As the Crow Reads: Rethinking American Grand Strategy

This month, I read a non-fiction historical text titled Rethinking American Grand Strategy, edited by Oregon State University Associate Professor and Director of the Center for the Humanities, Christopher McKnight Nichols, along with Andrew Preston, Professor of American History at the University of Cambridge, and Elizabeth Borgwardt, Associate Professor of History and Law at Washington University in St. Louis.  

This book is an historical study of strategies within the American government throughout history. With 23 contributors, the book covers every aspect of “Grand Strategy” — the long-term strategy pursued at the highest levels by a nation to further its interests — including the ways the government has or has not utilized it over time, and the factors that should be considered when thinking of Grand Strategy and its implications. It also includes analysis of Grand Strategy within other organizations, such as religious groups and political movements, creating a well-rounded survey of the topic in areas usually ignored by the discipline.  

What I Liked 

I don’t normally read historical studies or nonfiction governmental books. While I enjoy them, they’re often quite dense and difficult to understand, making it hard for me to finish reading them. I really enjoyed most of the chapters in this book. The multiple contributors and areas of study covered kept me from getting too overwhelmed in any one area.  

I was most impressed by the detail and breadth of topics covered. Not only did this book focus on the way Grand Strategy has or has not been used in governmental proceedings, but also how it is used within religious organizations, movements, and other sectors. This lends a unique and descriptive perspective to what is usually covered in history books.  

I also enjoyed the fact that most chapters were written in such a way that even as someone not at all versed in politics and less than adequately versed in the history of our country, I could understand and learn from this well packed edition.  

What Was Missing 

I’m not sure as to the intended purpose of this book. As a pleasure reading book, I was not inspired to keep reading. There was a lot of information contained inside these 457 pages, and it was sometimes hard for me to pay attention as the language, and references often went over my head. However, if this book is intended to be a textbook for use within the classroom, especially at high level institutions, this would be an incredible addition to the curriculum.   

I was also disappointed that there were so many typos within this volume. I got the impression that it was put together with some urgency, and that it was assembled with only limited thought to flow. Some chapters would have gone better next to others of a similar topic. 

Recommendation 

This is, overall, a fantastic book. It’s incredibly thought provoking and well researched. I appreciated that it challenged the current ways of thinking of Grand Strategy, and questioned the approaches taken by leaders throughout American history. The beginning of the book details the objectives that the writers proposed, and I felt that most of the objectives were met by the time I reached the end of the book, at least in part. This book would be a great read for a student of American History, Government, or Political Science, and I believe it offers a unique perspective to anyone looking to understand the use of Grand Strategy over the past two centuries.  

Contributors 

Elizabeth Borgwardt, Elizabeth H. Bradley, Hal Brands, Laura Briggs, Emily Conroy-Krutz, Mary L. Dudziak, Charles Edel, Jeffrey A. Engel, Katherine C. Epstein, Beverly Gage, David Greenberg, Michaela Hoenicke Moore, William Inboden, Julia F. Irwin, Ryan Irwin, Matthew Karp, Adriane Lentz-Smith, Fredrik Logevall, David Milne, Christopher McKnight Nichols, Andrew Preston, Lauren A. Taylor, Daniel J. Tichenor 

Rethinking American Grand Strategy was published in 2021 by Oxford University Press. 

By Kyra Young