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"A fast-paced narrative history of the coups, revolutions, and invasions by which the United States has toppled fourteen foreign governments-not always to its own benefit "Regime change- did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush, but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. Starting with the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and continuing through the Spanish-American War and the Cold War and into our own time, the United States has not hesitated to overthrow governments that stood in the way of its political and economic goals. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is the latest, though perhaps not the last, example of the dangers inherent in these operations.

In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells the stories of the audacious politicians, spies, military commanders, and business executives who took it upon themselves to depose monarchs, presidents, and prime ministers. He also shows that the U.S. government has often pursued these operations without understanding the countries involved; as a result, many of them have had disastrous long-term consequences.

In a compelling and provocative history that takes readers to fourteen countries, including Cuba, Iran, South Vietnam, Chile, and Iraq, Kinzer surveys modern American history from a new and often surprising perspective.


Customer Reviews:

  • Regime change in American history
    Stephen Kinzer's "Overthrow" traces American intervention, in the form of regime change, from the time that the Hawaiian Queen was toppled by Americans in 1893 through Iraq. These represent a part of American history that does not always fully comport with American political ideals. He concludes that (page 309):

    "A century of American `regime change' operations has shown that the United States is singularly unsuited to ruling foreign lands. Americans never developed either the imperial impulse or the attention span that allowed the Spanish, British, French and others to seize foreign lands and run them for decades and centuries."

    He notes American intervention and regime change in a number of countries over the past century, from Hawaii to Cuba (and the Philippines) to Nicaragua and Honduras to Guatemala to Iran to South Viet Nam to Chile to Grenada and Panama to Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Kinzer contends that outside of an occasional success story like Grenada, regime change through military intervention or the use of surrogates has not advanced America's national interest very well. He argues that diplomacy could have achieved the same ends in a number of cases.

    He finally concludes by suggesting that (page 317) "Most American-sponsored `regime change' operations have, in the end, weakened rather than strengthened American security. They have produced generations of militants who are deeply and sometimes violently anti-American. . . ."

    Does he make his case? Some of the examples certainly suggest that the United States erred in its efforts at regime change (Iraq most recently). However, the author's own examples suggest some successes, such as Grenada and Panama. But do the ends justify the means? There is the question. The work does provoke thinking about an important issue and, hence, is stimulating reading.
    ...more info
  • Good History - Weak Conclusions
    Saying that regime change has been done poorly in the past is not the same thing as saying it is impossible to do it well in the future. I remain unconvinced that Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Panama, or Grenada would have been better off had America never intervened.

    Even America's support for Mujahedin in Afghanistan and the subsequent toppling of the Taliban are presented as abject failures - I think the results in both of these interventions are more mixed than the author is willing to concede.

    The author contends that many of the leaders America deposed weren't Communist, merely ardent Nationalists (as if nationalism isn't just as dangerous to human rights or individual liberty.)

    I certainly agree that America has been too eager to resort to regime change, especially during the first half of the 20th Century, but I wouldn't be so willing to discard it as a tool of American FP. Done thoughtfully, with sober recognition of its limitations, it can create positive outcomes.

    No single approach fits all cases. This is as true for diplomacy as it is for military action.

    I recommend reading this book for the history, but draw your own conclusions based on more than just this source....more info
  • History we should know
    Those high school and college history classes that cast the USA in a glowing llight are called to question by Kinzer. Here we find the extent to which commercial interests have dominated foreign policy. To this domination we add a huge dose of stupidity and a ton of arrogance. This will give the recipe for USA regime change operations in foreign lands. Details are included along with excellent documentation....more info
  • This is what should be taught in high school American History courses
    This is a very compelling book. It is extremely well written and has information that every American should know. Corporate America and U.S. government ties to it has caused extensive damage and has resulted in more harm than good to Americans. Of course, the corporations still made their profits. The other thing I noticed while reading this is how intermingled the chrstian religion has been in supporting the coercive behavior of the American government. This arrogance that drives christian extremists to force their ideology on others is as corrupt and immoral as the behavior of many mega corporations.
    This is a great book. I can't recomment it enough....more info
  • The truth hurts
    There are many good reviews here so I wont bore you with mine. I just want to say that if you tend to believe the reasons given by our government, about what they do abroad. You might as well bend over and hope you also get a kiss.
    I Don't think you'll get the kiss. ...more info
  • A Must Read
    I learned things I didn't want to know. It hurt. But I don't think adults have the right to remain ignorant. For instance, the Iranian we overthrew to bring the Shah into power was pro-democracy and pro-West. Time magazine had proclaimed him man of the year and "the Iranian George Washington." We overthrew Mossadegh because he wanted Iran to have as good a contract with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company as neighboring countries had with other western oil companies. If even 5% of your soul believes "they hate us because we are good," you need this book....more info
  • Very Interesting
    This is an interesting book. Anyone who is interested in an alternative to the right wing talk radio and tv news should seriously consider checking out the Thom Hartmann radio show opposite Rush Limbaugh weekdays at: thomhartmann dot com / showlisten.shtml

