Kirk's Reviews > American Diplomacy: A History

American Diplomacy by Robert H. Ferrell
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's review
Mar 18, 2012

really liked it
Read from March 18 to June 18, 2012

My professor for a course on American Diplomacy selected this as the reference book for the course, only because he had to have a book selected per college rules. So even though I didn't have to read it for the course (in fact my worse exam grade was the first one when I used more information from the book than from the professor's wildly entertaining but off-topic lectures), I still found myself reading through most of it to get a preview of what we would be going over in class. Ferrell's prose is easy to read and to understand, although I still start yawning during talks of treaties and border agreements. I don't know if there's a way to make some of those at all interesting. I enjoyed the periodic illustrations (mostly political cartoons) and maps, although I'm always wanting more in a book than what we're given on that end.

I have the third and presumably the final edition of the book, from 1975, and, in the spirit of my aged professor's refusal to teach anything beyond Vietnam, the book ends with the events immediately after. The rest of the 1970's up to the present will remain a mystery to me, music history aside. Seriously, I was in high school and college from 2001-2009 and it's amazing how little I learned about world events from the 70's to the present. Usually we ran out of time. Ferrell's most recent updates seem colored by a world-weariness and a degree of disgust. He even gets borderline surly and offensive, especially when talking about the Arabs and their oil empires ("Oil in Saudi Arabia. This camel may soon give way to a Cadillac"), or the failed governments of Latin America. It's interesting to keep in mind the various publication dates of American Diplomacy and the events he's writing about. You're getting an opinion from somebody who lived through the middle 1900's, served in WWII and Korea, and who probably bought into the postwar (WWII) dream for a time before it fizzled away into stark reality. He was also a biographer of Truman. Ferrell ends on an ambiguous and uncertain note for the future, highlighting the perils of atomic diplomacy and the precarious state of life in such an era.
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