The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris
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The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  164 ratings  ·  31 reviews
In The Icarus Syndrome, Peter Beinart tells a tale as old as the Greeks -- a story about the seductions of success. Beinart describes Washington on the eve of three wars -- World War One, Vietnam, and Iraq -- three moments when American leaders decided they could remake the world in their image. Each time, leading intellectuals declared that history was over, and the sprea...more
Hardcover, 482 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by Harper Torch (first published 2010)
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Lauren Albert
Interesting but overlong and repetitious. The author's point is that success makes us cocky. We run a block and think we can win a marathon. In doing so, we ignore critical differences between our original situation and the new one. "[F]oreign policy hubris consists of thinking that you are merely applying the lessons of the past while actually expanding them as the result of success." The book would have been stronger had Beinart shortened it, taken out the constant repetition of his main point...more
Jan 16, 2011 Marshall rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History buffs
An interesting, well-written book on American 20th century history on foreign policy. I've never thought of military confidence in terms of economic boom-and-bust cycles, as this book does. It focuses on three wars: World War I and Woodrow Wilson's "scientific peace," Vietnam and the "hubris of toughness," and Iraq and the "hubris of dominance." About every 40 years, emboldened by a stint of military and economic glory, America has tended to set its sights higher and higher, eventually believing...more
Efrem Sepulveda
Peter Beinart firmly places himself in the liberal camp in terms of politics, yet presents us with a tome that chronicles the rise of hubris of the United States that seems to have some conservative elements to it in terms of who built up the hubris (liberals LBJ and Woodrow Wilson). The book is named for Icarus, who in his foolishness, fly too high toward the sun and came crashing back down to earth. Beinhart labels three times in history that hubris has cost us here in the America, the time af...more
Tiffoknee the 3rd Conner
"[...] the recognition that no collection of mortals can impose its will on an unruly globe is not a sign of decay, but of wisdom. And tempered by wisdom American optimism is--and and always will be--one of the great wonders of the world."

I enjoyed this book. Beinart has composed a meaty examination of the United States's foreign policy priorities. From Wilsonian principles to the more recent errant forays of the Bush administration, Beinart makes brilliant use of historical detail and analogy...more
Roy Klein
A History of American Hubris follows U.S politics from the beginning of the 20th century to current times, attempting to explain the contexts in which policy makers made their decisions, good or bad.

The premise is that most of the catastrophic decisions were the outcome of leaders and thinkers learning a lesson from their short term history and applying it in the wrong context or in a radically different scales. Thus, the U.S timeline is a wave of buildup of confidence in an approach, until tha...more
S. E.
Jun 20, 2013 S. E. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: poli
As dense in content as easily readable, Beinart’s “The Icarus Syndrome” not only presents a comprehensive and objective self-critique of the last century of US foreign policy, but also provides a detached outlook as to how the US foreign policy should be like in the future. The most interesting message of the book seems to be that it is at least as important to learn lessons from empirical examples as to unlearn them. Beinart repeatedly underlines how constituting an analogical link between toda...more
"We thought for a moment that the world was plastic and the future unlimited." - Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

"When liberals remarked in horror that genocide wsa occurring in 1994, they were assuming that 1994 would be better than 1944.... Arthur Schlesinger and Reinhold Niebuhr had not assumed that 1944 would naturally be better than 1904. They had not assumed that history only marched one way."

"I am well aware that the unanticipated consequences of ideas and acts are often very different from what...more
Andrew Griffith
The Icarus Syndrome, Peter Beinart’s history of American hubris as seen through Wilsonian World War I progressivism, Kennedy and Johnson Vietnam toughness and expansion of containment, and Bush(43) era neo-conservatism and dominance. Fascinating how each generation is conditioned by its formative experiences (e.g., those formed during periods of difficult wars are more cautious than those not), and the usual contrast between the military, who know what death is, and some of the policy makers, wh...more
Bob Colwick
'The Icarus Syndrome' is an exhaustive journey into the bowels of political hubris...similar to the biological definition of 'bowels', the literary journey is just as messy, rancid, and toxic. In short, machismo in American politics over the past 100 years or so has had disastrous results (in the short term as well as the long term); Beinart does a good job in unearthing the motivations, fears, and self-serving interests that have fueled American imperialism throughout the 20th and 21st centurie...more
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The first half deserves 4 stars and the second half 3 stars. His analysis of older events is more compelling but I don't think he should be faulted for that: time to reflect is beneficial for the type of analysis he's trying to accomplish. I did find his argument that the US goes through periods of hubris that have been painful and costly. We should remember this anytime we embark on grand, global schemes.

