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The Age of Illusions

The Age of Illusions

How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory

Andrew J. Bacevich

Metropolitan Books

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A thought-provoking and penetrating account of the post-Cold war follies and delusions that culminated in the age of Donald Trump from the bestselling author of The Limits of Power.

When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Washington establishment felt it had prevailed in a world-historical struggle. Our side had won, a verdict that was both decisive and irreversible. For the world’s “indispensable nation,” its “sole superpower,” the future looked very bright. History, having brought the United States to the very summit of power and prestige, had validated American-style liberal democratic capitalism as universally applicable.

In the decades to come, Americans would put that claim to the test. They would embrace the promise of globalization as a source of unprecedented wealth while embarking on wide-ranging military campaigns to suppress disorder and enforce American values abroad, confident in the ability of U.S. forces to defeat any foe. Meanwhile, they placed all their bets on the White House to deliver on the promise of their Cold War triumph: unequaled prosperity, lasting peace, and absolute freedom.

In The Age of Illusions, bestselling author Andrew Bacevich takes us from that moment of seemingly ultimate victory to the age of Trump, telling an epic tale of folly and delusion. Writing with his usual eloquence and vast knowledge, he explains how, within a quarter of a century, the United States ended up with gaping inequality, permanent war, moral conf… More…

A thought-provoking and penetrating account of the post-Cold war follies and delusions that culminated in the age of Donald Trump from the bestselling author of The Limits of Power.

When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Washington establishment felt it had prevailed in a world-historical struggle. Our side had won, a verdict that was both decisive and irreversible. For the world’s “indispensable nation,” its “sole superpower,” the future looked very bright. History, having brought the United States to the very summit of power and prestige, had validated American-style liberal democratic capitalism as universally applicable.

In the decades to come, Americans would put that claim to the test. They would embrace the promise of globalization as a source of unprecedented wealth while embarking on wide-ranging military campaigns to suppress disorder and enforce American values abroad, confident in the ability of U.S. forces to defeat any foe. Meanwhile, they placed all their bets on the White House to deliver on the promise of their Cold War triumph: unequaled prosperity, lasting peace, and absolute freedom.

In The Age of Illusions, bestselling author Andrew Bacevich takes us from that moment of seemingly ultimate victory to the age of Trump, telling an epic tale of folly and delusion. Writing with his usual eloquence and vast knowledge, he explains how, within a quarter of a century, the United States ended up with gaping inequality, permanent war, moral confusion, and an increasingly angry and alienated population, as well, of course, as the strangest president in American history.

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AL, FRED, AND HOMER’S AMERICA—AND MINE


Donald Trump was born in June 1946, the son of a wealthy New York real estate developer. I was born thirteen months later in Normal, Illinois. My parents, both World War...

Praise for The Age of Illusions

Advance Praise for The Age of Illusions

“This engrossing recounting of the irresponsibility of America’s ruling class—aided and abetted by a citizenry grown complacent—clarifies the absurdities of the ascent of Trump. Like a Greek tragedian of old, Bacevich insistently discloses the discomfiting truth, showing how America’s self-congratulatory past has led to our wrenching present. Instead of illusions, he offers hope for a future free of self-deception, and points the way toward a newly responsible American civic life.”—Patrick J. Deneen, author of Why Liberalism Failed

“In The Age of Illusions, Andrew Bacevich offers a thoughtful, well-informed, and deeply humane critique of the self-absorbed grandiosity that dominates American foreign policy. He is one of a handful of sane voices contributing to the national conversation, and this is an indispensable book for our troubled times.”—Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation

“This astute analysis of how the United States squandered its ‘cold war victory’ shows how the elites wasted the peace dividend with policies favoring global neoliberalism, military hegemony, and radical individualism, paralyzing Washington and delivering the oval office to a patently incompetent candidate.”—Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, Editor, Commonweal (retired)

“America’s most important challenges preceded Trump and will outlast him, Andrew Bacevich argues in this searing and powerful account of U.S. politics. This book wi… More…

Advance Praise for The Age of Illusions

“This engrossing recounting of the irresponsibility of America’s ruling class—aided and abetted by a citizenry grown complacent—clarifies the absurdities of the ascent of Trump. Like a Greek tragedian of old, Bacevich insistently discloses the discomfiting truth, showing how America’s self-congratulatory past has led to our wrenching present. Instead of illusions, he offers hope for a future free of self-deception, and points the way toward a newly responsible American civic life.”—Patrick J. Deneen, author of Why Liberalism Failed

“In The Age of Illusions, Andrew Bacevich offers a thoughtful, well-informed, and deeply humane critique of the self-absorbed grandiosity that dominates American foreign policy. He is one of a handful of sane voices contributing to the national conversation, and this is an indispensable book for our troubled times.”—Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation

“This astute analysis of how the United States squandered its ‘cold war victory’ shows how the elites wasted the peace dividend with policies favoring global neoliberalism, military hegemony, and radical individualism, paralyzing Washington and delivering the oval office to a patently incompetent candidate.”—Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, Editor, Commonweal (retired)

“America’s most important challenges preceded Trump and will outlast him, Andrew Bacevich argues in this searing and powerful account of U.S. politics. This book will anger many readers, but it should also ignite overdue debate about permanent war enabled by public apathy, and economic inequality produced by globalized neoliberalism.”—Mary Dudziak, author of War Time

“As clear-headed as always, as honest as usual, Andrew Bacevich gives us a brilliant account of how the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War brought on not the end of history but an explosion of American hubris and an era of excess that blinded our political class to reality, stunted citizenship, undermined governance, and ignited angry disenchantment among great swaths of the public, enabling a real-life Captain Queeg to seize the helm, shouting ‘Full Steam Ahead’ toward monumental disaster. Unless, says Bacevich in his compelling conclusion, we come to our senses.”—Bill Moyers

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Reviews from Goodreads

Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. A graduate of both the U.S. Military Academy and Princeton University, he served in the U.S. Army for twenty-three years. His recent books include The Limits of Power, America's War for the Greater Middle East, and Twilight of the American Century. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, the London Review of Books, and the American Conservative, among other publications.

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