Books in Brief

Empire in Retreat: The Past, Present, and Future of the United States, by Victor Bulmer-Thomas (New Haven: Yale University Press; 480 pp., $32.50).  This excellent and timely book is of great interest as informed speculation on the future of the United States; at a secondary level, it is a meditation on empire in history.  Bulmer-Thomas, a specialist in the history of Latin America and the Caribbean and professor emeritus at the University of London, lived and taught in the U.S. for many years.  The events of September 11, 2001, and America’s response to them, gave him the idea for this book.  He begins by noting that, while most empires (for example, the British Empire) were brought down by external events, the American Empire is in retreat for internal reasons, the chief of them being that the American public no longer wishes to pay the price and bear the burdens of empire.  Yet, Bulmer-Thomas reminds us, the U.S. is a product of an imperial age and indeed has been an empire herself since the Treaty of Paris in 1783, when she acquired a vast territory the 13 colonies had never controlled and one already populated by its native inhabitants.  “Republic” and “empire” were at that time not considered contradictory terms.  Since then, the nation became a continental empire with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, next with the acquisition...

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