America in the World is an impressive collection of documents related to United States foreign policy from the country’s earliest expansionist dreams to its present-day difficulty grappling with terrorism. The book contains chapters on different eras of United States foreign policy, including Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. There are also significant portions of the text that explore less familiar areas of United States diplomatic history, including early expansion, imperialism, and the time after the Cold War began to deescalate.
Books like this are important because it can be difficult to gather primary source material in any single era of a country’s foreign policy, let alone a period of well over 100 years. Furthermore, texts like this allow readers to understand the continuities between foreign policies that may seem so distant as to be unrelated. Students would be tasked with reading countless articles, spending hours in archives, or windows and tabs deep in Wikipedia trying to find this material on their own. Teachers and students should be thankful to the book’s editors for providing a shortcut to this material.
This book is not without significant problems, however. Three seem particularly important: unclear bibliographic data, poor contextualization, and unclear selection criteria. The first is important because it leaves an important part of the research process out of the reach of many students. If the idea behind including primary sources in the classroom is introducing students to the actors that make history, and emphasizing the importance of the people and documents that make history, then this text leaves a lot to be desired. For example, Document 13.8: “Early CIA Assessment of Gorbachev’s Economic Agenda” is introduced as being prepared by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) but we are not told who wrote it, what day it was written (although we do know the month and year), and if the docum