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How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States

4.45  ·  Rating details ·  1,934 ratings  ·  339 reviews
A pathbreaking history of the United States' overseas possessions and the true meaning of its empire

We are familiar with maps that outline all fifty states. And we are also familiar with the idea that the United States is an "empire," exercising power around the world. But what about the actual territories--the islands, atolls, and archipelagos--this country has governed
Kindle Edition, 483 pages
Published February 19th 2019 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. A must read. Seriously, go read it right now.

I grew up in the shadow of the US empire so I've always understood that the US was an empire, but it did occur to me at some point after I immigrated that no one here saw it that way. On the middle east, the story was that Middle Easterners just didn't understand or want democracy. The truth is that the empires (British, Russian and then US) kept taking out our elected leaders because they knew they would lose their oil monopolies. And
How many high school teachers in the US know how Guantanamo Bay came to be US territory? How many know that the Philippines was managed as a colony for 47 years? While I expect most know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens (even if they didn’t before Hurricane Maria) do they know that (or more importantly why) the independence movement activists shot at President Truman and later shot into the House of Representatives wounding 5 congressmen in 1954. Daniel Immerwahr brings this all into the light ...more
Michael Perkins
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This brand new book is a lucidly written, very absorbing account of imperial U.S. that the usual ignorant America First people don't want to hear. They're unwilling to own up to our mistakes, so are doomed to repeat them. You will not find most of this in American history books.


The collapse of Spain’s beleaguered empire placed the whole Philippine archipelago in President McKinley’s surprised hands. What to do? Return the islands to Spain? Sell them? Leave them be? “I walked the
I received this book from Goodreads.

"In the end, this book's main contribution is not archival, bringing to light some never-before-seen document. It's perspectival, seeing a familiar history differently." page 16

A brilliant book!
How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States is a must read for anyone interested in obscure American history and the revolutionary switch from annexing territory for resources, to divesting large colonies and investing in military bases around the
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surely a 4.5 but just fell short of a full 5 star rating.

I’m not someone who knows much of American history - we obviously didn’t need to study it in school and whatever I’ve gleaned through in the past few years has been by watching documentaries, tv shows or reading fiction inspired by true historical events. Even in those cases, I have probably read more about WWII because the Holocaust is one of the most horrific events that I’ve come to know perpetrated by design by one evil man. As far as
David Dinaburg
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This has a Sesame Street vibe. Wait, stop, you know I don’t mean that as a pejorative so don’t scrunch up your face quite yet. See, if you come into How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States without a lot of prior knowledge, it’s super engrossing. Like when you are a kid watching Sesame Street, capisce? You’re extremely entertained by Cookie Monster and then it’s over and you sit up and say, “Oh snap, I know how to count now!” Just swap Cookie Monster for Northern Marianas ...more
William Harris
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently had the privilege of receiving an advanced copy of "How to Hide an Empire," by Daniel Immerwahr (courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux). I am pleased to report that this book is one of the finest recent analysis of imperialism (in its modern, evolved, guise). What is more, this formidable task is accomplished in a very accessible and well documented manner. Fundamentally, it is a text which assesses the new American and Global Empire, as distinguished from the 18th Century models most ...more
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a run don’t wait to read type of book. It’s dense with information but so readable. There was so much in this book that i didn’t know before or was exposed to a whole other viewpoint. It really brought home the idea of standardization and makes me wonder about it has affected my profession, education. A great great book. A necessary read.
I love history. It was one of my favorite classes in school, even though I'm pretty bad about remembering dates or specifics. But more than history, what i really love is origin stories. I LOVE knowing how things start, how they form. In my opinion, expert as it so obviously is, I can only truly appreciate the history of something if I know how it started. That's the most important part. It's the reason that the saying "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it" exists. I think we're ...more
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
A reader's view of this book will depend on how much history they know and how much they have traveled. I already knew quite a bit of the history recounted in the book, though there were many tidbits that were new to me, such as the history of the Guano Islands, Ernest Gruening, and the role of Albizu in Puerto Rico. I enjoyed the section on the development of standards such as ISO and ANSI, because those have directly impacted my career, though I suppose most sane people would find those parts ...more
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Ever since I read The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA, I’ve been looking for a book on the United States’s imperial possessions, and the first half of this book is exactly what I wanted. Not-Quite States is mostly a travelogue; I wanted the background, the details, the history, and this absolutely provides.

