Worldmaking: The Art and Science of American Diplomacy

Book cover

Worldmaking is a fresh and compelling new take on the history of American diplomacy. Rather than retracing a familiar story of realism versus idealism, the book suggests that U.S. foreign policy has also been crucially divided between those who view statecraft as an art and those who believe it can aspire toward the certainties of science. The result is a panoramic history driven by ideas and the lives and times of their creators.


"This is an outstanding book. As an intellectual history of the drivers in U.S. foreign policy, it is the best one available. But it is also a superb overview of the lives of some of the key creators of America's position in the world."
Odd Arne Westad, S.T. Lee Professor of U.S.-Asia Relations, Harvard University, author of the Bancroft Prize-winning The Global Cold War

"A marvelous achievement. David Milne gives us not merely a richly textured and striking collective portrait of some of the most important figures in modern American diplomacy and statecraft; he also explains, as few others have, how the United States rose to its unrivaled position on the world stage--and what it means for international affairs today. An altogether splendid book."
Fredrik Logevall, Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs, Harvard University, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Embers of War

"Is U.S. foreign policy a science or an art? In this beautifully written, uncommonly wise history, David Milne shows that it can be both. Ideas, as much as material forces or strategic necessity, shape America's approach to the world. Milne demonstrates beyond any doubt the importance of the intellectuals who put these ideas into action--for better or worse. A brilliant and important book."
Andrew Preston, author of Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy

"The overall arc of [Worldmaking] is fascinating, showing how the play of ideas and politics has worked out over more than a century, with some of the most critical episodes in modern history as main episodes in the plot ... A well-documented, full-scale overview of some key makers of modern history."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Well-documented, insightful, and easy to understand, this analysis is a must-read for anyone interested in this topic."
Daniel Blewett, Library Journal (starred review)

"A panoramic intellectual history of U.S. foreign policy from the nation's emergence as a major maritime power in the late nineteenth century to the present . . . Thanks to the detail and care Milne takes in describing his subjects' backgrounds, the more intriguing narrative that emerges is about the intimate yet fraught relationship between the academy and the levers of power. This is a timely, fascinating work." Brendan Driscoll, Booklist

"For decades, scholars and public officials have carried on a shopworn debate over whether American diplomacy should be, or has been, "idealist" or "realist" in orientation. Milne... offers a fresh take on an old subject and hopes to change the debate’s terms... Appropriately characterizing his approach as "an intellectual history of U.S. foreign policy," he brings his figures alive, accurately portraying and fairly characterizing them." Publishers Weekly

"This is a remarkable book... David Milne scrutinizes the work of nine Americans who, beginning in the late 19th century, shaped their country’s relationship with the rest of the world ... His portraits are detailed, clearly the product of enormous amounts of research, and the result is a mini-encyclopedia about the philosophical foundations of America’s foreign policy ... A valuable addition to the literature of diplomacy."
Philip Seib, Dallas Morning News

"David Milne tells the story of the hundred or so years when a sequence of public intellectuals shaped the discourse and practice of U.S. foreign affairs with confidence and élan―and guided America to its place as the world’s No. 1 power . . . That Mr. Milne succeeds, and brilliantly, is due in no small part to the vivacity and jargon-free clarity of his prose. But he also has a clever, thoughtful thesis that, while developed with great brio, he is careful not to overstate."
Richard Aldous, The Wall Street Journal

"Milne offers up detailed and often surprisingly moving portraits of nine prominent American foreign policy thinkers, from Alfred Thayer Mahan and George Kennan to Henry Kissinger and, finally, Barack Obama. Each portrait is rich in detail, contextualizing its subject’s understanding of America’s role in the world and offering a glimpse into the debates and dilemmas that have troubled policymakers for a century or more.... Foreign policy aficionados will be tempted to buy it, place their pristine copy on a coffee table and speak of it in hushed, reverential tones. I suggest reading it instead."
Rosa Brooks, The Washington Post

"Insightful ... [Worldmaking] pays close attention to personality, argument, contingency, and elite politics."
Michael Ignatieff, The New York Review of Books.

