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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (128 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Peter Beinart Narrator: John Morgan Publisher: HarperCollins Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In The Icarus Syndrome, Peter Beinart tells a tale as old as the Greeks—a story about the seductions of success. Beinart describes Washington on the eve of three wars—World War One, Vietnam, and Iraq—three moments when American leaders decided they could remake the world in their image. Each time, leading intellectuals declared that history was over, and the spread of democracy was inevitable. Each time, a president held the nation in the palm of his hand. And each time, a war conceived in arrogance brought untold tragedy.

In dazzling color, Beinart portrays three extraordinary generations: the progressives who took America into World War I, led by Woodrow Wilson, the lonely preacher’s son who became the closest thing to a political messiah the world had ever seen. The Camelot intellectuals who took America into Vietnam, led by Lyndon Johnson, who lay awake at night after night shaking with fear that his countrymen considered him weak. And George W. Bush and the post–Cold War neoconservatives, the romantic bullies who believed they could bludgeon the Middle East and liberate it at the same time. Like Icarus, each of these generations crafted “wings”—a theory about America’s relationship to the world. They flapped carefully at first, but gradually lost their inhibitions until, giddy with success, they flew into the sun.

But every era also brought new leaders and thinkers who found wisdom in pain. They reconciled American optimism—our belief that anything is possible—with the realities of a world that will never fully bend to our will. In their struggles lie the seeds of American renewal today. Based on years of research, The Icarus Syndrome is a provocative and strikingly original account of hubris in the American century—and how we learn from the tragedies that result.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Why do we succumb to hubris? Peter Beinart has written a highly intelligent and wonderfully readable book that answers the question by looking at a century of American foreign policy. As with everything Beinart writes, it is lucid, thoughtful, and strikingly honest.”

    Fareed Zakaria, author of The Post-American World

  • The Icarus Syndrome is not of course the first study of America’s tendency toward imperial temptations, but it is one of the best, and certainly one of the best researched and best written. Since the cyclical pattern he traces is as pertinent today as it was in the eras of Woodrow Wilson and Lyndon Johnson, this is very much a book with a message: a cautionary message to avoid hubris and to recognize the messy reality of world politics.”

    Paul Kennedy, author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers

  • “Energetically researched and entertainingly written, Peter Beinart’s The Icarus Syndrome is both a fascinating intellectual history and an important coming-of-age parable about his generation’s hard-learned lesson in the limits of American power.”

    Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side

  • The Icarus Syndrome is a confident and contentious history of more than a century of American foreign policy and its recurring tragic flaws. Agree or not with all of Peter Beinart’s specific interpretations, one can only admire his effort to understand the cycles of modern American diplomacy and statecraft, and his timely warning about the temptations of pride.”

    Sean Wilentz, author of The Age of Reagan

  • “With this perceptive and provocative book, Peter Beinart has given us a compelling argument about our times. The Icarus Syndrome does what works of history and journalism do at their very best: use the past to illuminate, in often stark and surprising ways, the challenges of the present. This is an important book.”

    Jon Meacham, author of American Lion

  • “Peter Beinart has written a vivid, empathetic, and convincing history of the men and ideas that have shaped the ambitions of American foreign policy during the last century—a story in which human fallibility and idealism flow together. The story continues, of course, and so his book is not only timely, it is indispensable.”

    Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars

  • “A highly readable and useful hundred-year account of American ventures abroad that can serve as a path to understanding past failures and uncovering why policy renewal is now proving so elusive…[Beinart’s] thesis is not new, but it is indefatigably rendered: America’s shortcomings flow entirely from hubris or overconfidence, much as the mythical Icarus perished because he flew too near the sun.”

    New York Times

  • “An insightful and enjoyable…account of the ideas and individuals that have animated America’s global ambitions over the past century…Underscores how many of the best-known and most respected intellectuals either despaired at their lack of influence, watched their ideas get twisted beyond recognition or found themselves abandoned precisely at the moment when their insights could have mattered most. The Icarus Syndrome should be required reading for all [George] Kennan wannabes and aspiring Washington wonks. Its lesson: Abandon hope all ye who theorize here.”

    Washington Post

  • “A brief for moderation, good sense, humility, and looking before leaping—virtues that merit Beinart’s spirited, cogent defense.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • A Washington Post Bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Dave Moyer | 1/9/2014

    " Intriguing premise, very interesting, and exceptionally well-written. Highly recommended. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Joe | 10/29/2013

    " The best history/political book I've read. World War I, Vietnam and Iraq; three times when American leaders decided they could remake the world in their image. Each time, a war conceived in arrogance brought untold tragedy. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Richard | 4/10/2013

    " Fascinating - if at times, dense - analysis of US foreign policy since the First World War. Beinart has some thoughtful discourse on America's seeming pendulum-swings between isolationism and imperialism, leavened with insights into the key personalities from Wilson to Kennedy to Reagan. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Josh | 3/22/2013

    " Good book. From Wilson through Obama 2010, the book looks at America's foreign policy through various episodes of hubris, as defined by the author. Thorough research, tons of anecdotes, and lots of insight into why America has done what it has since WWI. "

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About the Author

Peter Beinart is an associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the senior political writer for the Daily Beast and a contributor to Time. Beinart is a former fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The Good Fight. He lives with his family in Washington, DC.