Pax Californica

America has at times oriented itself to the East, at others to the West. But what we have always had is a sense of our manifest destiny. And now the ideals of California—nihilism with a suntan—seem to be our primary ideological export.

Issue: May-June 2010

Bruce Cumings, Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 672 pp., $38.00.

 

[amazon 0300111886 full] TWO BOOKS for the price of one: that's what readers get with Dominion from Sea to Sea. Had he chosen to publish them separately, Bruce Cumings might properly have called the first Facing West: The Once and Future Orientation of American Statecraft; the second, Dreams Fulfilled: The Pacific Coast and the Making of the American Century.

Differing in focus, the two books also differ in tone. The first is skeptical, acerbic and biting, if also at times mordantly funny. The second is lush and lyrical. In the first, Cumings, a specialist in East Asia who teaches at the University of Chicago, maintains a critical distance from his subject. In the second, he abandons any pretense of doing so: he loves, cherishes and is rapturously devoted to the Pacific Coast, especially to California, and makes no effort to conceal the depth of his passion.

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