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The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  202 ratings  ·  42 reviews
A thought-provoking and penetrating account of the post-Cold war follies and delusions that culminated in the age of Donald Trump from the bestselling author of The Limits of Power.

When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Washington establishment felt it had prevailed in a world-historical struggle. Our side had won, a verdict that was both decisive an
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 7th 2020 by Metropolitan Books
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David Wineberg
Aug 30, 2019 rated it liked it
The Age of Illusions is a book I wanted to really like, but it has a lot of trouble getting out of its own way. Andrew Bacevich looks at the Trump administration through the lens of the post-cold war era. This is the era the USA was supposed to dominate in toto and complete freedom as the world’s sole superpower. Instead, he shows, the three presidents who came immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall squandered that hard-earned advantage, and set the stage for the ascent of Donald Trump.

Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is precisely what the title suggests: an appraisal of how the United States wasted the opportunity presented by the unipolar moment that came at the end of the Cold War. I find that many American elites have still not adjusted to the fact that such a world no longer exists, as Mr. Bacevich also argues. They are continuing to speak and act as though they can shape global events despite their diminishing relative power and repeated failures since 9/11. I do not foresee this attitude chan ...more
Randall Wallace
Apr 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Always good to read books by ex-military men who see the problems like, “Terrorism does not pose an existential threat to the United States and never has. Terrorism is merely a tactic, and an ancient one at that.” Remembering that Bush senior was the last President to have served in the armed forces, can help one see how all Presidents since him, not only went illegally overboard militarily, yet did so with a child’s military experience. In England, Prince Harry did two tours of Afghanistan and ...more
Andrew Carr
Feb 05, 2020 rated it liked it
For most people, the act of writing is as much an act of thought as one of transcribing prior thoughts. In the Age of Illusions you can see Bacevich thinking his way through the challenges of his time, resulting in an insightful book that gets far better as the book reaches its conclusion.

Bacevich identifies four primary illusions of modern American belief: Unfettered Globalization, Military Hegemony, Presidential Primacy and Unrestrained Freedoms. All four are core to the elite consensus of how
Jan 23, 2020 rated it liked it
I was so excited to read this one and was still super excited after the intro and a third of the way through because he almost wrote a great book talking about how America Squandered its cold war victory or whatever it was he promised in his intro. Instead, it just falls apart into the same old (so tired!) narrative about how corruption created the Trump phenomenon and how both sides are bad yada yada. Not that I don't think it's true, but he says absolutely nothing new. He also rails against id ...more
Steven Z.
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Growing up in the 1950s and 60s I enjoyed a sense of security knowing where to focus my fears and angst. The Soviet Union was the enemy and policymakers developed the strategy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) that carried us through threats like the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fast forward to 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell and 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and my security blanket was gone – the Cold War was over. In what President George H.W. Bush referred to as the unipower world, Amer ...more
Ernest Spoon
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Essentially a recap of recent history--nothing surprising as I lived through it--and critique of politics centered around a shared set of assumptions held by both major political parties, which pose as polar opposites. The status quo favoring a minority of economic and academically favored elites must be, and is, maintained by both Democrats and Republicans. I did not really learn anything new there.

However Bacevich, a military veteran and retired academician, and I, retired, disabled letter ca
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Pretty decent and short survey of American Economic and Foreign Policy post-Cold War. There are no striking revelations here, but I doubt that was the author's goal. Essentially using Francis Fukuyama's now (in)famous "End Of History" essay as a jumping off point, the author looks at the failures and pratfalls of the Presidential administrations that led to the 2016 election. The author is self-aware enough to recognize that we will still be combing through the wreckage even 100 years from now. ...more
Sep 10, 2020 rated it liked it
I really like Bacevich's previous books, and put this one on my t0-read list before its publication. My overall feeling is that this one is not as good as the previous ones. The analysis of first 7 chapters is very solid and reasonable, especially the factors for US to be in today's situation: globalized neoliberalism, militarized hegemony, and radical individual autonomy. However the last chapter (chapter 8) looks weak to me. If I have the time, I can write a very long review, but that's a luxu ...more
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This could be alternatively titled “The Ultimate Boomer Guide to the Modern US State”. In it, the author rightfully complains about the post-cold war peace that was squandered by a succession of strategic mistakes made by the last 6 administrations. Irritatingly, the Obama administration takes a lot of the heat (even though “I voted for him twice, and met him on several occasions”) whereas the disastrous 8 years of Bush ineptness hardly musters the criticism it so richly deserves. The analysis s ...more
Andrew Figueiredo
Dec 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"The Age of Illusions" was the second 5 -star-worthy Andrew J. Bacevich book I read this year, after Twilight of the American Century last summer, a collection of essays which resonated deeply with me during this geopolitically tumultuous year. Unlike the earlier book, this one is one unified work seeking to explain the rise of Donald Trump, with some post-2016 analysis of his presidency included.

