Summary and book reviews of God and Gold by Walter Mead

God and Gold

Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World

by Walter R. Mead

God and Gold
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2007, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2008, 464 pages

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Paul Hughes

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Book Summary

An illuminating account of the birth and rise of the global political and economic system that, sustained first by Britain and now by America, created the modern world.

Walter Russell Mead, one of our most distinguished foreign policy experts, makes clear that the key to the predominance of the two countries has been the individualistic ideology of the prevailing Anglo-American religion. Mead explains how this helped create a culture uniquely adapted to capitalism, a system under which both countries thrived. We see how, as a result, the two nations were able to create the liberal, democratic system whose economic and social influence continues to grow around the world.

With wit, verve, and stunning insight, Mead recounts what is, in effect, the story of a centuries-long war between the English-speaking peoples and their enemies. Sustained by control of the oceans that surround them, the British and their American heirs built a global system of politics, power, investment, and trade over the past three hundred years. Along the way, the two nations developed a sophisticated grand strategy that brought the English-speaking powers to a pinnacle of global power and prestige unmatched in the history of the world.

Since Oliver Cromwell's day, the English-speakers have seen their enemies as haters of liberty and God who care nothing for morality, who will do anything to win, and who rely on a treacherous fifth column to assure victory. Those enemies, from Catholic Spain and Louis XIV to the Nazis, communists, and Al-Qaeda, held similar beliefs about their British and American rivals, but we see that though the Anglo-Americans have lost small wars here and there, they have won the major conflicts. So far.

The stakes today are higher than ever; technological progress makes new and terrible weapons easier for rogue states and terror groups to develop and deploy. Where some see an end to history and others a clash of civilizations, Mead sees the current conflicts in the Middle East as the latest challenge to the liberal, capitalist, and democratic world system that the Anglo-Americans are trying to build. What we need now, he says, is a diplomacy of civilizations based on a deeper understanding of the recurring conflicts between the liberal world system and its foes. In practice, this means that Americans generally, and especially the increasingly influential evangelical community, must develop a better sense of America's place in the world.

Mead's emphasis on the English-speaking world as the chief hero (and sometimes villain) in modern history changes the way we see the world. Authoritative and lucid, God and Gold weaves history, literature, philosophy, and religion together into an eminently important work—a dazzling book that helps us understand the world we live in and our tumultuous times.

Chapter One: With God on Our Side

On September 17, 1656, Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, addressed the English Parliament to lay out his foreign policy, and he began by asking the most basic political questions: Who are our enemies, and why do they hate us?

There was, he then asserted, an axis of evil abroad in the world. England's enemies, he said, "are all the wicked men of the world, whether abroad or at home . . ."[1]

And, in the language of the seventeenth century, he said that they hate us because they hate God and all that is good. They hate us "from that very enmity that is in them against whatsoever should serve the glory of God and the interest of his people; which they see to be more eminently, yea most eminently patronized and professed in this nation—we will speak it not with vanity—above all the nations in the world."[2]

Cromwell went on to spell out for the Roundheads, as the partisans of Parliament had been known in the English Civil War, that...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Walter Russell Mead starts his serious book with a joke, and it's a funny one, not to mention smart, which bodes well for the book itself, as it shows Mead taking us into his confidence: a writer telling witty tales that assume intelligence in his readers.

God and Gold is engaging in the extreme, which you can't say of most books spanning more than 350 years of history with an emphasis on religion, politics and money.   (Reviewed by Paul Hughes).

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Media Reviews

New York Times - Johann Hari

Mead presents these empires as essentially benevolent confections, offering a model of rule so seductive that “people choose freely to belong” to them. He says that by 1851, it looked as if “the Peaceable Kingdom had arrived; British power, progress, prosperity and liberty were ushering in the universal rule of peace.” Really? Is that how it looked in, say, India? When Clive of India came to Bengal, he described it — in a way all visitors of the time did — as “extensive, populous and as rich as the city of London.” It was a place of such “richness and abundance” that “neither war, pestilence nor oppression could destroy” it. But within a century of British occupation, the population of its largest city, Calcutta, fell from 150,000 to 30,000 as its industries were wrecked in the interests of the mother country. By the time the British left, Calcutta was one of the poorest places in the world. Is this really the baton the United States should pick up?

Kirkus Reviews

A remarkable piece of historical analysis bound to provoke discussion and argument in foreign-policy circles.

The Economist

Occasionally Mr Mead tries too hard: he comes up with one complicated analogy to do with a gyroscope and a pyramid, and, as he admits, he skates over some issues in the name of brevity. But he makes up for this by entertainment: it is hard to think of another front-line foreign-affairs writer who would connect Occam's razor to Hollywood, and link Abraham to McDonald's. Or, indeed, spot the agenda of an international conference in the Walrus poem in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass: the walrus's list of conversational subjects begins with trade in manufactured goods (shoes), goes on to services (sealing wax was used on legal documents) before touching on farm products (cabbages), political reform (kings), global warming (the “boiling hot” sea) and finally genetic modification (winged pigs).

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The Linking Threads of God and Gold

As you might expect with a book about history, there's plenty of interesting points to highlight and even more for readers to birddog; but Mead is so polyhistoric in his knowledge and so profligate with his references, moving easily from Matthew Arnold to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, it's hard to choose where to begin. Do we send you to Captain Bligh or William F. Buckley, Jr.? Macaulay or Thoreau? Rumsfeld or Thackeray? Shall we offer more on Calvinists or ...

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