Bruce Cumings, Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 672 pp., $38.00.
Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power 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.
To say that of the two I like the first better is not to offer a qualitative judgment but simply to reveal my own predilections. Both books are eminently worth reading. They take on big questions. They render sweeping judgments. They provoke. Conceived with an eye toward "erasing the line between domestic and international perspectives," Dominion from Sea to Sea falls short of accomplishing that worthy objective. Even so, it qualifies as a notable achievement.