Although this book is not always well-written it is extensively researched and wide in scope. Reid-Henry looks principally at Europe and America, but also at the democracies of what was once called the ‘White Commonwealth’ — Canada, Australia and New Zealand... The author does not explore the limited attempts to follow the doctrine in Latin America or India, something perhaps dictated by the need to keep this massive book within reasonable restraints... This is an impressive work, and a wonderful primer for anyone wanting to know why we are where we are. If Reid-Henry were to revise it in, say, 20 years it would be even better... [T]he shortcomings of this book are minor compared with its strengths; it is a tour de force of historical comprehension over almost half a century of remarkable turbulence. And as we travel further from the events it describes, many of its judgments are likely to prove sound.
Reid-Henry reveals how many threads run through the entire period, from the staple of anti-immigration politics to an always simmering angry nationalism provoked by the insecurities of interdependence... The nuanced analysis [...] is at times overwhelmed by the book’s length: concision would have amplified the argument, as would a greater variety of voices amid the rigorous research (there are extensive endnotes but sadly no bibliography)...
The book is written for a general audience. Its breezy informality makes a nice change from the academic jargon found in the works of many young scholars, but this does not always result in concision or elegance. Sentences groan under the weight of redundant adjectives. The word ‘prioritised’ is used fourteen times – once we are told that something was not ‘as closely prioritised as it might have been’. ‘Traction’ – as in ‘Forbes’s big idea gained no little traction’ – is another favourite. Reid-Henry is often witty, but I suspect that the funniest passages of this book are unintentionally so. I particularly enjoyed the brisk ‘marks out of ten’ awarded to historical figures ranging from Solzhenitsyn, whose ‘moralism ultimately prevented him from making the proper diagnosis’, to Johnny Rotten: ‘punk … was an effort at social rebellion that in some ways peaked too early.’ There are also some gnomically brief character sketches. We learn that Herbert Gruhl, a German Christian Democrat, was ‘in some ways a forerunner of America’s Al Gore; in many ways not’, and that Bill Clinton’s wife ‘was every bit his equal, if not more so’.
This last sentence, a sweeping, overconfident generalisation, is typical of his style. It takes courage to cram the past half-century of western political history into a single book, and to his credit he has clearly read widely and thought deeply about everything from the intricacies of Nixon’s monetary policies and the relationship between Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand to the growth of the human-rights industry and the consequences of the Iraq War.