    Whether democrat, republican, or indepedent, so many of the facts out there are completely ignored by the mainstream media and talk shows. This show is one strong example of an examination of the facts regardless of your political affiliation. I am not affiliated with the show in any way, just struck by the facts so many seem to ignore.
    ...more info
  • The skeletons in our historical closet
    I grew up learning about the United States Government like everyone else, in school indoctrinated into the idea of American Exceptionalism. We are a just country, we saved the world in both world wars, pacified Japan and brought freedom and democracy to nations unable to take care of themselves.
    While bringing freedom and democracy to others we established trade that gave the newly liberated jobs and advancement.

    Well this is American history with all the warts. History classes were boring because they were designed that way. Imagine if this book were required reading in high school history class. The course title would change to a more relevant Political Science. History is a litany of droll dull events with no color and connection to why it happened.

    Now that the cat is out of the bag, Americans can see what the United States Government really means around the world. We can see how corporate interests drove foreign policy, and how profits mean more than foreign people and their country's sovereignty.

    So when an old blood and guts veteran or warmonger chicken hawk states jingoistic tales of American benevolence, you can set the record straight....more info
  • history of american aggression
    Even though Saddam Hussein distinguished himself as one of history's most ruthless dictators, many Americans expressed surprise that the United States preemptively invaded a sovereign nation to depose a head of state. I know that I did. But there was nothing unusual about American regime change, according to Stephen Kinzer. Only historical ignorance, amnesia, or patriotic naivete could allow someone like me to enjoy such a pleasant myth. Kinzer has reported from more than fifty countries as a foreign correspondent, and in this book he examines the fourteen times in the last century that the United States has toppled foreign governments:

    * Hawaii (1893)
    * Cuba (1898)
    * Puerto Rico (1898)
    * Philippines (1902)
    * Nicaragua (1910)
    * Honduras (1911)
    * Iran (1953)
    * Guatemala (1954)
    * Vietnam (1963)
    * Chile (1973)
    * Grenada (1983)
    * Panama (1989)
    * Afghanistan (2001)
    * Iraq (2003)

    Specialists will debate the complex nuances of outright coups, covert activities, mixed motives, and historical consequences, but by giving us the "big picture" Kinzer reminds us that America's geopolitics is hardly benign or altruistic. "No nation in modern history," he writes, "has done this so often, in so many places so far from its own shores."

    America has deposed foreign governments for many reasons. We have claimed to civilize others, Christianize them, protect them, and liberate them. We have also ousted presidents and prime ministers to guard economic interests (including those of corporations like United Fruit and ITT), control another country's natural resources (especially when they had the audacity to try to nationalize them for their own citizens), maintain and spread our power, and combat enemy ideologies. We have employed Machiavellian means to accomplish regime change, including bold lies, doing the exact opposite of what we promised, ignoring international law, media censorship, terror, torture, rape, funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to rebel causes, and propaganda. Some of what we have done feels good and right, like ridding Panama of Noriega. But a major theme of Kinzer's book is the law of unintended consequences. Invading other countries has almost always radicalized extreme groups, fanned the flames of nationalism, and fomented anti-Americanism that has destabilized countries rather than strengthened them. Invading others, in fact, has more often than not weakened our own country. Since no country can resist our will to power, we have thus often been the victim of our own "catastrophic success." ...more info
  • History and jopurnalism
    First of all, this is an important book, dealing with an important subject. Properly, the subject requires (and probably found or will find) a scholarly treatment adequate to its importance. The author, a journalist of renown and highest reputation, can tell a intersting story, writes very well, and true to his journalistic upbringing attempts to expect the reader to draw conclusions rather than to suggest them. This is terrific journalism, but poor history writing.
    There is enough novelty and detail in the book to keep even a seasoned reader interested, and hopefully the book will be widely read. It is of only moderate or little help to a student of history....more info
    It takes an independent journalist like Stephen Kinzer to have the guts to show the damage that American foreign policy has done over the past 100 years in catering to U.S. business interests first, and not democracy outside of U.S. borders. It is not only to the third world countries where America's military and covert op interventions prevented self-determination, but to U.S. interests in general, since these peoples do not forget the many deaths caused by support for ultra-right wing, repressive regimes. Kinzer is perhaps the first writer to catalogue those consequences that have caused Iran, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicarauga, to become rabidly anti-American....more info
  • a hard look at American foreign policy...
    This book really opened my eyes to the cumulative effect of American foreign policy over the years, dating all the way back to the seizure of Hawaii. Very detailed research, and well written in a very convincing argument by Mr Kinzer. Our stated ideas have always been noble, to bring democracy to a certain country or to bring Christianity to a savage people but the real underlining reasons have always been the same, to advance American business and enterprise. Don't think big business is running this country and has been, read this book. It's called blowback, where the cumulative effect of a specific nation's actions will bring consequences further down the line that will bite us. Afghansitan, Iraq and Iran are so relevant today but alot of these situations that we now face are from foreign policy decisions made years ago. Awesome book. ...more info
  • Cliff's Notes
    I'm no fan of journalists who write books. Mostly, they overreach, oversimplify, and overwrite. This one is no exception; Kinzer starts from a viewpoint and doesn't adduce anything that disagrees with it. (One small example: in discussing the Phillippines, he accurately notes how long the U.S. chose to ignore Marcos's excesses, but completely omits mention of the U.S. role in persuading Marcos to step down peacefully -- once the USG came to acknowledge the need.)

