America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

Diplomacy, Policies

America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

In approaching his ambitious subject, Zoellick combines a practitioner’s wisdom, gleaned from half a dozen jobs in senior government posts, with scholarly research and deep knowledge of how Washington works. The book is not quite what the title promises, instead offering a highly selective retelling of notable incidents in U.S. diplomacy. The rationale for what Zoellick includes and omits is not always clear.

His chapters on the pathbreaking contributions of three secretaries of state—Elihu Root, who served under President Theodore Roosevelt and championed international law, Charles Evans Hughes, who served in the 1920s and secured agreements on arms control, and Cordell Hull, who served under President Franklin Roosevelt and helped lay the groundwork for the postwar liberal order—are particularly interesting, as is his treatment of the science administrator Vannevar Bush, whose work under Roosevelt during World War II laid the foundation for later U.S. preeminence in science and technology.

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The Money Plot: A History of Currency’s Power to Enchant, Control, and Manipulate

Economy, Policies

The Money Plot: A History of Currency’s Power to Enchant, Control, and Manipulate

Money obeys the rules of math, but math does not rule money. When it comes to creating and sustaining faith in a currency, the principles of narrative reign supreme. Like great characters, great currencies develop. The dollar faltered for more than 100 years after its founding. It teetered into the 20th century, then much like an adolescent on the verge of adulthood, matured and regressed in equal measure until, by the middle of the same century, it was ready to rescue the franc, the lira, the mark, the pound and the yen.

Heroes often discard logic and reason in favor of fury and passion; likewise, the impulses that motivated the greatest character ever invented. Molded from farmland, flesh, fish, forests, sugar and slaves, the dollar was and always would be synonymous with the American spirit. It epitomized the vision of Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Nothing would surpass it.

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Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class — And What We Can Do About It

State War, Threats

Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class — And What We Can Do About It

Our founding fathers worked hard to ensure that a small group of wealthy people would never dominate this country—they’d had enough of aristocracy. They put government to work to ensure a thriving middle class.

When the middle class took a hit, beginning in the post-Civil War Gilded Age and culminating in the Great Depression, democracy-loving leaders like Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower revitalized it through initiatives like antitrust regulations, fair labor laws, the minimum wage, Social Security, and Medicare.

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Blackout: How the Electric Industry Exploits America

Energy, Policies

Blackout: How the Electric Industry Exploits America

In the midst of the sweltering summer of August 2003, the lights went out across northeast America. From Canada to Philadelphia, houses were plunged into darkness, elevators stalled, subway cars ceased to run, air-conditioners shuddered into silence, and the candle-lit 1890s streets of Brooklyn became a reality once more. Astonishingly, no company or individual has ever been held accountable for what cost affected regions millions of dollars in lost revenue and compensation. The electricity companies involved introduced no new rules, nor a single firing — nothing. As Gordon Weil explores in Blackout, this was the culmination of a long history of exploitation by the electric industry of its customers, coupled with the seeming indifference and incompetence of the regulators who were supposed to protect them.

Weil describes the founding of the original electric monopoly by Edison and his secretary, Insull, and reveals how and why Roosevelt’s efforts to control the company’s excesses failed. Weil continues with the willful failure of the industry to integrate itself into the competitive marketplace; a failure in which the customer remains the biggest loser. Weil concludes that unless the government and the regulators undertake radical legislation, “lights out” remains a distinct possibility for us all.

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