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The Rise and Decline of the American CenturyThe Rise and Decline of the American Century

William O. Walker III

Narrated by R. K. Meier

Available from Audible

Book published by Cornell University Press

In 1941 the magazine publishing titan Henry R. Luce urged the nation’s leaders to create an American Century. But in the post-World-War-II era proponents of the American Century faced a daunting task. Even so, Luce had articulated an animating idea that, as William O. Walker III skillfully shows in The Rise and Decline of the American Century, would guide United States foreign policy through the years of hot and cold war.

The American Century was, Walker argues, the counter-balance to defensive war during World War II and the containment of communism during the Cold War. American policymakers pursued an aggressive agenda to extend U.S. influence around the globe through control of economic markets, reliance on nation-building, and, where necessary, provision of arms to allied forces. This positive program for the expansion of American power, Walker deftly demonstrates, came in for widespread criticism by the late 1950s. A changing world, epitomized by the nonaligned movement, challenged U.S. leadership and denigrated the market democracy at the heart of the ideal of the American Century.

Walker analyzes the international crises and monetary troubles that further curtailed the reach of the American Century in the early 1960s and brought it to a halt by the end of that decade. By 1968, it seemed that all the United States had to offer to allies and non-hostile nations was convenient military might, nuclear deterrence, and the uncertainty of détente. Once the dust had fallen on Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency and Richard M. Nixon had taken office, what remained was, The Rise and Decline of the American Century shows, an adulterated, strategically-based version of Luce’s American Century.

William O. Walker III was Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He is retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas. He has published extensively on U.S.-Latin American relations, and is the author of National Security and Core Values in American History.


“An impressively detailed account of U.S. foreign policy in the early postwar decades.”

Foreign Affairs

“Walker's book is meticulously researched, packed with authoritative knowledge steeped in archival research and deep appreciation for how the world looks from Washington, D.C., conditioned by recent historical work providing agency to the non-West.”

The Journal of American History

The Rise and Decline of the American Century is a provocative and original interpretation of American foreign relations history. It shows, in abundance, how a skilled, seasoned scholar can take a trope (the American Century) and play it out over a large chunk of history. William Walker’s work is of the highest level.”

—Thomas W. Zeiler, Professor of History, University of Colorado at Boulder, and author of Annihilation: A Global Military History of World War II

“I enjoy reading ambitious, synthetic works of history such as The Rise and Decline of the American Century and I truly admire the verve with which William Walker makes his case.”

—David Milne, Senior Lecturer in History, University of East Anglia, and author of Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy

“Regaling readers with his mastery of the literature and his elegant prose, Walker argues that the United States did not unite a 'free world' against communism after World War II but rather actively sought hegemony over it, often bewildering allies in the process. Outsized ambitions ensured that Henry Luce’s American Century would last but a quarter of that time.”

—Alan McPherson, Director of the Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy, Temple University, author of The Invaded: How Latin Americans and their Allies Fought and Ended U.S. Occupations

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University Press Audiobooks