    BUT in some respects, it is an exception, because even leaving aside the clear leaning toward the conclusion he wants and the ham-handed writing, Kinzer has produced a very useful and mostly TRUE outline (a sort of Cliff's notes) of some -- just some -- of the instances of often overweening arrogance of U.S. foreign policy over the past century and longer. Nineteenth century attitudes continue to rule now, in the twenty-first, so this book is well worth reading as background to some of today's policy decisions. We might wish that our national leaders - both in Congress and the executive branch -- would read and take it to heart.

    Equally interesting, and equally unchanged today, is the immense, inordinate and almost always misguided role that individuals with major commercial interests exercise on our foreign policy.

    If you read and enjoyed this book I'd recommend the recent "Diplomacy Lessons" as companion reading. ...more info
  • Be patriotic *and* know American history
    Hawaii, Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Vietnam, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and of course Iraq. 14 nations. Iraq was not the first "preemptive war". The justifications varied but basically it goes down like this: There is a perceived threat to US business interests, this is covered up and the press is fed a story about a great humanitarian mission and/or the protection American lives and security of our nation. What is shocking is that in every single case the imminent threat to the US was false and yet the media dutifully recycles the same old lines everytime. And what's more striking, even mind-boggling, is part of this regime change pattern are "unintended consequences" and ultimate disaster.

    Americans tend to think America's history is an exception to the rest of the world. To be sure America's history is special in some regards, but of course our nation has been all too typical in many others. Maybe it isn't a surprise they don't teach the kids in school this stuff. Distasteful episodes are briefly mentioned in a text or in classroom discussion, sugar coated, explained away, or presented as an anomaly. But can we now admit it is more important than ever for citizens to come to terms with the past? Isn't it more clear than ever we cannot afford to go about business as usual?

    I agree that it is useful that Stephen Kinzer is not labeled a "lefty" or radical because it is simply impossible for many people, especially in the media, to listen to such non-respectable leftwing crazies from the fringes. Too bad since many writers have been covering ad nauseam all that Kinzer does in _Overthrow_. But, hey, what matters is that people start paying attention, right? Stephen Kinzer has the right credentials, having won an award and worked for the New York Times (the NYT is sadly a bastion of the radical left now according to many patriotic conservatives so it will take writers from various backgrounds to reach the public I guess). Kinzer does have a truly winning style. I've seen him speak on Book TV a couple times and he's quite engaging and not depressing in the least! And this I think is key. Often commentators that are alerting the public, or at least speaking to their choir, are a bit depressing. Or well they might not have that optimistic, cheerful, American can-do spirit. Kinzer has this quality about him, that despite America's past failings we're still a great nation. In anycase, he's a good writer.

