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Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  1,932 Ratings  ·  164 Reviews
Now with a new and up-to-date Introduction by the author, the bestselling account of the effect of American global policies, hailed as "brilliant and iconoclastic" (Los Angeles Times)

The term "blowback," invented by the CIA, refers to the unintended results of American actions abroad. In this incisive and controversial book, Chalmers Johnson lays out in vivid detail the da
Paperback, 2nd, 268 pages
Published 2004 by Holt Paperbacks (first published 2000)
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Apr 15, 2009 Trevor rated it it was amazing
This book is remarkable. The guy is one of the United State’s foremost experts on China and Japan. The main thesis of the book is that because the US has not really adjusted its foreign policy to account for the collapse of the Soviet Union it is still essentially fighting the cold war. But fighting the cold war isn’t really a good idea, particularly for the US, as it effectively gives an unfair economic advantage to East Asia. He claims that the US needs to better integrate both its foreign pol ...more
Feb 28, 2017 Clif rated it it was amazing
Blowback was written before 9/11, the event that was to make the word known. It refers to the U.S. actions in the world that bring a response detrimental to the U.S., 9/11 being a the prime example. Americans like to think of the U.S. as a rational actor with good intentions in opposition to crazed people out to do us harm. It's what we are fed by our government and by our news media, but it's mythology. Blowback presents the truth, where foreigners are just as rational as we are and have unders ...more
Matt Shake
Oct 13, 2010 Matt Shake rated it really liked it
This is another book I read in college. In political science there are two basic philosophies: "realism" and "idealism." When I was young I used to lean more towards political idealism. This philosophy encourages people to do things out of ideological principle. But Johnson wrote this book from a realist perspective, and I liked it enough that it ignited a slow conversion for me. Realists basically encourage people to act out of self-interest. But I've noticed two shades of realism: cold, hard, ...more
Oct 15, 2015 billyskye rated it it was ok
Every year or so I tell myself that I need to be consuming policy books. Someone of my background really should be better versed in the available literature, after all. It would be good to broaden my intellectual horizons and see what sorts of theories are floating around out there. Then I pick up something like this and become hastily reacquainted with my reticence. I remember that the genre has basically made an art form of stringing together vaguely misleading and highly curated details into ...more
Kym Robinson
I had known about this book for some time before I was able to track it down and dig my paws into its pages. Johnson was a man who I had heard give interviews and seemed to be one of the 'go to guys' for the US anti war movement in the post 11 Sept 2001 World. The book was published before that date and the terrible terror attacks which seemed to change much of the World. Because of this many felt that Johnson had a degree of clairvoyance in his anticipation of such consequence to US foreign pol ...more
G. Branden
Mar 06, 2009 G. Branden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I recall, this is the first book I read after the September 11th attacks.

It was a good choice. Originally published in 2000, it saw a reprinting not long after I bought my copy--evidently I wasn't the only person impressed with Johnson's appearances on NPR at the time.

Essential reading for anyone who doubts that the United States constitutes an imperial power in the world (whether for good, ill, or both).

Johnson also makes the strongest case I've yet read for a civilian peacetime draft. The
Aaron Minks
May 27, 2008 Aaron Minks rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Any American with a grain of salt
Recommended to Aaron by: Michael Laney
Shelves: non-fiction
Chalmers book was more than thought provoking but maybe not quite live changing. The entire point of the book was convered early on and and Chalmers seemed to belabor it. It was a good point but hammered so hard and repeatedly that I did not finish. I got the point, appreciated it, learned from it, and set the book aside. Warning: Chalmers has a distinctly Anti-American bias. I'm not sure how he got it but it's fills the pages. To say that American involvement in foreign affairs more often leads ...more
Feb 03, 2012 Bryson rated it liked it
The first thing to know is that both the title and subtitle are misleading. This is a book almost exclusively about US imperialism in East and Southeast Asia. It rarely explores other regions or what's usually termed blowback. However, it's probably one of the best critical introductions to US foreign policy in Asia. Johnson's strength is in recounting the specificities of US foreign policy. It's not a pretty picture.

In case after case, Johnson demonstrates the negative impact of American milita
Steven Peterson
Jan 30, 2010 Steven Peterson rated it liked it
Blowback, according to author Chalmers Johnson, is a term invented by the CIA to (page ix) ". . .describe the likelihood that our covert operations in other people's countries could result in retaliation against Americans, civilian and military, at home and abroad." At another point, he notes that (page xi) ". . .blowback is another way of saying that a nation sows what it reaps." It results in unintended consequences of actions.

