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Dangerous Nation: America's Foreign Policy from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century

3.77  ·  Rating Details  ·  220 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
Most Americans believe the United States had been an isolationist power until the twentieth century. This is wrong. In a riveting and brilliantly revisionist work of history, Robert Kagan, bestselling author of Of Paradise and Power, shows how Americans have in fact steadily been increasing their global power and influence from the beginning. Driven by commercial, territor ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published November 6th 2007 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2006)
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Bill VanderGiesen
I have always found it difficult to write reviews on works that so cogently match my own analysis and theories on historical patterns. That sums up my opinion of this work.

Kagan's analysis coherently offers the historical pattern of American diplomacy, foreign affairs, and imperialistic actions and proves the true trend that underlay American actions and thought up through the end of the nineteenth century. The United States has always seen itself as exceptional and this was not just in an isol
Apr 30, 2008 Billy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 19th-century-u-s

In Dangerous Nation, Washington Post columnist and former U.S. state department employee Robert Kagan makes a case for a new way to interpret the history of U.S. foreign relations. Most scholars contend that America’s foreign policy up until the early twentieth century best be described as “isolationist” in nature, a potential global power which only unleashed its global influence when threatened by two world wars and a fifty year Cold War. Kagan, conversely, argues that the United States pushed
Tonya Dreher
Jul 14, 2008 Tonya Dreher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Who wants to read about early American history from a prominent neoconservative intellectual and foreign policy ideologue who cofounded, with Wiliam Kristol, the Project for the New American Century?
I think you do, no really, you do.
In recent scholarship on the history of American foreign policy, it seems that the portrayal of America as a ruthless and aggressive imperial power is becoming as much a cliche as the traditional, "schoolhouse" portrayal of American innocence and passivity. Regardless, the story of America as an expansionist power deserves the attention it gets from the academic world, and Robert Kagan's Dangerous Nation is a great contribution to that project. Of particular intest to me was his chapter on the f ...more
Nov 09, 2012 Greg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent revisionist history of American foreign policy from the Revolution to the dawn of the 20th Century. The basic thesis is that previous scholarship that assumed that the United States was isolationist until the Wilson administration is wrong, when you consider the continental expansion as foreign policy (which it was because they were areas controlled by European colonial powers). The Monroe doctrine figures prominently. Half the book is dedicated to the complications of the ...more
A revisionist history of the USA during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: mainly concerned with American self-image and it's impact on foreign policy.

RK's thesis is that the US had an aggressively expansionary vision from the start and that this vision was mediated by the universalist doctrine encoded in its Declaration of Independence. According to RK, after an initial period of consolidation following the American war of independence, the US was on course to expand, not just from "sea
Apr 20, 2014 Ronnie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't know where I bought this book...about 7 months ago...I picked it off my shelf as one of my books to read. It is mesmerizing book. It brought me back to when I was I in the Army and the arguments I heard or was part of. The enriching part is that the author brings to life many of the creators of this country. Also a better appreciation of what those words meant to people. It has multiple layers of significance for me as I have an ancestor who was hung for treason against the Crown due to ...more
Max Nova
May 10, 2015 Max Nova rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, war, government
A very compelling revisionist history of America. Kagan claims that America has always been seen as an aggressive and dangerous nation (hence the title!). He backs it up and I'm inclined to believe him. Should be required reading for all Americans - makes the fact that we're currently embroiled in 3 wars a lot easier to understand and trace back to historical origins.
Jan 29, 2009 Whitaker rated it liked it
From the other reviews and blurbs, it will be clear that Kagan adopts a stance that is at variance with conventional wisdom. In his reading of American history, he asserts that American foreign policy has generally always been expansionist instead of isolationist. While I'm not in a position to evaluate the soundness of Kagan's thesis, I did find this to be a very readable and accessible history of America's conduct of foreign policy from its inception to the Spanish-American war at the end of t ...more
May 09, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing
A wonderful look at America's foreign policy from the earliest days of the colonies (yes, the colonies had a foreign policy) to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Anyone who reads this book may have their views on American history completely altered. The only drawback to this book is that I think he spends way to much time discussing the impact of slavery on American foreign policy. While it certainly played a major role in the shaping of policy in Antebellum America, the time and focus h ...more
Oct 13, 2010 Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Robert Kagan's book is a challenging one to read. However, it is very fascinating and captivating. It reinforces the notion that the 19th century was the crucial in the development of the American national heritage and ideological perspective. It is a "tour de force" of historical knowledge and implications. Kagan shows how America, from its founding days, was not an isolationist power, but one with a unique ideology. Its messianic and martial character led it to be viewed as dangerous by other ...more
This is a well written history of 19th century US military and foreign policy focusing on some of the sharper and more aggressive lines of thinking and acting that we taking by representatives of the US (and of the Confederacy). The argument provides a good counterpoint to more traditional views of US policy that tend towards a more glorified and idealized view of the 19th century. Kagan clearly shows how geopolitical perspectives have a long established place in US history, and not just against ...more
Read this for foreign policy class.

