Summary and book reviews of Colossus by Niall Ferguson

Colossus

The Price of America's Empire

by Niall Ferguson

Colossus
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2004, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2005, 400 pages

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Book Summary

Niall Ferguson brings his renowned historical and economic depth of field to bear on a bold and sweeping reckoning with America's imperial status and its consequences.

Is America an empire? Certainly not, according to our government. Despite the conquest of two sovereign states in as many years, despite the presence of more than 750 military installations in two thirds of the world’s countries and despite his stated intention "to extend the benefits of freedom...to every corner of the world," George W. Bush maintains that "America has never been an empire." "We don’t seek empires," insists Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. "We’re not imperialistic."

Nonsense, says Niall Ferguson. In Colossus he argues that in both military and economic terms America is nothing less than the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Just like the British Empire a century ago, the United States aspires to globalize free markets, the rule of law, and representative government. In theory it’s a good project, says Ferguson. Yet Americans shy away from the long-term commitments of manpower and money that are indispensable if rogue regimes and failed states really are to be changed for the better. Ours, he argues, is an empire with an attention deficit disorder, imposing ever more unrealistic timescales on its overseas interventions. Worse, it’s an empire in denial—a hyperpower that simply refuses to admit the scale of its global responsibilities. And the negative consequences will be felt at home as well as abroad. In an alarmingly persuasive final chapter Ferguson warns that this chronic myopia also applies to our domestic responsibilities. When overstretch comes, he warns, it will come from within—and it will reveal that more than just the feet of the American colossus is made of clay.

Contents



Introduction

Part I: Rise

  1. The Limits of the American Empire
  2. The Imperialism of Anti-Imperialism
  3. The Civilization of Clashes
  4. Splendid Multilateralism

Part II: Fall?

  1. The Case for Liberal Empire
  2. Going Home or Organizing Hypocrisy
  3. "Impire": Europe Between Brussels and Byzantium
  4. The Closing Door

Conclusion: Looking Homeward

Statistical Appendix

Acknowledgements

Notes

Bibliography

Index


Introduction

It used to be that only foreigners and those on the political fringes referred to the "American Empire." Invariably, they did so in order to criticize the United States. Since the attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001, however, there has been a growing volume of more mainstream writing on the subject of an American empire. The striking thing is that not all those who now openly use the "e" word do so pejoratively. On the contrary, a number of commentators seem positively to relish the idea of a U.S. imperium.

There is ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This is a not a light-weight, quick read - but it is well worth it nonetheless. Even if you don't feel compelled to buy the book itself, the next time you're in a bookstore I encourage you to invest 15 minutes into reading the introduction in full (part of which is excerpted at BookBrowse), because the intro outlines the arguments that Ferguson details more fully in the remainder of 'Colossus' and is a thought provoking read in its own right.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (333 words).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post's Book World - David Ingatius

Ferguson's book reads more like a long essay than a systematic work of history; it covers a wide swath of intellectual territory, but thinly. The book was written to accompany a British television series, and it has a fade-in, fade-out jumpiness that works better on the screen than on the printed page.

Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times

Like his earlier books, Colossus shows off Mr. Ferguson's narrative élan and his ease in using political, economic and literary references to shore up his arguments about history.

Publishers Weekly

The erudite and often statistical argument has occasional flashes of wit and may compel liberals to rethink their opposition to intervention, even as it castigates conservatives for their lackluster commitment to nation building.

Kirkus Reviews

Is America ready to rule the world? Probably not. But, argues the author, it had better gear up to the task.....Discomfiting, highly provocative reading, with ammunition for pro and con alike.

Booklist - Brendan Driscoll

Amid the torrent of books on terrorism, liberalism, American empire, and the apocalypse, Ferguson's stands out not in its premise--suggesting that America is an empire is nothing new--but in its assertion that an American empire is good for the world (this coming from a European writer).

Reader Reviews

Bill Davice

A curate's egg
An enjoyable but annoying read that lays claim to being an historical work whilst adopting the less demanding techniques of journalism. At times, the research base is magnificent. But there are some breathtakingly shallow dismissals of opposing ...   Read More

John

Although the big suprise of 'Colossus' does indeed come with its promotion of American imperialism, one gets the feeling that Ferguson has discarded his professional objectivity for the sake of a little controversy. Taking an unlikely stance on a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Niall Ferguson is Herzog Professor of Financial History at the Stern Business School, New York University, and Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University. Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1964, he lives in New York and Oxfordshire, England.

A partial bibliography:

  • The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000
  • Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power
  • The Pity of War: Explaining WWI
  • The House of Rothschild (2 books)
One small note of interest, when I checked bookseller rankings last year, when the book was ...

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