America in the World from Truman to Obama

Publisher: Vintage
American foreign policy since World War II has long been seen primarily as a story of strong and successful alliances, domestic consensus, and continuity from one adminstration to the next. Why then have so many presidents left office condemned for their foreign policy record?

In his fresh and compelling history of America's rise to dominance, Stephen Sestanovich makes clear that U.S. diplomacy has always stirred controversy, both at home and abroad. He shows how successive adminstrations have struggled to find new solutions, alternating between bold "maximalist" strategies and retrenchment efforts to downsize America's role. Almost all our presidents emerge from this vivid retelling in a sharp and unexpected light.



“We Do Big Things”

In 2003, forty years after [President Kennedy’s] death, when America’s reputation abroad was in tatters, I was in Rome for a speaking engagement, and invited by a local foreign policy group to give an address. “On what subject?” I asked the...
Read More


“[An] analytic tour de force . . . a useful and often original look at the strategies of the last 12 American presidents . . . a strong case. . . . Anyone interested in the past or the future of American foriegn policy and power would benefit from its insights.” —Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs 

“In his engaging and richly anecdotal new book, Maximalist, Stephen Sestanovich applies that understanding as a framework for reexamining post-World War II U.S. history to find the persistent truths and lessons that he believes can inform our understanding of the present. . . . A scholar of the Soviet Union and a former U.S. diplomat who now teaches at Columbia University, Sestanovich shows that the ambitions of policymakers and the cycles of public opinion that drive them are inevitable and recurrent. He is at his best in describing the Johnson and Nixon administrations, capturing the infighting among those presidents and their senior advisers as they grappled with America’s role in the world.” —Marcus Brauchli, The Washington Post

“Maximalist . . . makes clear that the U.S. has never achieved strategic continuity. American strategy has frequently shifted, sometimes over the course of a single administration, and these disruptions have often proved beneficial to our national security. . . . [An] excellent book.” —Sohrab Ahmari, The Wall Street Journal

“Among the many virtues of Maximalist is the mathematical elegance of its thesis. . . .Maximalist surveys American foreign policy from Truman to Obama. . . . Compelling. . . . Refreshingly non-partisan.” —Michael Doran, Commentary

Maximalist is a highly readable account of American engagement during the Cold War and the War on Terror. It provides a commonsense means to assess American military and diplomatic policy without the fog of political rhetoric.” —Karl Wolff, New York Journal of Books

“A leading voice. . . . Offers a provocative reasssement of America's global dominance. . . . Sestanovich finds fresh lessons in the past that clarify our chaotic present."
The Record

“Incisive and provocative. Written by one of our country’s foremost scholars, Maximalist is rich with anecdotes and enlivened by little-known details about well-known events. Sestanovich has made a masterful contribution to the history of modern American diplomacy.” —Madeleine Albright
“This is one of the most important books ever written about U.S. foreign policy. It will immediately join George F. Kennan’s classic American Diplomacy as essential reading for all students of America’s behavior in the world. In fact, it should replace it. Sestanovich is a brilliant and insightful writer. His book couldn’t be more timely.” —Robert Kagan, author of The World America Made
Maximalist is a nicely provocative and highly readable account of how presidents have used American power since World War II. It combines carefully researched history with advice that is very relevant to the situation of the United States today.” —Joseph S. Nye, Jr., author of Soft Power and Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era 

“Americans routinely need to be reminded that our past was not as smooth and rosy as we like to remember it; Stephen Sestanovich provides a masterful and entertaining corrective.  Maximalist is beautifully written, with engaging anecdotes woven throughout. Most important, it  will change your view of Obama's foreign policy.” —Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO, New America Foundation; Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University