The style is very engaging. It is easy to stay interested and finish.
I like Beinart's writing style a lot. Whereas something like Kinzer's "Overthrow" is more of a traditional history of American hegemony, this is an intellectual history, detailing the personalities and the lines of thinking that influenced American foreign intervention in the past hundred years. Great insights into every presidential administration since Wilson. The conclusion is a little weak, but there's a lot of good stuff in here.
Jun 06, 2010 Stas marked it as to-read
Beinart's recent essay on the decline of American Zionism made quite a splash. Not so much because he says something terribly knew and surprising, but because of who he is, i guess - a sincere supporter of the idea of Israel, and with an Orthodox background, no less.
Interesting and enlightening analysis of the impact of successes and failures of wars and conflicts on the foreign policy and decisions made by Presidents from Wilson to Bush with a focus on the impact of hubris. Also discusses the influences of neoconservatives, liberals, the public and the personalities of the Presidents themselves. Recommend highly.
my history nerd side is showing. This books on American foreign policy in the 20th century, especially dealing with wars.Interesting, with all kind of tidbits about stuff that went on behind the scenes (that you would probably just as well not want to know!)I had to persevere, as this is not a quick read- you cant multitask with this one.
Garth Moore
Interesting examination of how 20th (and 21st century) American leaders have reacted to global policy with different waves of hubris, nationalism, and passiveness. The side stories of different players and characters (Lippmann, etc) are sometimes engaging, sometimes too tangental. The book's best parts are around Wilson, FDR, and Bush Jr.
Chimezie Ogbuji
This book is an excellent insight into the imperial nature and hubris of American foreign policy. Unlike other books in this category, Peter Beinhart is not so much cynical as he is analytical about presenting a very well-substantiated picture of the thoughts and events behind the major millitary interventions of the modern American era.
This is a magnificent, important book! It's a history of U.S. foreign policy during the 20th century and up to the Obama administration. If that sounds dull--believe me, it's not! It's a highly readable, fascinating history and analysis. It should be read and reread by anyone contemplating running for Federal office. Highly recommended!
Fascinating - if at times, dense - analysis of US foreign policy since the First World War. Beinart has some thoughtful discourse on America's seeming pendulum-swings between isolationism and imperialism, leavened with insights into the key personalities from Wilson to Kennedy to Reagan.

Takes "hubris," "an affliction born from success," and draws a somewhat more complex picture of American best and worst efforts since Wilson through George W. Bush. Very interesting and easy read with some great insights and cautions for our present and future.
Good book. From Wilson through Obama 2010, the book looks at America's foreign policy through various episodes of hubris, as defined by the author. Thorough research, tons of anecdotes, and lots of insight into why America has done what it has since WWI.
The best history/political book I've read. World War I, Vietnam and Iraq; three times when American leaders decided they could remake the world in their image. Each time, a war conceived in arrogance brought untold tragedy.
I'm glad I impulsively bought this book at a book sale; very interesting read; the final chapter is a great summary of his point of view for anyone interested in the topic of U.S. foreign relations from WW I forward
Exceptionally well written and researched....very "meaty" read, not something that most readers will breeze through, though.
for me; This book took me about half way to get interested. But once I reached that point I was hooked.
Bryan Woerner
A well written examination of America's foreign policy failures (and succeses) over the last century.
Dave Moyer
Intriguing premise, very interesting, and exceptionally well-written. Highly recommended.
so far so good - what a causting picture of woodrow wilson!
Mar 25, 2011 CUNYGSJRESEARCH marked it as to-read
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Peter Beinart is the author of The Crisis of Zionism and The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris and The Good Fight. A former editor of The New Republic, he is an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, and the senior political writer for The Daily Beast. He lives with his family in New Yor...more
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