    ...more info
  • History of Conquest
    Chock full of useful and valuable information of how the USA grew to its present state of preeminence on the world stage. Great reference book for those who want to educate others who think America always does the "right thing"....more info
    This is an amazingly well written history of American regime change over the last 120 years. It is not a polemical treatise but more a well researched book that taught me why we are hated in some quarters around the world unfortunately....more info
  • A must read
    Read this book, and then give copies to anyone who utters the phrase "Why do they hate us"? ...more info
  • what we should be taught at high school and beyond...
    An eye-opener!!! Excellent written and easy to follow the complicated intrigues of history and politics....more info
  • An Important, Well-Written Chronicle.
    Stepehn Kinzer's "Overthrow" joins Noam Chomsky's "Failed States" as one of the most important books Americans should be picking up to read. It is a stunning, sad chronicle of nothing less than the secret history of the United States' foreign policy. Using fourteen basic examples, Kinzer displays the often disastrous imperialist ambitions the U.S. has exercised starting at the very end of the 19th century with the taking of Hawaii, an illegal act that surfaced out of the greediness of U.S. businessmen and, golly, the children of former missionaries! "Overthrow" progresses into the 20th century, showing us how an expansionist fever resulted in the virtual colonization by corporations of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guetemala and the outright military domination of the Phillipines. Many readers will be surprised to discover the real reasons why we don't get along with nations like Cuba and Iran, in both cases the U.S. waged covert or military tactics of conquest and oppression in these nations, bringing down unlikeable governments (mostly because certain leaders wished to keep their nation's resources as part of the nation) and replacing them with repressive dictators like Batista and the Shah. In turn this opened the doors for the Cuban Revolution and the Islamic Revolution. Kinzer informs while at the same time gripping our attention with a stylish, enjoyable prose that propells the material forward with high intensity. He finely details the basic, important elements of each history of regime change and does a magnificent job in also exploring in-depth the various cultures of the mentioned countries. The obvious and most important aspect of "Overthrow" is how relevant it is for our present times. George Bush's foreign policy has been a nightmarish disaster for the world community, but here Kinzer shows us how much of the Bush doctrine has been basic U.S. policy for more than a hundred years. The sad tale of Chile for example, where the Nixon White House sponsored the violent coup that brought down the elected, socialist government of Salvador Allende and replaced it with the Nazish dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, can clearly be seen almost repeated in the aborted 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez's governemtn in Venezuela. What "Overthrow" paints in general is a chilling canvas of corporations destroying democracy in the name of economic prosperity and expansion, many times disquised as almost missionary quests to "educate" the "savages" in other lands. Kinzer describes an American landscape culturally dominated by fear that in turn produces foreign adventures to subdue other nations, adventures that usually result in the creation of bitter enemies. The book fittingly ends with Iraq, as once again the United States finds itself venturing into foreign territory under the guise of "spreading democracy" when in reality the same objectives as before are being practiced. "Overthrow" is the best work yet that focuses on our sad history of regime change, it is at once a highly informative historical document but also an urgent warning about the future we are creating....more info
  • Great Overview of what US has done to mess up others!
    I just started reading this book & have read about 100 pages. This book gives a great overview of US involvement & its motive behind overthrowing other governments. I think, it will be a great read to get a good perspective on the past and present.

    ...more info
  • Regime Change
    The iconoclastic historian A.J.P. Taylor once wrote that all wars are fought for economic reasons, despite what the politicians say. Taylor's axiom is especially apt when considering Kinzer's book. He is right in that most of the United States involvement in `regime change' operations were done primarily to protect financial interests in that respective state. Kinzer is not the first to point out that when the U.S. gets involved there was a resultant backlash 10 or maybe 30 years after the action. It is clear that Kinzer is not fan of the Bush's cowboy diplomacy, and draws clear parallels between William McKinely invoking God's guidance in the Philliphines to George W.'s insistence on his divine prerogative. Overall, a good survey and intellectually stimulating reading over the holidays. ...more info
  • Great Book!
    This is a great book. It really gives you the insight into our government that no one really knows unless you're the one making the decisions. I would recommend it to anyone that is a narcissistic about the American government and wants to know the truth about the last couple of hundred years with our foreign policy. It's a must read!...more info
  • Add to the required reading lists for US History clasess
    Why do "they" all hate us?
    What can we do about the endless violence from "extremists?"
    So often the answers to these questions are trite "they hate liberty" or "with people like these, violence is a given." And unfortunately, those answers are rooted in a lack of knowledge of the real American foreign policy history of the last 100 years.
    In Overthrow, Kinzer brilliantly lays out the history of more than a dozen governments the US has overthrown in the last 100 years. Yes, overthrowing a government has been reduced to the euphemism "regime change" like changing a light bulb.
    And while the casual watcher of today's news might think this is a new phenomena, Kinzer makes the case that today's current events are just the latest in a long history of US interventionism or meddling.
    Starting with Hawaii and running through Cuba, the Philippines, Nicaragua and many others, what we saw from the 1890s through the first part of the 1900s was a shift in US policy where suddenly business interests dictated US foreign policy toward smaller weaker nations. Again and again, we saw the US meddling and often causing the overthrow of a democratically elected government, constitutionally ruling monarchies, and other legitimate governments. And in no cases were the governments a threat to US safety and security, these changes came about purely at the whim of wealthy influential business owners.

