- STAFF PICKS
- GIFTS + GIFT CARDS
- SELL BOOKS
- FIND A STORE
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Ark of the Liberties: America and the Worldby Ted Widmer
Synopses & Reviews
Why the world loves/hates America.
Long before there was an America, Europeans sensed that a land of freedom lay to the west, by definition different from the cloistered Old World. A fantasy grew into a society, then a nation, and finally a superpower; yet the belief always lingered that liberty and America were one and the same. Often they were. But unattainable aspirations can be as damaging as they are uplifting. From the Puritans to Thomas Paine, from Woodrow Wilson to George W. Bush, Americans have believed we have nothing less than a mission to redeem the world. Pursuing that belief, we have stumbled into a paradox: the desire to see liberty spread around the globe leads to forced efforts that are inconsistent with a true definition of liberty.
With wit, brilliance, and deep affection, the inimitable Ted Widmer has written a history of America in the world unlike any other. Ranging from the late seventeenth century to the present, Widmer traces America's wondrous history, the arc that runs from the Declaration of Independence to the Gettysburg Address to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He also looks unblinkingly at our less glorious history, from the 1739 Stono Rebellion, which saw slaves massacred under a banner declaring "liberty," to the occupation of Iraq and America's dismal standing in world opinion. Ark of the Liberties is that luminous rarity, a celebratory critique written in the conviction that if Americans want an occasionally ungrateful world to respect us more, then it will certainly help to know ourselves a little better.
"Widmer, a Brown University history professor and former Clinton speechwriter, examines the timely question of how the concept of liberty has influenced the development of America and American foreign policy from pre-Revolutionary days to the present. Widmer argues that liberty was part of the New World's allure for centuries, and that the Puritans' quest for religious freedom led directly to the peculiarly American concept of liberty that he says 'was essential to America's modern greatness.' While acknowledging many foreign policy fiascos inconsistent with his thesis — including the Mexican-American war, the CIA's destabilization of various Latin American governments and the war in Vietnam — Widmer argues that overall, American actions have been instrumental in furthering liberty, both nationally and internationally. He places Lincoln's performance during the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations, FDR's leadership during WWII, the Marshall Plan and Kennedy's inspirational Pax Americana on the liberty side of the ledger. The Iraq War is addressed only in a scathing epilogue. Widmer offers a critical, informative and ambitious study that honors the best American impulses without ignoring the times the country has fallen from grace. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"An unusual and engaging tour of the horizon of American diplomacy that should appeal to both scholarly and general audiences." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] rollicking and exuberantly sweeping overview of American history." Providence Journal
"Throughout this valuable history of the ideas that have shaped American foreign policy, Mr. Widmer reminds us that the errand into Iraq...is not without precedent in the nation's history." Dallas Morning News
Ark of the Liberties recovers a long-forgotten success story: Americas lengthy and laudatory history of expanding world liberty. Our countrys decline in popularity over the past eight years has been nothing short of astonishing, and with wit, brilliance, and deep affection, Ted Widmer reminds us why this great nation had so far to fall. His sweeping history brims with new insights about Americas enduringly favorable relationship with the Middle East; why Woodrow Wilsons presidency deserves reappraisal; the Democratic Partys underappreciated foreign-policy achievements; and how the countrys long history of successfully advocating for and exporting liberty touches immediately on the choices we face in Iraq today. Ark of the Liberties romps through centuries of history—from Americas start as a fascinating virgin promised land to its present position as a world superpower—all the while reminding us of the necessity and nobility of our nations global ambitions.
The United States stands at a historic crossroads; essential to the world yet unappreciated. America's decline in popularity over the last eight years has been nothing short of astonishing. With wit, brilliance, and deep affection, Ted Widmer, a scholar and a former presidential speechwriter, reminds everyone why this great nation had so far to fall. In a sweeping history of centuries, Ark of the Liberties recounts America's ambition to be the world's guarantor of liberty. It is a success story that America, and the world, forgets at its peril.
