The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft

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The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft
Edited by Hal Brands and Jeremi Suri
Brookings Institution Press, 2015
300 pp.
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A large and growing gap divides policymakers, who sometimes deal in crude and shopworn analogies (“another Munich,” “another Vietnam”), and professional historians, some of whom, as the historian Jill Lepore has lamented, believe that “looking to the past to explain the present falls outside the realm of serious historical study.” The historical profession, Brands, Suri, and their contributors argue in this strong and stimulating volume, should engage with the need of policymakers for useful knowledge, and policymakers should strive to develop the kind of “historical sensibility” that Suri finds in Henry Kissinger. The volume features a mix of younger scholars (Brands, Suri, Jennifer Miller, Michael Cotey Morgan) and senior figures such as Thomas Mahnken and James Steinberg. “The Nature of History’s Lessons,” the closing essay by Philip Zelikow, a historian who has also served in government, is a masterful overview of the subject that both policymakers and historians would do well to consult; it is a fitting conclusion to a book that deserves a close read. 

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