Summary: The United States is bogged down in a war of attrition, occupying a country where the people increasingly see the US soldiers that freed them from dictatorial rule as the source of their woes. Infuriated with American interference abroad and racial/religious profiling in US domestic policies, protests and boycotts aimed at the US flare up world-wide. Bent on turning the course of world events in the United States favor, the President sets out to manipulate the world’s nations through deception, bluster and Machiavellian back room dealing. The year is not 2003 or 1970, but 1905. The occupied nation is the Philippines, the protests focused across China and the President is Teddy Roosevelt. Through the lens of an epic diplomatic mission around the Pacific rim, James Bradley dissects the consequences of the imperial beliefs and actions of Roosevelt and others.
Review: Bradley has been a solid historical writer, but this is his first attempt at history on a large-scale. Both Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys were focused primarily on smaller scale, much more personal, history. And he does well for the most part, but the fundamental thesis of the book (that TR set the course for the disastrous events culminating in WWII) is imperfectly defended. The historical evidence and quotes that he provides to make his case are indeed nothing short of eye-opening and chilling (you’ll not think of American history quite the same way afterwards) but they don’t quite add up the way Bradley wants them to. While he certainly contributed extensively to the direction of future events, the amount of blame heaped on Teddy Roosevelt smacks of a too-simplistic analysis. In addition, the over emphasis on American actions has the ironic (in a book focused on exposing American misdeeds) effect of making many of the other players on the board feel a bit puppet-like. Surely, the leaders of Japan, Korea, China, Great Britain and France were just as responsible for the direction of their country’s as TR. Fortunately, the facts themselves are so hard-hitting they carry the book on their own.
Read-a-likes: If you enjoy this book, you’ll of course want to hunt down Bradley’s first two (Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys). For more information on the glamorous Alice Roosevelt, the biography Alice by Stacy Cordery is a good place to start. For more on Roosevelt’s wheeling and dealing, Bully Boy by Jim Powell and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris are worth a peak.
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Review by Eric.