His argues that leaders squandered the post-Cold War moment by adopting an 'Emerald City consensus'
Joseph Stieb
Feb 11, 2021 rated it liked it
Bacevich is the kind of historian who, when I'm reading him, I nod vigorously on one page and shake my head on the next. I think his critique of the all-volunteer forces and the "wars of 9/11" as a betrayal of trust and an offloading of responsibility for military service onto a fraction of the population is tremendous. His work on a rising American militarism and unitary is also excellent. However, this book brings out some of the tendencies in his writing that I dislike, especially judgmentali ...more
Alan Carlson
Feb 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
"How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory:" "globalized neoliberalism, militarized hegemony, radical autonomy, and presidential supremacy." In his book Age of Illusions, Bacevich crystallizes his thesis on page 173 (of 202).

Two stars. Not horrible, but not really worth reading either.
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Review: The Age of Illusions
Andrew Bachevich
Published 2020 - Metropolitan Books

I gave this book the highest rating.

Bachevich frames the discussion by observing that the U.S. "The West) ' won ' The Cold War. The U.S. emerged as the sole SuperPower in the early 1990's - yet one generation later he observes a great division within the U.S. and that "things are not right" for the majority of Americans.

Bachevich opens with a James Baldwin quote about an American assumption that ....'each generatio
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-events
Much of what Andrew Bacevich says in this timely book is not surprising. I have read several of his books before and have enjoyed his assiduous style and precision in laying out cogent and coherent arguments.

In "The Age of Illusions" he maintains his rigor and narrative and shines a light on the changing American consensus from the era of Al, Fred and Homer (characters from the William Wyler movie "The Best Days of Our Lives", which represented a high-flying American spirit following the end of
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: justice, history, war, politics
Easily the most thought provoking book I have read in a couple years.

Full disclosure: I have read other books by B and his columns in the Boston Globe. I also attended a talk 12 years ago when he was gaining recognition for his political, cultural, and military insights. I find his research complete, his reasoning impeccable, and his conclusions clear. And because I believe I share his fundamental values (as he describes them in his books), there is no cognitive dissonance for me when he prophet
Jake Whitehouse
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Bacevich has written a fantastic account of post cold-war America, a fantastic and well written narrative that is engaging, rings true and succinctly hits the key notes of whats gone wrong and the key factors that brought it that way. He shows off both his knowledge of political power players (and their policies) past and present, and his speciality in American militarism in the post cold war era. His appraisal on the post cold war presidents ring truthful and should be appreciated across the po ...more
Robert Muller
Apr 10, 2020 rated it liked it
I found myself agreeing with much of Bacevich's assessments until he got to the point about the president not having an impact. Looking over the major events of the current presidency, it seems clear that the impact, while perhaps not huge, is certainly there: oil, Iran, the Israel/Palestinian peace process, climate change, the tenor of the Supreme Court: all these issues are far worse now due to actions taken by the president and his administration. And then there is the primary election. Bacev ...more
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: listened-2020
Bacevich provides a Conservative viewpoint on how the US gained and lost the opportunity afforded to it with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its rise to a prominent position in the global community. While Bacevich offers some detailed insight into the rise of Donald Trump, his commentary provides a very selective view that lacks any nuance of the subjects it covers as he traces the path to Trump's victory in 2016. Bacevich's commentary on the US military's fixation on "revolutions in milita ...more
Andrew Bacevich may be a former soldier but he is a current Deep Thinker, having written thousands of pages of books and essays analyzing various aspects of American military and diplomatic history. A self-described conservative, Bacevich uses that term in the classic sense - unlike far too many of today's Republican leadership, who are seemingly proud of their lack of expertise in the issues of the day, Bacevich thinks long and hard about America and our role in the world.