This is an angry book, with Johnson not pretending to take an acad
Satyaki Mitra
This book provides an insightful analysis of the flaws and ineptitude of American Foreign policy, principally with focus on the East Asian region. The author being one of the foremost scholars on East Asia, attempts to make his readers understand the dual and hypocritical role the US has been playing in East Asia, encouraging and even directly aiding dictatorships and inflicting unimaginable brutalities that are not much dissimilar from the policies the former USSR used on it's satellite states. ...more
Shea Mastison
Feb 05, 2012 Shea Mastison rated it it was ok
This guy fundamentally misunderstands the nature of fiat currency and the essentially destabilizing effect that it has on the global economy. Contrary to what he may think, the boom and bust cycle will always be made worse by having a centrally planned economy. In the face of his passion, it's clear he doesn't want to understand this as why Japan has been stagnant for the last ten years or more; however, the problem is not cultural--it's endemic.
It's an okay read if you're a foreign policy/poli
Kamil Salamah
Oct 30, 2009 Kamil Salamah rated it it was amazing
An amazing history of America's involvement in Southeast Asia with all its associated consequences from social, culutral, political, military, economical, financial and human rights aspects.

Again, it is another piece of outstanding written material that tragically paints a trajectory for the Empire of the age that is most unfortunate due to the loss of the Dream of the Founding fathers of America. Once again the power of the military-industrial complex( warned against by many including Presiden
Sean Rosenthal
Jun 14, 2013 Sean Rosenthal rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Interesting Quote:

"Military might does not equate with 'leadership of the free world'...An excessive reliance on a militarized foreign policy and an indifference to the distinction between national interests and national values in deciding where the United States should intervene abroad have actually made the country less secure in ways that will become only more apparent in the years to come."

-Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, 2000
Dec 13, 2010 Ian rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wakeup
Lots to recommend in this book: great perspective on America's economic and military bullying (though, largely focused on east Asia). Connects the dots between American policy abroad and the collapse of manufacturing and the middle class at home.

One thing I hate about books like this is confronting the depth of my own ignorance.
Jul 03, 2017 Mike rated it it was amazing
This book is essential reading for anyone trying to figure out what happened to the United States after World War II. We became an empire. We assumed a role that placed above international law. We decided which groups would control governments in countries where we had influence. The US military was one part of the effort, but so, too, was the CIA.

Economics played a key role in producing the blowback — the sometime violent response to US intervention and domination — that resulted. Chalmers John
Chris Chester
Feb 21, 2017 Chris Chester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Typically, reading books about the geopolitical moment more than five years after they were written is an exercise in futility, as conditions change and the collective consciousness comes to perceive world events in new ways. In this case though, it is actually because of its age that Blowback is so interesting, since Johnson penned this account of American imperial overreach before the psychological trauma of September 11, 2011 forever altered our perception of the world.

To be clear, there is q
Jerry Smith
Jul 30, 2009 Jerry Smith rated it really liked it
I have been meaning to read this book for some years and since I first considered it, this edition came out which provides a forward that is probably necessary post 9-11. Much of the subsequent text ends around the end of the century (the original book published in 2000 I think) which gives us the advantage of another 13 years from which the reader can observe what has happened subsequent to Johnson's treatise.

There is a lot to think about here. The issue of "Blowback" as such is not covered in
Dec 29, 2010 Aaron rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
Reading about the revolution under way in Egypt, my mind immediately turns to "Blowback," an exceptionally helpful tour through America's foreign policy and actions abroad, their negative impacts and how they've colored how others see us.

When author Chalmers Johnson writes of "Blowback" he's using a term coined by the CIA. It's the definition of what happens when American interests are plied secretively abroad, and how the chickens come home to roost in the form of blowback, everything from terr
Sep 25, 2014 Andy rated it it was amazing
This is the second book I've read from Chalmers Johnson, and it was definitely another success. Technically, this is part of a trilogy of texts, and I read the second prior to reading this, though the books are not required to be read in any particular order. Taken together, the books paint a picture of a US in danger of losing its way, though by now it is more likely that it has already lost its way.

This book shows how the military structure and the defense agenda have divorced themselves from
The premise of Blowback is very interesting. It aims to examine the role of shortsighted policy decisions made by the U.S. and the long-term, unintended consequences they created.

This is another book I chose to read, rather listen to, after discovering it on the Army Chief of Staff's recommended reading list for 2013. The book was listed of the CoS' list under the section for broadening leaders. The list is intended to "complement materials currently used in the Army educational system and can h
Aug 28, 2011 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is apparent that although this book was written and published in 2000,PRE 9-11, it is obvious to even the most anesthetized and clueless American, obsessing on celebrity and shopping that what has happened in those eleven years is part-and-parcel what Mr. Johnson defines as blowback - the unintended consequences of our pursuit of global hegemony. Here is the first paragraphs from the final chapter, The Consequences of Empire.

"American officials and the media talk a great deal about "rogue sta
Feb 26, 2013 Bryce rated it it was amazing
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire was written by Chalmers Johnson an American author and professor emeritus of the University of California, San Diego. He served in the Korean War, was a consultant for the CIA from 1967 to 1973, and chaired the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley from 1967 to 1972.

