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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The price of being at the head of the pack
Ferguson presents the idea that empires and the process of colonization that goes with it are fundamental to an effective understanding of how the world turns. While this thesis has surfaced in other of his books like "Empire" and "Cash Nexus", what makes it especially poignant this time is his focus on the American version of empire building. While modern world slouches...
Published on July 26 2006 by Ian Gordon Malcomson

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No desert for me
I find this whole book to be more than a little disturbing. But while it is mostly a forward-looking effort from the sadly puzzling historian and author Niall Ferguson, I find it most frightening when it looks to the past. It's in those parts of his thesis that Mr. Ferguson argues, for example, that the U.S. should have dropped as many as 50 atom bombs on China in order...
Published on May 19 2004 by Eric J. Lyman


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No desert for me, May 19 2004
By 
Eric J. Lyman (Roma, Lazio Italy) - See all my reviews
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I find this whole book to be more than a little disturbing. But while it is mostly a forward-looking effort from the sadly puzzling historian and author Niall Ferguson, I find it most frightening when it looks to the past. It's in those parts of his thesis that Mr. Ferguson argues, for example, that the U.S. should have dropped as many as 50 atom bombs on China in order to end the Korean War quickly and neatly, and where he opines that the Vietnam War should have been fought even more ruthlessly starting back in the mid-1960s, as a way to snap the North's resolve.
It was all enough to compel me to temporarily close Colossus with a scowl and a wrinkled brow to reach for the comfort of a dusty old volume containing he works of Tacitus, the first and second century Roman historian who Mr. Ferguson no doubt knows far better than I do. Tacitus, best known for his opinions about the throne's power to corrupt and the scandals and ruined lives its corruption produced, famously wrote about Domitian's reign of terror: "They made a desert and called it victory."
Evidently, if Mr. Ferguson had his way, the desert would stretch far beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. He backed the controversial U.S. war effort in Iraq from its first rumblings, criticizing it only where it has paused to reassess or deny its imperial designs when that time could have been used to forcefully to indiscriminately crush resistance (or anything that appears to be resistance ... or that might evolve into resistance). He argues for a U.S. foreign policy along the lines of that employed by imperial Britain, endeavoring to win the Middle East's hearts and minds by ruling their pocketbooks and politics.
If these dangerous points had been made by almost anyone else, I would have stopped reading after 30 or 40 pages and dismissed the writer as a crackpot. But I grew to know Mr. Ferguson through the Pity of War and The House of Rothschild -- not books that swayed me with every argument, but which were full of worthwhile, uncommon, meaty, and complex theories that forced me more than once to dramatically reconsider what I believed. And while last year's troubling effort Empire now seems like a kind of uncomfortable preface to Colossus, it had been easy for me until now to dismiss that book as an aberration. So I returned to Colossus after a short break and finished its 400 pages, sadly shaking my head almost the whole time.
Without a doubt, Mr. Ferguson is a talented writer with a stunning command of information and historical context. He writes compellingly and with great enthusiasm, more so in Colossus than in his earlier work. But it appears to me to be sorely misdirected here: he fails to convince that the U.S. has the power to develop the kind of empire he describes and, more importantly, he fails to explain why it should even try to do so. I get the idea that without many decades of time to provide context to what he writes about, Mr. Ferguson loses almost all of the edge that previously made him stand out among his contemporaries.
Sigh. I don't know what sparked this apparent evolution in Mr. Ferguson's interests, but I can only hope that it doesn't get around.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The price of being at the head of the pack, July 26 2006
By 
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (Paperback)
Ferguson presents the idea that empires and the process of colonization that goes with it are fundamental to an effective understanding of how the world turns. While this thesis has surfaced in other of his books like "Empire" and "Cash Nexus", what makes it especially poignant this time is his focus on the American version of empire building. While modern world slouches towards embracing concepts such as democracy and nation-building, there is still a serious need for someone to lead the way in terms of promoting liberalized trade, encouraging responsible and responsive government, and settling international disputes. In otherwords, somebody has to lead the way Such a role naturally falls to the United States by default in this era of globalization and post-Cold War re-alignment. While the prize of wealth and influence for such leadership might look great initially, it comes with a steep price of being heavily criticized, strongly resisted, and seriously doubted by one's opponents who, too, would like to be leading the charge. When investigating America's capacity to be that empire by accident, Ferguson counsels his readers to be careful about viewing America's geopolitical efforts in the traditional context of imperial orders. For one, while America's presence pervades the world, it does not exercise the same territorial control that the Romans, Greeks, or Persians did in their day. The United States is more an empire of economic influence, political persuasion, and cultural tolerance than autocratic control. I recommend this book on the basis of its clearly defined and effectively supported arguments. The writer's credentials speak for themselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars very disappointed, June 2 2004
By 
John Bergstrom (Boston MA USA) - See all my reviews
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I was very disappointed. I didn't expect to agree, but I expected a cogent, objective discussion. Instead, it's an incoherent collection of half-formed thoughts. For instance:
He refers to imperialism and "nation-building" interchangeably. He discusses at some length how Britain took over the government of Egypt for some time, for the purposes of controlling the Suez canal and protecting the value of very substantial British loans to the Egyptian government. (with no benefit, as it turned out, to the average Egyptian) Then he goes on to suggest that the US should follow this example, and take over Liberia, a country disintegrating into violent chaos. He wants us to occupy, impose order and rebuild the country, over a period of many years. (He wants us to do the same for Haiti, and presumably many other countries.)
