To call this standout book a corrective would make it sound earnest and dutiful, when in fact it is wry, readable and often astonishing. Immerwahr knows that the material he presents is serious, laden with exploitation and violence, but he also knows how to tell a story, highlighting the often absurd space that opened up between expansionist ambitions and ingenuous self-regard ... Seen through Immerwahr’s lens, even the most familiar historical events can take on a startling cast ... It’s a testament to Immerwahr’s considerable storytelling skills that I found myself riveted by his sections on Hoover’s quest for standardized screw threads, wondering what might happen next. But beyond its collection of anecdotes and arcana, this humane book offers something bigger and more profound. How to Hide an Empire nimbly combines breadth and sweep with fine-grained attention to detail. The result is a provocative and absorbing history of the United States — 'not as it appears in its fantasies, but as it actually is.'
The book is written in 22 brisk chapters, full of lively characters, dollops of humor, and surprising facts ... It entertains and means to do so. But its purpose is quite serious: to shift the way that people think about American history ... Immerwahr convincingly argues that the United States looks less like an empire than its European counterparts did not because U.S. policy maintains any inherent commitment to anti-imperialism, but because its empire is disguised first as continuous territory and later by the development of substitutes for formal territorial control ... It is a powerful and illuminating economic argument ... the book succeeds in its core goal: to recast American history as a history of the 'Greater United States' ... Immerwahr’s book deserves a wide audience, and it should find one. In making the contours of past power more visible, How to Hide an Empire may help make it possible to imagine future alternatives.
Consistently both startling and absorbing ... Immerwahr vividly retells the early formation of the country, the consolidation of its overseas territory, and the postwar perfection of its 'pointillist' global empire, which extends influence through a vast constellation of tiny footprints—its approximately eight hundred military bases across scores of nations, dwarfing the twenty or so held by France, Russia, and my pretty-in-pink motherland combined. Much of this book’s power is in the details.
At a glance, it looks like a dive into the history of American territorial (yawn) expansion. And it is, a deeply researched, often revelatory reframing of history as seen through the islands, prairies and military bases that the United States has claimed as its own ... And yet, even if you set aside that premise, as much as this is a story of neglect and violence — it’s an absorbing, entertaining read. You learn something amazing on almost every page.
It’s a fun tour. Immerwahr recasts popularized figures such as Daniel Boone, Douglas MacArthur and Mark Twain as central if sometimes unwitting players in the debate over American expansionism. He also manages to reframe everything from James Bond movies to the Beatles as crucially relevant in matters of empire and globalization ... Immerwahr is particularly convincing when criticizing God’s play-calling. When it comes to U.S. territories, the only thing more consistent than violence is ineptitude ... by the end of Daniel Immerwahr’s book, the story of the U.S. territories feels both overlooked and crucial when it comes to understanding our supposedly indivisible nation.
Immerwahr is an engaging writer with an eye for the telling anecdote, characterization, quote or juxtaposition: the book fairly romps along ... Immerwahr is particularly good at noting the contradictions that arise when trying to apply the US Constitution to places that are American but not part of (or one of) the United States ... But possibly the most illuminating parts of the book are those that deal with what Senator William Henry Seward (who later brokered the purchase of Alaska) referred as 'ragged rocks' ... Immerwahr succeeds in creating a notion of the 'Greater United States', a concept which rarely if ever enters public dialogue.
This is a sloppy, undisciplined book, which makes some penetrating and important points amid a heap of self-indulgent clutter ... In his anger about [the hatred the U.S. government has inspired in some parts of the world because of their assumptions of superiority], however, he ignores the critical truth, that for all its vices, follies and periodic descents into evil, the United States has been broadly a Good Thing, not merely for its own people, but for most of us.
... meandering but never boring ... Immerwahr sometimes wanders far afield, almost like a psychoanalysis patient in free association ... This book, however, is somewhat one-dimensional ... Immerwahr is right to remind us of victims like those [mentioned in the book], but the legacies of colonialism are never in colonies alone.
In How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, Daniel Immerwahr explains how mainlanders forgot to care about Puerto Rico and the other not-quite states our country has controlled since its earliest days. The book is not about any particular person, place, or event. It’s about how people think and don’t think. Immerwahr directs attention to the forces that have made us oblivious, preventing a moral accounting with empire and its animating racism ... Immerwahr wants us to look, and his highlight reel of U.S. empire is worth watching. His main concern is not the metaphorical empire of United Fruit and kimchi Big Macs but empire in crystalline form: spaces beyond borders, which the United States bought, conquered, annexed, and ruled ... Herein lies one of Immerwahr’s indispensable contributions. Of necessity, a lot of historical detail is absent from his book, but he takes time for this critical point: ambiguity is power. By calling a place an appurtenance or territory rather than a state, the federal government arrogated to itself undemocratic authority over the people who lived there—people to whom it would never be accountable unless it decided otherwise ...
The author relates... episodes well ... Mr. Immerwahr engagingly describes how, during the 19th century, the U.S. seized various islands for their abundance of guano .. The author’s criticisms are on sounder ground when it comes to the Philippines... Yet he again fails to note the role of great-power jockeying, which complicates tidy moral categories ... The author implores us to see the U.S. 'not as it appears in its fantasies, but as it actually is.' But he too often lapses into his own kind of fantasy, in which the alternative to U.S. empire for weak states was always self-determination rather than domination by a less-liberal competitor.
While most Americans saw their administration as a form of benign stewardship, Immerwahr stresses that the native inhabitants were often disrespected, mistreated, and marginalized. Perhaps that is an unbalanced view, but this is still a useful and informative work, since many of these overseas territories remain under our governance.
[Immerwahr's] book has caused some excitement among people who study and write about empire professionally. This isn’t the kind of perspective one usually finds in mainstream histories of the United States ... The book’s second half narrates the transformation of American empire that occurred after the Second World War, as the US assumed its place as world hegemon. Immerwahr is less successful here because he runs into the limits of his anecdotal approach ... Immerwahr’s account has observational value but little explanatory power. He never acknowledges or analyzes the engine of postwar American empire, which is the country’s self-assigned mission to keep the world safe for capitalism. An unrealized awareness of this mission suffuses the book’s second half, especially in the discussion of industrial standards (you want everyone’s screws to be the same size so that you can buy and sell industrial parts anywhere in the world). But the actual word capitalism appears only once in more than four hundred pages, and it’s in a quote from someone else ... Empire, as a subject, requires exactly the kind of geopolitical thinking that is missing from this book. Immerwahr seeks refuge in the details, but without an overarching idea about what the military bases and interventions are for, all you’re left with is a picture of a bunch of different places on a map.
Substantial ... This insightful, excellent book, with its new perspective on an element of American history that is almost totally excluded from mainstream education and knowledge, should be required reading for those on the mainland.