x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Book review: Tome on US exceptionalism doesn't quote real Americans

In Time No Longer, Patrick Smith asserts that the United States has developed an almost mythical sense of itself.

Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century
Patrick Smith
Yale University Press

As the title implies, in four essays Patrick Smith looks at how the United States, from the Spanish-American War until September 11, 2001, developed an almost mythical sense of itself.

The 9/11 attacks and the ensuing unwinnable battles in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed the limits of US power and its ability to reshape the world, he argues.

Smith gives the reader his views, laced mostly with the wisdom of philosophers and academics, on how the American ideal of exceptionalism grew.

Toward the end of the book, Smith tells us that "much of what was taken to be heroism during the American century had an element of cowardice to it ... But too often Americans flinched from genuine responsibility — at home and abroad, to themselves and to others — and escaped into adventures that power alone made possible."

Certainly a debatable point that would raise a good argument among people in the States. But Smith fails to include more than a few everyday Americans in his book. And that and the broad-brush generalisations are the book's shortcomings. Time No Longer is an interesting read, but in order to speak for America and what it stands for and where it is going, the book would have benefited from letting Americans speak for themselves.

rpretorius@thenational.ae