Blowback a term initially used in classified CIA documents, referred to the unintended consequences of covert action. "In a broader sense, blowba
Jan 02, 2016 Diane rated it liked it
First published in 2000, then republished with an Introduction entitled After 9/11, this book explains American imperialism in the world, and the world's reactions to it. The author explains how the US, as a result of the aftermath of WWII in which the world was split between the Communist and "Free World" countries, set up military bases around the world. The author explains how the U.S. promotes our economic system and forces other countries to use it (especially in SE Asia) . Both of these ha ...more
Sep 14, 2013 J.P. rated it really liked it
I decided to pick up this book after seeing the author, Chalmers Johnson, on "Speaking Freely" & doing some research on him. This book has helped me understand much more about the political climate, the wars this country are in, why we are in them, foreign policy & the decisions made by the people who run this country & who they defer to or at least turn a blind eye to in regards to their actions. A real eye opener, it explains how much of what goes on today or what has happened in t ...more
Aug 09, 2011 Aaron rated it liked it
This is a book about the unintended consequences of American actions in other countries. If you're interested in international politics, then this is a grain of salt you should definitely take.

Critics will label it as being hyped, but I think it's actually a window into worlds we seldom or never hear about in America. As someone who believes that you should "sweep your own porch before cleaning other people's porches," I've long believed that we should stop meddling in other people's affairs and
Oct 03, 2010 Gary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book I'd long known of but had little inclination to read. I'm glad I finally took the time to read it. It's somewhat disturbing - the thesis is that the U.S. has lost all moral legitimacy in the post-Cold War era (the book was published in 2000) and that it is already on a steady glide-plane to its demise, a la the "imperial overstretch" that historian Paul Kennedy popularized. I think he's overstating his argument a bit, particularly in light of events that took place not long after ...more
Joel Wentz
Oct 21, 2015 Joel Wentz rated it really liked it
'Blowback' is both brilliant and deeply unsettling. Growing up as a millenial, and vividly remembering that day in high school when the twin towers crumbled, I have always had a vague intuition that America's actions and policies overseas seemed to be creating enemies. I also suspected that many of my peers felt the same way - we couldn't explain why, but we were definitely uncomfortable with how our country handled itself in other parts of the world.

Well, Johnson's meticulously-researched-and-c
Apr 01, 2012 Marc rated it it was amazing
Brilliant! Blowback=unintended consequences of secret policies of the US Government. The American people have given uncritical support to an array of operative including presidents in US Empire building.

Chalmers Johnson has somehow managed to avoid inclusion in the Horowitz hate monger list.
An incredibly thorough analysis of the foreign policy mess that is USA. The list is long.
Iran (1953)
Guatemala (1954)
Cuba (1959-present)
Congo (1960)
Brazil (1964)
Indonesia (1965)
Vietnam (1961-73)
Laos (1961-73)
Wray Finks
Mar 20, 2014 Wray Finks rated it liked it
The author's expertise lies in Asian culture and that is definitely the focus of the book. It's unfortunate, because our nation's imperial over-reach extends far beyond our meddling in the Pacific Rim. When you buy a book about our "empire" it must include our worldwide ambition. Since the collapse of the other superpower, the USSR, instead of relaxing and cutting back on our military, those in power have seen this as an opportunity to essentially police the entire planet, draining even more of ...more
Apr 16, 2014 Laurence rated it really liked it
Read the original 2000 version (pre-9/11). Chalmers made very good points on how the US seemed to still be fighting the Cold War against... everybody... during the 90s. The military did draw down to some degree but US spending still dwarfed the rest of the world (even when taking into account the obviously fabricated low official Chinese military budget). The result seemed to be meddling for meddling's sake all over the world, the book concentrated on Asia. During the Cold War there actually wer ...more
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2015 Reading Chal...: Blowback by Chalmers Johnson 1 10 Jul 30, 2015 08:38AM  
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  • War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death
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  • Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism
  • How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok
  • Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them
  • Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich
  • The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War
  • The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America
  • A Nation of Sheep
  • Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
  • A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the  Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies
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  • America's Great Depression
  • Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
  • Future: Tense: The Coming World Order?
Chalmers Ashby Johnson was an American author and professor emeritus of the University of California, San Diego. He fought in the Korean war, from 1967-1973 was a consultant for the CIA, and ran the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California, Berkeley for years. He was also president and co-founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute, an organization promoting public education a ...more
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“It is time to realize, however, that the real dangers to America today come not from the newly rich people of East Asia but from our own ideological rigidity, our deep-seated belief in our own propaganda.” 6 likes
“The Nature of Political Terrorism The suicidal assassins of September 11, 2001, did not “attack America,” as political leaders and news media in the United States have tried to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy. Employing the strategy of the weak, they killed innocent bystanders, whose innocence is, of course, no different from that of the civilians killed by American bombs in Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.” 3 likes
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