Mark Mazower in The Guardian:
“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being,” said President Obama at West Point last month. His speech was a reaffirmation of the US as the indispensable nation, destined to lead the world. We have lived with this kind of rhetoric for a long time now, so long that it seems to have been with us forever. Adam Tooze's new book takes us back a century, to the time when this was all very new. It offers a bold and persuasive reinterpretation of how the US rose to global pre-eminence and along the way it recasts the entire story of how the world staggered from one conflagration to the next.
In the late 19th century, the world was dominated by imperial European great powers, happily carving up between them any available territories in Africa and Asia. The United States watched from the sidelines, a bit-player in international affairs, the energies of its politicians dedicated to overcoming the bitter internal legacy of the civil war. With a negligible navy and a tiny diplomatic service, it was scarcely a power of even the second rank, and, apart from the unfortunate inhabitants of Cuba and the Philippines, people around the world could live their entire lives in ignorance of the Stars and Stripes. Tooze shows, more emphatically than any other scholar I have read, how decisively and how sweepingly the first world war ended this state of affairs. In the midst of the war, financial and naval power in particular moved across the Atlantic never to return. In this situation, Woodrow Wilson did not seek merely to replace the British as the hegemon of a liberal trading order, as historians used to tell us. Rather, he wanted to move the international system as a whole beyond the practices of imperial great-power rivalry that he blamed for the war itself.