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Book Review: 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World by John Tirman

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One of the remarkable features of 21st-century America is how news is parsed by a media steeped in either left or right-wing political philosophy. The standard of balanced reporting has given way to viscerally oriented op/ed writers and pundits more interested in spinning a story to achieve predictable responses from consumers of such news.

Fortunately balance still exists in reporting. And while some may argue a book titled 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World is anything but balanced, they’re judging the book by its title alone.

100 Ways is a comprehensive historical look at America through the eyes of John Tirman, the executive director of MIT’s Center for International Studies. Tirman is a keen observer of how the rest of the world views us and the events that have created those views. What distinguishes 100 Ways from myriad titles that attack movement individuals in both political camps is in Tirman’s ability to see these events essentially as non-partisan.

Throughout the book, Tirman shows the faulty logic of democratic and republican leaders who’ve placed America’s economic interests above concern for global human rights regardless of partisan persuasion. Tirman offers a thorough account of American economic policy from the beginnings of the country to present day. From here, Tirman makes connections to a number of foreign misadventures carried out by various intelligence agencies that served American interests including the 1953 overthrow of socialist Mohammad Moussadek in Iran to CIA-led assassination of Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1970.

Tirman doesn’t stop at American economic policy though. 100 Ways also explores the disintegration of American culture, from how some Americans have cultivated the image of the “ugly American” overseas by a slovenly style of dress to the violent images found on television and in the lyrics of Gangsta rap. However, with the critique on culture and policy comes a wise chapter of what America does right. Here, Tirman points out to many positive developments America has been a lead player in. Tirman finds great hope in the technological and humanitarian achievements our country has fostered.

The only drawback to 100 Ways is little of what Tirman writes is referenced in the book. He mentions in his introduction he will be posting his references on a website but as of press time the site is still being constructed. More importantly, one wonders how many people who read 100 Ways will actually look at the introduction and discover the web address.

It will also become apparent to any readers of historian and People’s History of the United States author Howard Zinn that Tirman borrows heavily from a number of Zinn’s books. Despite these minor problems, Tirman has put America under a microscope and has determined a number of hypotheses. 100 Ways succeeds at generating starting points for many discussions of its themes.

Some may say 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World is just another in a series of “blame America first” screeds that are meant to downgrade our country's contributions to the world. What Tirman understands is sometimes America deserves some blame for what it’s done in this world. But Tirman also knows to give credit where credit is due. 100 Ways does not damn America with faint praise nor uphold her penchant for economic advancement. It treats both with a balance all too rare in the media today.

 Editor's note: There is also an <a href = "http://blogcritics.org/archives/2006/08/06/164120.php">interview with the author</a> on Blogcritics.

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  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • Steve

    It’s a shame Tirman’s book has that title. It will turn off many of those people who could benefit from reading it. Thanks to your review however, Mr. Sakin, it may gain a slightly wider audience.