From the Declaration of Independence to the Gettysburg Address to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States, for all its shortfalls, has been by far the world's greatest advocate for freedom. Generations of founders imbued America with a surprisingly global ambition that a series of remarkable presidents, often Democratic, advanced through the confident wielding of military and economic power. Ark of the Liberties brims with new insights: America's centuries-long favorable relationship with the Middle East; why Wilson's presidency deserves reappraisal; Bill Clinton's underappreciated achievements; how America's long history of foreign policy immediately touches on the choices we face in 2008. Fully addressing America's disastrous occupation of Iraq, Ark of the Liberties colorfully narrates America's long and laudatory history of expanding world liberty. Ted Widmer directs the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. He was a foreign policy speechwriter and senior adviser to President Clinton, and is Senior Research Fellow of the New America Foundation. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Observer. The United States stands at a historic crossroads: essential to the world yet unappreciated. The nation has fallen out of favor with other countries at a rapid rate since the turn of the new century. With wit, sound arguments, and deep affection, Ted Widmer revisits the many reasons why the nation had so far to fall. In a history of centuries, Ark of the Liberties recounts America's ambition to be the world's guarantor of liberty. From the Declaration of Independence to the Gettysburg Address to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States, for all its shortfalls, has been by far the world's greatest advocate for freedom. Generations of founders imbued America with a surprisingly global ambition that a series of remarkable presidents, often Democratic, advanced through the confident wielding of military and economic power. Ark of the Liberties introduces new insights: America's centuries-long favorable relationship with the Middle East; why Wilson's presidency deserves reappraisal; Bill Clinton's oft-overlooked achievements; how America's long history of foreign policy immediately touches on the choices we face in 2008. Fully addressing America's disastrous occupation of Iraq, Ark of the Liberties colorfully narrates America's long and laudatory history of expanding world liberty. An] elegant history of the ideas that shape American foreign policy. And no idea has influenced America's understanding of its role in the world as decisively as the concept of liberty. Widmer meticulously traces the contradictions, triumphs, and betrayals of liberty that have unfolded across the centuries of the American experience.--Evan R. Goldstein, The Chronicle of Higher Education
There's a nice passage, a dozen or so pages into Ted Widmer's new book about the history of American foreign policy, in which he talks about how delighted European explorers were, once in the New World, to discover tobacco. Dried, rolled and lighted, the plant signified nothing less than 'the intoxicating newness, excitement and danger of the Americas, ' Mr. Widmer writes . . . These lines stand out because, like a struck match, they throw sparks and cast some angular light . . . His book is a winding overview of American foreign policy and the ideas that have animated it, with particular attention paid to America's deeds (some dirty, some much less so) in the name of championing liberty.--Dwight Garner, The New York Times
Now, with Ark of the Liberties: America and the World, a buoyant sweep over 300 years of American foreign policy, Mr. Widmer--he's Ted again--auditions for a role even more problematical than rock star or Clinton counselor: certified public intellectual . . . If Widmer the journalist, policy wonk and hard-rock nobleman has gifted anything to Widmer the intellectual with public aspirations, it's an intuitive sense of what thoughtful civilians need in their popular history. From his opening ruminations on Herman Melville (who used 'ark of the liberties' in a pre-Moby Dick sea yarn) to his supple portrait of F.D.R. as 'nothing less than the philosopher-king of the new world coming into existence, ' Mr. Widmer disguises any seam between the entertaining and the edifying. In Ark of the Liberties, he's jettisoned the trappings of academic historiography that had decorated Young America: Gone are the dry declarations of theses and methods, the minute textual dissections of period documents, and, most noticeably, the extended slogs through thickets of secondary sources. (One thing Dad does not want in his July 4 reading is 'literature review.') But Ark of the Liberties never reads like a gloss on some more serious work; delightfully, it is that work. In substance as well as style, it yokes adroit provocation to apparent populism. United States foreign policy, Mr. Widmer argues, cannot be reduced to realist considerations of territory, markets or the global balance of power; central to its history is America's singular imaginative power, as New World and City on the Hill--the 'pitch and heave' of an 'ark of the liberties' entrusted with mankind's deliverance. 'We have nothing less than a mission to redeem the world, ' insists the preface, '177
About the Author
The author of three books, Ted Widmer is the director of the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University. He is a frequent reviewer of books for The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, and The New York Observer.
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like