    Worst of all are the consequences. While there were isolated cases where our overthrows didn't turn out awful, what Kinzer shows is that over and over, our overthrows led to only short term business benefits but at the cost of huge long term political unrest, terrible leaders, poverty, and ongoing wars and revolutions. In most of those cases, the results a few decades down the road were undoubtedly worse than if we'd left those countries to run themselves.

    The 2nd 1/2 of the 20th century saw a different motivation for overthrow in Kinzer's opinion. Here he sees rampant US obsession with communism and the USSR as the total motivation for action around the globe. Once again, democratically elected governments fell and were often replaced by ruthless leaders. After all, what kind of leader would get into bed with the US to take the reigns from the rightful leader?

    Against this backdrop, it's easier to answer the "why do they hate us" question. The answer is, because the US starts these fights, messes with people, and then forgets. But 20, 50, 100 years later, they remember. And what can we do about the endless violence? Well a good start would be reading Kinzer's book and thinking maybe, just maybe, we aren't always in these fights as the innocent victim and if we started fewer fights ourselves, we'd have less violence to deal with....more info
  • Eye-opening historical sweep. Lessons for this moment in history
    So many reviewers have aleady praised this book. Yes, I agree. I found Kinzer's 100-year perspective to be an eye opener. He shows that for more than a century America's greedy or jingoistic efforts at regime change around the world have been tragically short-sighted. Ignoring its own values, America has routinely disregarded democracies elsewhere in the world, when other peoples' democratic processes inconveniently conflicted with the profitability of American business.

    I would also note that Kinzer's writing style, while very lively, could perhaps be even a bit better focused in a few places. He's at his best, in my view, in the chapters on Central American and Iran. Of course, he's an expert on Iran, and has written in even more detail in his book "All the Shah's Men" about America's shameful overthrow of Mossadegh. America and the world are still paying the price in the Middle East for what was begun there 50 years ago.

    The lessons of Kinzer's book are certainly timely at this moment in America's history. America is again threatening to overthrow a few more of the world's democracies, flawed though they may be, with saber-rattling over Iran and Venezuela. Additionally in its occupation of Iraq, America has proved itself all but blind to the democratically expressed wishes of the Kurds.

    (A brief diversion, related to the above examples, in a personal hope that we will not soon have two extra chapters in the next edition of Kinzer's book: Yes, of course, Ahmadinejad of Iran is a foolish fanatic. But he is an elected official; and America can peacefully and diplomatically urge that his administration change direction, or wait for it to be un-elected soon. Yes, of course, Hugo Chavez in an unembarrassed and tireless show-boater in his zeal to help Venezuela's poor while promoting his own personality. But he too was elected by his people. God forbid that the United States should again rough-house yet another reformist Latin American leader who wants to divert a share of corporate profits to benefit local residents. )

    Kinzer demonstrates vividly that America has been a culpable instigator of many such conflicts for 100 years, with terrible consequences in nearly all cases. Maybe this current moment in history will prove different. Maybe the American people and their leaders will learn history, instructed by very helpful books such as this....more info
  • Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change ...
    The product is what I expected. It arrived on time and in the condition advertised....more info
  • Enjoyable, educational read
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book which I could not put down. I learned a great deal about the USA's interventions in so many countries over the past one hundred years. One wonders why we do not learn from past mistakes and try to approach situations in the world differently. One also learns to look carefully behind the political and news statements that are made so that we appreciate the facts. Another useful lessons is that the seeds of the next crisis are sown in trying to solve a current one. The book is well written and highly informative....more info
  • What you don't read about in History Books
    It seems that the U.S. has a history of invading/overthrowing countries that it dislike for economic reasons-Hawaii, Guatamela and political reasons- Iran, Chile etc. This book is a very quick overview of this history. A History that should be remember and learned from.Most U.S. History books tend to overlook or glossy over. And because of these efforts most of the world dislike/ afraid of the U.S.that if they don't toe the line that the U.S. wants,WATCH OUT!!! Sould be required reading for future leaders....more info