Waffled between 3 and 4 stars. Very thorough and detailed look at foreign policy from colonial times to the Civil War. Emphasizes the fuzziness separating foreign and domestic policy concerns. Very good survey of the period.

However, with such a wide time span that he's trying to cover, Kagan very clearly cherry-picks his evidence, ignoring quite a bit and disregarding some context. He also only really cites secondary sources, which is a bit concerning. Also,
Stefan Fergus
Jan 08, 2016 Stefan Fergus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Been dipping into this over the past few days, mainly looking for China-related content. It's a good book. Recommended.
Banning Leonard
Oct 05, 2007 Banning Leonard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written, in-depth look at American foreign policy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ten years in the making, Robert Kagan describes America’s not-so-isolationist leanings from the country’s founding through the Spanish-American War of 1895. I gave it four instead of five stars, however, because in the last page and a half, Kagan insists on giving his neo-conservative opinion of why America took this stance.
Nov 08, 2010 Zach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I expected to have to wade through the book written by the leading proponent of the Iraqi surge. However, Kagan is no dolt. His history of America is fun to read, and does not ignore or glaze over the ugly inherent in the rise of the US. Yet even in acknowledging US expansionism and aggression, he still manages to find a certain potential, a hope which stemming from our unique, though imperfect, past.
Feb 12, 2011 Susie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history
Read this a few years ago and found it really interesting. While I may not agree with all of its conclusions (and it is very one-sided and ideologically driven) it did make me want to read more about American foreign policy over the years. It also sparked the Hamilton/Jefferson slash in my mind, which can only be a good thing. Right?
Mar 03, 2016 Mack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good account of the first century of American foreign policy and the myths we so dearly hold about ourselves. It is a fascinating and well-paced look in the mirror--something I think Americans do less frequently than we should.
Aug 19, 2014 Eleanore rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
An interesting and different perspective on the history of US foreign policy. It is both well written and brings to light various events, incidents, and arguments that have often been overlooked by conventional history.
Sep 16, 2012 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Loved it from the first chapter. It was perfectly structured and flowed so well. I loved, loved, loved it. great for understanding our nations history and it's early players
Aug 25, 2007 Mowry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's the most thorough, authoritative history of US international relations that I've ever's 416 pages and it only covers pre-colonial to the Spanish-American War!
Oct 28, 2007 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An incredible look at American foreign policy from colonial days to the Civil War. Explores the myths and truths behind American power. Utterly fascinating.
Andrew Carr
May 23, 2014 Andrew Carr rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Taking on the myth of American isolationism. A great read, shows the capacity for good history to re-imagine how we see ourselves and our history.
I'm going to finish this f-ing book if it kills me...though it is now packed away in a box somewhere. A fate it definitely deserves...
Dec 30, 2010 Ted rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An important book... Essential reading for understanding today's challenges.
Mar 04, 2009 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Theme based on US constant involvement in spreading itself and its creed.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
To be honest I'm not sure if I read this ... but I think I did.
Ashley Tyler
I read this book in college
Rebecca Widder
Rebecca Widder rated it really liked it
Apr 13, 2016
Allison marked it as to-read
Apr 09, 2016
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Robert Kagan is an American historian and foreign policy commentator. Robert Kagan is the son of Yale classical historian and author, Donald Kagan. He is married to Victoria Nuland, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, and has two children. He is the brother of political commentator Frederick Kagan.

Kagan is a columnist for the Washington Post and is syndicated by the New York Times Syndicate. He is
More about Robert Kagan...

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“Foreign policy is like hitting a baseball: if you fail 70 percent of the time, you go to the Hall of Fame.” 4 likes
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