There are countless ways to study the history of U.S. foreign policy. David Milne
, however, makes the case that it is “often best understood” as “intellectual history.” In his innovative book, Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015), follows the lives and ideas of several foreign policy thinkers, from the naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan at the turn of the twentieth century to Barack Obama in the twenty-first. By doing so, Milne helps us understand the changes and continuities in US foreign policy.
One of the virtues of studying biography is that a life is idiosyncratic and one’s experiences shapes how one sees the world. An examination of the lives of foreign policy thinkers can therefore help explain why U.S. foreign policy took particular paths. It matters, for instance, that the pessimist Henry Kissinger was deployed as a U.S. soldier in post-Holocaust Germany. It also matters, as you’ll find out during the interview, that the cosmopolitan neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz won a cooking contest in Indonesia.
The book will interest a wide audience, including historian of U.S. foreign relations, intellectual historians, and political scientists.
Dexter Fergie is a PhD student of US and global history at Northwestern University. He is currently researching the 20th century geopolitical history of information and communications networks. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DexterFergie.