This might be a good thing to do, but it would be completely unrelated to what the British did in Egypt or anywhere else. The British were always essentially self-interested, Americans in Liberia would be essentially altruistic. That's why we aren't there in a big way. Ferguson never clarifies this important distinction. At times it almost seems that he thinks that the British Empire was itself an altruistic project: he's not that stupid, but I expect some readers will go away with the impression.
Back in the glory days of Imperialism, the various empires were pretty popular with their home populations. Queen Victoria was proud and happy to rule India. But by the time the British took over Egypt, in the episode Ferguson relates in detail, they had to pretend to be always on the point of leaving and turning power back over to the Egyptians. Something had changed, Empire was no longer as popular. Ferguson approves of the lying, and recommends it to the US (I don't think we need him to teach us about lying), but he never discusses why opinion changed so dramatically. It seems he finds dislike of imperialism so baffling that he assumes that we all really like it, and we are just "in denial,"and basically avoids the subject. I find it a fascinating subject, and I was hoping he would offer some insight, but he offers nothing.
(Nor does he discuss the effects in a democracy of having the government lie systematically to the general population about how it is conducting foreign policy. In the days of the British Empire, British soldiers knew pretty well why they were in India. It is arguable that the Bush administration invaded Iraq for reasons Ferguson would approve of, simply to impose American military control in a crucial region. But they do not feel able to talk openly about this, they have had to concoct the stories of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist connections, in order to gain popular support ofr their war. Probably this falsehood at the root is responsible for the ineffectiveness of the occupation. One might think this would be an interesting topic, being a major difference between British and American imperial ventures, but Ferguson has apparently not given it any thought.)
I'll stop at this point, although there are quite a few more problems with the book. It leaves me with a strange feeling, because I have enjoyed a couple of Ferguson's earlier books, on the Rothschilds, for instance, but now I suppose I have to ask myself if they are as bad as this one, and I just didn't notice because I was unfamiliar with the topics.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Spare your cash..., July 23 2014
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This review is from: Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (Paperback)
Another pot-boiler from our 'pop' historian. It's central thesis is that American poop smells sweeter than Russian poop, and that the Europeans should follow behind the reluctant colossus to clean up his mess. Probably true, but this thesis could easily fit a short article. At three-hundred pages, death by terminal boredom is highly likely.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Realistic yet very pro-American way of looking at the world, Dec 12 2013
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This book is a good read however there isn't really a "Fall" in the novel. I feel like the author, while very knowledgable is trying to be objective yet still ends up being more pro-American than necessary.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Imperial Dreams, June 5 2004
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Unlike some reviewers here, I did not come to this book instinctively distrusting its thesis. I was willing to consider that the United States was an empire in denial, and that the unfortunate part for the world was not that the U.S. was an empire, but that it did not embrace its role. Perhaps Ferguson is right that the world needs another liberal empire in the British mold; perhaps he is right that there are many troubled spots around the globe that require an outside agent to set them straight; finally, perhaps he is right that only the U.S. can now fill that position.
This book, however, does not prove his case. Ferguson writes very well and marshals an amazing array of facts to support some of his points, but he still fails to support the general task he assigns to "Colossus". For all the power of his prose and the flash of his facts, they merely gloss over crucial points in his analysis. This is true from the start, where Ferguson does not so much define "empire", as he does un-define it by giving the widely-used term so broad a meaning as to basically stand for any great power. He complains that some would use the word so narrowly that the U.S. would be excluded from the category, but he does not appreciate the opposite possibility: that the term can be defined so widely as to catch some ridiculous examples under its rubric, along with the U.S. By Ferguson's vague notion of the word, present-day Germany could be considered an empire along with the present-day United States.
But the weakest section of the book is its holding up of Imperial Britain as a model for the United States in the twenty-first century. Ferguson seems lost in a time warp here (and I speak both as a supporter of a strong U.S. foreign policy and an admirer of the British Empire). Perhaps the strangest argument in support of this section is his showcasing of Britain's seventy-four year stewardship of Egypt as a shining example of the benefits of liberal empire. But even Ferguson's presentation doesn't disguise that Egypt's long tenure under the British seemed to leave little of substance for the average Egyptian. Is this the best he could do for his argument? Give us Nasser and Egypt, circa 1956, as what Americans could look forward to in Iraq if we just stay the course there for the next seven decades, as the British did in Cairo? Thanks, but no thanks. I'll take the quick exit instead.