I do think the second half of the book gets a bit scattershot; I wanted it to be more like the first half, with more
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Starts off stronger than it ends; the more abstract the empire gets, the less revelatory it is. But at least half of this book has some stunning thing on every page that we all should have learned in middle school.
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is a fascinating book that exposes details about U.S. history unlike anything I learned in school. (I didn't realize that Alaska and Hawaii didn't become states sooner because of racism in the lower 48. Shameful.)

I found How to Hide an Empire so interesting that while I'd checked it out from the library, I went ahead and purchased so I can re-read it.
AJ Payne
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars.

This book was pretty great. I suppose I’m in the majority of Americans who know very little of the nitty gritty of the american empire. And it really is that, classically in the beginning and in a new way over the past 60 years.

And this book covers it all - from the early days of pushing out native Americans, to the fight for the guano islands (there is some fascinating stuff if you haven’t heard about that!) through the aftermath of World War II and the US’s rise in globalization.

Oct 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I enthusiastically give Daniel Immerwehr's book, published this year (2019) *****! He presents a wealth of information on "the US Empire." And, yes, we live in an empire, although we prefer to call it a "superpower." There's a lot of information in this book that just did not make it into our history textbooks and I'm talking about college textbooks. For example, I would hope that most Americans know that Puerto Rico is American territory ( a "commonwealth"), but most of us know very little ...more
Few countries in the contemporary world are charged with Imperialism as often as the USA, or so it seems. Yet, the denial of any imperial ambitions is loudly proclaimed, often with an appeal to the USA’s founding circumstances, its ontological singularity to lift a term from Meghan Morris, in resistance to British domination – how can it be an empire, the objection is raised, when it is founded in opposition to empire. In an elegant move, a self-proclaimed shift in perspective, Daniel Immerwahr ...more
Rochel Dick Plonka
Have you ever wondered why so many nurses are Philipino? Or why Puerto Rico isn't a state? How did the American standard for screws and screw threads become the world standard? How did 91% of the world's countries come to use red octagons as stop signs? How did English become a global language? Did you know that the man whose discovery of synthetic fertilizers that keeps billions of people fed was also behind the creation of zyklon b gas?

This book was a real adventure. I learned so many
Esther Espeland
Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow I’m HOT for this book! Fascinating content, essential reframing of US history, and very readable and funny! Audibly guffawed while reading! Gave me much to think abt!
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not only is this exhaustively researched, Immerwahr is a brilliant storyteller. He's able to draw connections between a seemingly obscure historical detail and popular culture or important objects and people. Even the chapter on international standardisation was fascinating. Did you know Herbert Hoover wore a suit and tie to go fishing!? Also am I the last person to know snafu stands for 'situation normal all fucked up'!? Along with these details, Immerwahr reveals that the mainland US is ...more
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this! It was everything I was hoping for. The tone was very engaging and the author's interest in the material was extremely evident. You could tell how much he enjoyed all of the fun facts he put in and how much he wanted to share them. I really liked the way he brought in things that should be boring (like the history of standardization and the importance of nitrogen for growing crops) and not only made them fascinating but demonstrated what an enormous impact they've had.

Even as
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before the hurricane hit it last year, did you know Puerto Rico was a part of the United States? How many other US territories can you name? Just one or two? The US Virgin Islands are fairly easy because they have "The US" in the name. And Guam is often listed with them so you might get that too. But there have been hundreds of others. Does that surprise you?

