreign policy very well. But Dangerous Nation is too much of a polemic against foreign policy realism to serve as a solid narrative history of the United States' engagement with the world. And of course, none of this quite makes the case for today's neoconservatives; even when policy is not realist, it still needs to be realistic. But set all that aside. Placing contemporary American foreign policy in the context of American history is one of the most important intellectual tasks today; one awaits a second volume of this major work with impatience and great expectations.