I still had a difficult time deciding what to rate this book. Ferguson's talents are obvious. He writes very well; his books are brimming with information and interesting narratives; there's no denying that some of his observations are brilliant. But the core message in this book is just so off that I couldn't bring myself to rate it higher, even as much as I sometimes enjoyed reading it. Like a delicious sweet, the taste of this book is hard to resist, but it's also impossible to deny the lack of anything nutritious inside it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A BOOK FOR OUR TIMES., May 29 2010
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G. Ireland (Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire (Paperback)
A very interesting look at the American idea of it's own power, the pros and the cons. How the world views the US, and what the world would possibly be like if, the Americans were to step aside as the worlds most powerful country, Who would take thier place? US foreign policy, good and bad. A fasinating look at how the American Empire is being brought to her knees,economically,culturally,and militarially and how no one is coming to her aid. Great Read.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Author Discredits himself, July 18 2004
By A Customer
The author claims that Palestinian terrorism in Israel is the result of Israel's failure to negotiate peace and instead make war on terrorism. He either intentionally or ignorantly omits a consideration of the fact that israel numerous times has offered peace to the Palestinians, and most recently offered to give the Palestinians it's entire infrastructure in Judea and Samaria and Gaza (i.e. all the housing, etc.). The result of that offer was the most recent intifada. You can't negotiate with an enemy who irrevocably wants to destroy you, or who in many cases sees your destruction as an end in itself.
Although the author writes with seeming intelligence and insight, his failure to acknowledge basic facts such as those I have presented above, discredits his own work. If he fails to inform his reader correctly on one issue, how can one know whether or not he falsly presents facts on other issues. I don't know whether or not to believe him.
Sometimes we believe people know what they are talking about because they write or speak well, not because what they have to say is true. I believe this is one of those cases.
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5.0 out of 5 stars America, the indispensable but reluctant empire, July 17 2004
By 
N. Tsafos (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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"Colossus" is a typical Niall Ferguson book. It is provocative and contains fresh insights; it navigates with considerable ease between history, politics, and economics; and it is extremely well written, illuminating succinctly the author's thoughts and engaging the reader's interest.
Mr. Ferguson, formerly of Oxford and now a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, writes to sketch out the reality of America's global position-to argue that, for all intents and purposes, America is an empire. Mr. Ferguson is not fundamentally opposed to empires-not because he likes foreign control but because he recognizes a benign type of liberal empire that can afford both the metropolis and periphery with benefits that independence cannot.
"Colossus" surveys various themes, beginning on whether America constitutes an empire (yes), then surveying America's ascent to its role as a global power, and finally gauging America's relation to multilateralism and its allies (American unilateralism, he argues, has more to do with the United Nations' overall failure to achieve certain objectives than with American instincts.)
But the real question is, what is the impact of this empire? Mr. Ferguson is enthusiastic about the prospect of a liberal empire, a position he bases on the record of decolonization; decolonization, he writes, was "an experiment to test the hypothesis that it was imperialism that caused both poverty and wars and that self-determination would ultimately pave the way to prosperity and peace. That hypothesis has been largely proven false."
For all his eagerness for America to play its role and underwrite the current wave of globalization, Mr. Ferguson is skeptical about America's ability to be an effective liberal empire. Empires, he argues, need to go places, learn their histories, and expend the money, manpower, and attention to get the job done. America's celebrated examples of nation-building-Germany and Japan-took years to complete; and both countries still retain American troop presences. All this is in contrast with America's appetite for an exit strategy from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In other words, America should be a global leader, but is unlikely to be an effective one, unless it undergoes a profound metamorphosis of the way it views its imperial role. America's looming economic liabilities are also going to alter America's budgetary orientation, possibly affecting its position as a superpower. Whether Mr. Ferguson is right in his predictions remains to be seen; but "Colossus" will surely stand out as one of the most authoritative and comprehensive reviews of America's role as an imperial power.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Intellectual Feast, July 8 2004
By 
Amazon Customer (Albuquerque, NM United States) - See all my reviews
This book is one of those precious works that goes in and re-arranges the brain cells, causing your perceptions of the world at large to be made sharper and clearer than they were before reading it. The author provides such a thoughtful and creative array of views on the subject of Empire, and America's role as an Empire, that my own perceptions of American influence in the world has undergone a complete overhaul. Even if you disagree with the author's points, as I did on many occasions, your own thinking on the subject will be made more structured and coherent as a result of being exposed to the author's revealing discussion.
It should be mentioned that Ferguson does not knee-jerkingly cast Empire in a negative light, as I believe its title mistakenly suggests he is going to do. He asserts that the kind of empire that America could be would be a good thing for the world, if America would but live up to that potential. His conclusions as to why and what will keep America from living up to that potential are both sobering and "hit the nail on the head" on target.
All of the simplistic criticisms of American power that litter the New Arrivals tables these days makes this book stand out as doubly worthwhile. Niall Ferguson's book provides a provocative education on a topic, American power and empire, that grows more important with every day.
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Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire
Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire by Niall Ferguson (Paperback - March 29 2005)
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