We try to pretend that the US is unique among superpowers in that we never had colonies. But we kind of did. The Philippines. The Guano
Sean Guynes
An important book for realizing on a wider, public-scale what those in American studies have long known: America is an empire with far-flung colonies, territories, protectorates, and military bases all around the world which have help to secure and spread American hegemony. The major benefit of this book is that it synthesizes decades of scholarship and covers the whole of American history, looking at the beginnings of American expansion in the 1790s. However, while the book has a lot to about ...more
Ben Babcock
I heard about this book on Twitter, I think, and read an excerpt (basically the introduction of the book) in The Guardian, and I was immediately sold. These days I read history books because I’ve discovered since leaving school that history is actually really, really difficult to learn. There’s just so much of it, and it’s just so subject to interpretation depending on the evidence available, the lens you use for that evidence, and your own biases. Even when you’ve done your best to be diligent ...more
Your Excellency
I heartily recommend this book - very accessible, fascinating, well-written, and it provides a really fresh perspective on America (in all its forms) and its ownership/colonization/annexation/borrowing/stealing/using/[add your verbs here] actions regarding its territories.
Randall Wallace
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is the story of U.S. territories, which Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson openly called “colonies” (Puerto Rico, Guam, The Philippines, Hawaii, Wake, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, etc.) Just three years after the continental US was filled, we began invading/occupying land overseas that belonged to others. Our official U.S. dollar bill was copied from the Philippine dollar bill we made them use during US occupation. The Philippine War was also the longest war in US history after ...more
Jay Shelat
Dec 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely brilliant. A must read.
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
CW: the n-word is spelled out every other page during the first third of the book. Yes, based on historical documents. No, it wasn't necessary for the author to include the full phrase every time. Also includes other racial slurs against other groups, and refers to both sex workers and victims of sex trafficking as "prostitutes" as if it's all the same. Overall, I found a disturbing level of antiblackness, anti-Indigeneity, and sexism in here, buried under a gross jocularity or silence, ...more
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half: this is the book I've been looking for for years, outlining the origins of US global hegemony in the "frontier thesis" and the Spanish-American war. Chapters dealing with the parallel historical developments in the Philippines and Puerto Rico are particularly interesting, though I was hoping for more about the "unofficial" colonies such as the puppet regime in republican-era Cuba, or the International Settlement in Shanghai. Nonetheless, fascinating stuff and jam packed with ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible indictment of our historical (and present-day) practice of extracting wealth and strategic benefit from holding colonies (then, "territories," and military bases) while denying basic rights to the inhabitants of those places. It's a lot of history you don't learn in school, to our collective loss! In a chapter on the US's strategy of seeking out "relatively small, lightly populated islands" for airstrips and nuclear testing (oftentimes driving off native populations or exposing ...more
May 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Very mixed. The early part, on guano islands, was old hat to me. Then there was some interesting, newish material on the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Then it finished with tons of filler, which had hardly anything to do with the "hidden empire" subject.

"It wasn’t until 1927 that traffic lights were standardized. Before that, drivers in Manhattan stopped on green, started on yellow, and understood red to mean 'caution.'"

This is an interesting piece of trivia, I suppose, but the thesis that
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Daniel Immerwahr is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University and the author of Thinking Small: The United States and the Lure of Community Development, which won the Organization of American Historians’ Merle Curti Award. He has written for Slate, n+1, Dissent, and other publications.
“Although the frontier had advanced by fewer than two miles a year in the 150 years following Jamestown’s establishment, in the first half of the nineteenth century it shot west at nearly forty miles a year, stopping only when settlers reached the Pacific Coast.” 1 likes
“times had changed. The chief impetus for rethinking the value of colonies was the global Depression. It had triggered a desperate scramble among the world’s powers to prop up their flagging economies with protective tariffs. This was an individual solution with excruciating collective consequences. As those trade barriers rose, global trade collapsed, falling by two-thirds between 1929 and 1932. This was exactly the nightmare Alfred Thayer Mahan had predicted back in the 1890s. As international trade doors slammed shut, large economies were forced to subsist largely on their own domestic produce. Domestic, in this context, included colonies, though, since one of empire’s chief benefits was the unrestricted economic access it brought to faraway lands. It mattered to major imperial powers—the Dutch, the French, the British—that they could still get tropical products such as rubber from their colonies in Asia. And it mattered to the industrial countries without large empires—Germany, Italy, Japan—that they couldn’t. The United States was in a peculiar position. It had colonies, but they weren’t its lifeline. Oil, cotton, iron, coal, and many of the important minerals that other industrial economies found hard to secure—the United States had these in abundance on its enormous mainland. Rubber and tin it could still purchase from Malaya via its ally Britain. It did take a few useful goods from its tropical colonies, such as coconut oil from the Philippines and Guam and “Manila hemp” from the Philippines (used to make rope and sturdy paper, hence “manila envelopes” and “manila folders”). Yet the United States didn’t depend on its colonies in the same way that other empires did. It was, an expert in the 1930s declared, “infinitely more self-contained” than its rivals. Most of what the United States got from its colonies was sugar, grown on plantations in Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Philippines. Yet even in sugar, the United States wasn’t dependent. Sugarcane grew in the subtropical South, in Louisiana and Florida. It could also be made from beets, and in the interwar years the United States bought more sugar from mainland beet farmers than it did from any of its territories. What the Depression drove home was that, three decades after the war with Spain, the United States still hadn’t done much with its empire. The colonies had their uses: as naval bases and zones of experimentation for men such as Daniel Burnham and Cornelius Rhoads. But colonial products weren’t integral to the U.S. economy. In fact, they were potentially a threat.” 1 likes
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