Colossus : the rise and fall of the American empire

by Niall Ferguson

Paper Book, 2005

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Penguin Books, 2005.

Description

From the bestselling author of The Ascent of Money and The Square and the Tower 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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jcbrunner
Niall Fergueson, having examined the workings of the British empire, makes the case for an American empire. His book is divided into two parts. The first part is a splendid analysis of US imperialism up to the Iraq invasion. Arrived to the present, the historian tries to analyze America and the world in the second part. The first part is a joy to read and filled with insights. The second part is a stumbling hack job. Unnecessary errors (the Schwarzenegger Terminator is not the only one, Kosovo is not a city, ...) and weak excursions (about the byzantine European Union, the British empire or modern China) can barely conceal that a historian is not equipped to predict the future. Ferguson is overconcerned with the Iraqi occupation which in the long run will be an episode of American Folly but hardly relevant for US history.

Unfortunately, Ferguson never clearly defines 'empire'. He dismisses the exact definition in the introduction which clearly do not apply to the US. Most clearly, America lacks subject peoples (as it did in Cuba and the Philippines). It sometimes occupies countries but no longer for keeping the territory. What Ferguson is talking about, and what his title 'Colossus' implies, is not empire but superpower. Trying to translate his knowledge about the British empire to the US is a flawed approach. He predicts the fall of the American empire due to three deficits: the economic deficit, the manpower deficit and the attention deficit. The last one shows the basic flaw in his argument: Most Americans do not care for empire, they barely know much about the world outside the US, they do not speak foreign languages, they do not travel abroad. Compare this to the British empire where the elite was deeply involved with India and their other colonies.

Read the brilliant first part, especially the lessons of the Philippine adventure, and forget the second part.
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LibraryThing member statelypenguin
Yes. I liked the book. Most political books tend to be biased towards one party or the other. Since this is less a political book and more a history book, it sidesteps that. But really, one of the few politics books that I REALLY enjoyed reading. I read a lot of them, but this one was actually very enjoyable. He brings up many good points, and many things that I was completely unaware of. Also, I read the book like a year and a half ago so if I'm foggy on the details it's because I can't completely remember them. Sorry. But a great read nonetheless.… (more)
LibraryThing member RajivC
In general, I would think that this is a pretty good book. The analysis is succinct, however, I do find fault when Niall goes on to defend the US attack on Iraq. I agree that Saddam was no angel, but he was, as far as I know, set up by the US! The biggest problem, again as far as I can see, is that they have often meddled in the affairs of other countries, and in recent times, this has cost them monetarily, as well as in terms of friendship.

The scary part is that I would rather have a world where the US is the dominant country, to a world where China is the dominant country. I really like the Chinese people. It's Chinese politicians that I am scared off.
The US does need to look at it's own economy a little more carefully, to avoid losing it's dominance too fast.

Sadly, I doubt that this will happen. This is something that Niall Ferguson could have covered: what happens if the US fails?
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LibraryThing member ablueidol
Analysis of what an empire is and how America is an empire but lacks the political or cultural will to deal this consequence. Explores the political implications of that failure. Interesting how empires don’t seen to last as long as in the old days of the Roman or Ottoman Empire
LibraryThing member JBreedlove
My first and last NF read. Written by a conservative Brit in the early after math of Gulf War II I could sense his lust for the ol British Empire. But his re-definition of the word "empire" is done to include the US. A true hegemon but Imperium? He also omits and shades, as all authors, but his leaving out of Iran in benefiting from GW II was an obvious neo-con omission. Full of back handed compliments and some interesting asides.i can see why he's backing Romney. Where's kaplan when you need hi,… (more)
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Extremely interesting view of America's role and behavior in world history. Ferguson assets that 1) the United States has unconsciously been an empire throughout much of history, 2) The U.S. is not just a 'traditional' empire, as it also focuses on soft/economic power, 3) Both U.S. citizens and foreigners have had mixed feelings towards Empire, 4) The U.S.'s imperialism may yet be a positive in world affairs. Covers a wide range of topics, from the Middle East to economics to the relationships between U.S. and Asian and European and Middle Eastern powers. Bold and incisive book, and one very much worth thinking about.… (more)
LibraryThing member jakadk
Having read "Virtual History", a book where Mr. Ferguson served as editor AND contributor, I was looking forward to reading this. But I must admit, it got a bit drudgerous at times.

Now, it is no secret that Ferguson is a staunch conservative, but his digressions, jabs at "Old Europe" and his seeming infatuation (at the time) with the prospects of the Iraq War got a bit tedious at times.
His central tenet in this book seems to be, that America needs to own up to its position, don the purple mantle, and get down to the business of being the military governor pro tem of the underdeveloped world - insinuating that the manpower for such an endeavour could be mustered by introducing a conscription scheme inspired by the ancient Roman one, where convicts and illegal immigrants could achieve social status and citizenship by donning the uniform. Europe, by contrast, is described as a somewhat dysfunctional federation of states where the workers and unions have too much power.

If you take it for what it is - and take its age into account, it's allright. I wasn't blown away, but there were quite a few tidbits of trivia that I did not know before.
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LibraryThing member jontseng
Disappointing - reportage rather than history. Ferguson can do better than this.

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