In This Review

The American Ascendancy: How the United States Gained and Wielded Global Dominance
The American Ascendancy: How the United States Gained and Wielded Global Dominance
By Michael H. Hunt
University of North Carolina Press, 2007, 416 pp
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This engaging history of the United States' rise to global dominance explains how a weak and peripheral New World republic turned itself into the preeminent power of the twentieth century. Hunt, lacking a strong theoretical core or striking organizing idea, tells a mostly familiar story that emphasizes economics, state building, and diplomacy. A precondition for dominance was the extraordinary growth of the nation's economy from the nineteenth century onward, generating unmatched wealth and technological capabilities. But material prosperity depended on the building of a strong modern state that could govern and wield geopolitical power. Moreover, the "American century" was planned and engineered by political elites who embraced a distinctive American nationalism of "greatness"; it was not something that emerged inevitably from deeper historical forces. Accordingly, Hunt focuses on presidents and their aggrandizing decisions: William McKinley and the war with Spain, Woodrow Wilson and his plans to remake the world, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman and the building of the postwar order. He argues that the American "project" has not been empire but rather a more consensual -- if still hierarchical -- international order.