Global Dawn: The Cultural Foundation of American Internationalism, 1865-1890

In This Review

Global Dawn: The Cultural Foundation of American Internationalism, 1865-1890
By Frank Ninkovich
Harvard University Press, 2009
440 pp. $49.95
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The deep continuities in how Americans have thought about the direction of world history and the place of the United States in the world are the subject of this strong and well-reasoned book. Through careful research and thoughtful analysis, Ninkovich demonstrates the ways in which U.S. leaders, with their country's own civil war behind them, set out to understand a world increasingly affected by their actions. Courageously tackling such volatile subjects as the racial and cultural attitudes of the United States in the nineteenth century and the sometimes alarming similarities to the accepted ideas of today, he repeatedly dismantles cheap stereotypes about U.S. intellectual history and replaces them with more useful and nuanced interpretations. Any student of the United States' international relations will find this book stimulating and helpful as an introduction to the assumptions and debates that governed U.S. foreign policy for 25 years. That democracy is fated to spread around the world, that other countries are rapidly becoming more like the United States (and welcome the process), that others perceive Americans as having a unique moral authority -- these ideas were as prevalent in the United States in the late nineteenth century as they are now. This should inspire reflection and humility among some U.S. policymakers and public intellectuals; it probably will not.