With "The Age of Illus
Stephen Morrissey
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Why does it mean to be an American after the Cold War? This is the fundamental question Professor Andrew Bacevich seeks to ask, prod and answer in his succinct summation, and indeed condemnation, of American foreign policy since 1989. Standing atop the metaphorical rubble of Soviet communism, and all other ideological and national challenges to its dominance, America decided not so much to reconsider its role in the world after the Cold War as expand and refresh it (American Imperialism 2.0). Th ...more
May 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who consider themselves deplorables
The author's credentials are exceptional. A West Pointer and career military guy, he is now professor emeritus in history and international relations at Boston University.

Professor Bacevich plots US History from post WW II through the first three years of the Trump Administration, emphasizing the post fall of the Berlin Wall period. He discusses how / why we lost the so-called "Peace Dividend" that was to accrue to the US after the Soviet Union collapsed, and the creation of the environment whe
I'm not sure what I learned new from Bacevich's book. There was a recap of history starting with the Reagan presidency to the Trump administration. The author has a good analysis of the problems that each President faced and how successful they were in resolving them. But most of what I read, I pretty much knew and understood.

Bacevich also tracks the life of Donald Trump. What I found most interesting from this book was how Trump's views on foreign affairs, economics and politics changed over th
Mar 03, 2020 rated it liked it
A commentary as to how U.S. Presidents since the opening of the Berlin wall in 1989 have been hewing to an obsolete view of America, first as an idealized "Boone City" from the movie "Best Years of Our Lives", or as an "Emerald City" as imagined by Ronald Reagan, et al. Well-written, seemingly, until the present, when the author goes off the tracks with his discussion of the Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump presidential race of 2016. Essentially he views Trump's election not as a cause of calamity, ...more
Jan 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
Bacevich believes that Trump's presidency is a sort of "passing phase" that will amount to little in the long run. This strikes me as both premature and naive, but I guess we will have to see. At one point, he quotes Alan Greenspan about the irrelevancy of presidents. He might as well have quoted the famous historian Henry Adams, who once insisted the same to Franklin Roosevelt in the 1920s. A more measured evaluation would be: "Sometimes the president matters and sometimes he does not."

Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As an ardent admirer of Bacevich's other works, I was not disappointed with The Age of Illusions. In this analysis he clearly lays out the road that leads straight to Trump. The loss of civic virtue associated with identity politics and the hubris of empire resulting in globalization's left-behinds.
We are responsible for the situation we are in, having been seduced by American exceptionalism, consumerism, and spectacle.
Bacevich's political analysis needs to be supplemented by an economic analy
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I like Bacevich's books- I may not agree with everything he wrote, but they always get me thinking. This is the first writing that explained/outlined what "Make America Great Again" and "Keep America Great" meant or most likely means. 2nd, this book did a good job outlining why the "Right Wing" hates Hillary Clinton and 3rd, how the contradictions of America worked so well against an outside enemy and why they are causing an implosion without the outside enemy.
The book is short so there is not
Mar 19, 2020 rated it liked it
short enjoyable, well referenced review of how we got to where we are as a nation. Starting post WWII, with the vision of a rebuilding US viewed through eyes of returning vets a la the movie The Best Years of Our Lives. And ending with the age of Trump. There's a lot in between that is mentioned in the other reviews here, and it all makes sense with no deep new insights, but a nice summary. He's optimistic (in a brief last chapter) that in the end there is light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not ...more
Jan 31, 2020 rated it liked it
OK boomer

When stuck in a meeting with colleagues, there is always one person who constantly interrupts to identify new problems. He states these problems aloud, thinking he is being helpful/intelligent, and highlights additional problems without providing any solutions. We call these people "problem identifiers" and they make the meeting twice as painful and twice as long as it should be. Andrew Bacevich is a "problem identifier".

Bacevich rushes together a narrative of the last 5 presidents, en
Brian Mikołajczyk
Bacevich's Age of Illusions postulates that America has squandered its Cold War victory. The author details the post-Soviet policies America has had that has led to the squandering, however he focuses primarily on Trump. His focus doesn't include much of Trump's cozying up to Putin, but talks about some of his domestic policies.
This work was very scatterbrained and not very conclusive.
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Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel. He is the author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism and The New American Militarism. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New York ...more

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
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“Indeed, Greenspan deemed it “fortunate” that “policy decisions in the U.S. have been largely replaced by global market forces,” so much so that “national security aside, it hardly makes any difference” whom Americans installed in the White House.9” 1 likes
“As for diversity within the military itself, highly publicized instances of tokenism—female officers becoming fighter pilots or graduating from the army’s Ranger School—divert attention from gaping inequities related to class.” 1 likes
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