"[Worldmaking's] careful historical accounts are rich in insight and provide extraordinary contextual breadth…. One of the strengths of [the] book is the way it demonstrates how historical context, human nature, and the propensity of individuals to change their minds frustrate all attempts to confine policymakers to one category or another.
Cameron Munter, Foreign Affairs, March-April, 2016

"An account of American foreign policy at once dense with information yet written with such elegant élan that the theory and practice of statecraft becomes compellingly readable. Milne brings to life nine leading figures in the development of American thinking about the nation’s role in the world, weaving formative moments in their biographies with the policies they advocated."
David Luhrssen, Shepherd Express’s-past-and-future.html

"Excellent… Readers should embrace Milne’s approach because it proceeds from the premise that understanding how politicians and policymakers understand the way the world works can help voters understand how they will practice diplomacy and employ U.S. military power. Is Hillary Clinton a scientist or an artist? What about Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, or Ted Cruz? David Milne does not answer these questions, but he gives his readers the means to do so themselves."
Mark Battjes, Not Even Past

"[A] superior, well-researched and highly readable account… Few historians that I can think of could have pulled off such an ambitious effort at this high level of quality."
Frank Ninkovich, New Global Studies

"Milne applies a unique approach to the study of American history, presenting nine character studies of influential thinkers over the last century and a half. Starting with Alfred Mahan and concluding with Barack Obama, Milne seamlessly integrates intellectual biographies of these nine individuals while detailing the circumstances surrounding the policy challenges with which they wrestled. Each of the essays could admirable stand alone; together they present a compelling study of intellectual trends and themes that continue to dominate American diplomatic thinking."
Jacob Kurtzer, South African Journal of International Affairs

"Milne has gracefully mixed biography, international relations, diplomatic history and, yes, intellectual history. The result is truly impressive and certainly a joy to read - for students, scholars and history wonks more generally. Milne effectively dismantles some ingrained, and highly stereotypical, representations of US foreign policy and its discourse. [Worldmaking] is, in many ways, a model of how to write history: elegantly, wittily and clearly."
Mario Del Pero, Cold War History

"Monumental… a sweeping intellectual history of U.S. foreign policy since the late nineteenth century…. Readers do not need to accept Milne’s binary to appreciate his book’s spectacular accomplishments."
Mark Atwood Lawrence, Reviews in American History

"These two books [Worldmaking and John A. Thompson’s A Sense of Power] are testimony to the quality, detachment and perspicacity of British writing on modern American history represented here over two generations."
Brian Holden Reid, Times Literary Supplement

"an exceptional work of scholarship... Worldmaking should take its place on the bookshelf of every academic interested in U.S. foreign policy and intellectual history."
Luca Trenta, Political Studies Review

"Milne has written a subtle and engrossing account of the impact of nine men, their dreams and ideas, on U.S. foreign policy since the late nineteenth century… Milne writes elegantly, with quiet humor and even-handed judgment, about the choices and legacies of these actors."
Brooke Blower, H-Diplo Roundtable

"What is so compelling about Milne’s book - and argument - is that he uses splendid prose and penetrating analysis without belaboring his thesis."
Robert Brigham, H-Diplo Roundtable

"Milne mines this [art-science] dichotomy expertly.... He uses his metaphors to squeeze out complexity rather than mask it. Along the way, he elegantly eviscerates more familiar binaries such as realism-idealism.... Milne has crafted a nuanced portrait of America’s diplomatic mind. Worldmaking should be required reading in undergraduate and graduate classrooms, and a point of departure for debates about the state of political history."
Ryan Irwin, H-Diplo Roundtable

"David Milne has written a terrific intellectual history of U.S. foreign policy from the War of 1898 to 2014."
James Graham Wilson, H-Diplo Roundtable

"Worldmaking is a beautifully written survey that will quickly populate the reading lists of both professors and graduate students; it is the best overview of modern U.S. foreign policy thinking currently available.... Milne demonstrates that epistemology shaped the thought of foreign policy intellectuals. This is an incisive observation that diplomatic historians, who generally pay the most attention to the thinker’s beliefs and not the means by which she or he arrived at these beliefs, should incorporate into future work."
Daniel Bessner, Diplomatic History

"[Worldmaking] is a foundational text and will inspire future works to come. It is a joy to read."
Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, Politics, Religion and Ideology

"Perhaps Americans get the foreign policy they deserve. That is the conclusion of British historian David Milne’s elegantly written and shrewdly argued volume… Playing off the specific within the general, Milne showcases his strength as a writer and historian of great creativity."
Raymond Haberski, Politics, Religion and Ideology

"Milne wears his expertise and erudition lightly as he paints history on a big canvas without resort to big brush strokes, eschewing harsh judgments to link the realm of ideas to those of war and peace. The result is a nuanced, illuminating, and propulsive history of the key personalities and events that have defined the relationship between the United States and the world since the Spanish-American War…. [A]n exceptional work of scholarship."
Jonathan Hunt, Politics, Religion and Ideology

"David Milne is a skilled historian of U.S. foreign relations who combines wide command of the academic literature with an enviably limpid style…. As a portraitist of American thinkers about foreign policy, Milne has few rivals. Designed to be read by academics and laymen, Worldmaking offers something to both, not least a series of crisply observed miniature biographies."
Thomas Meaney, Politics, Religion and Ideology

"Worldmaking is, in short, the most brilliant and sweeping analysis of U.S. foreign policymaking that has appeared in a generation."
Thomas Field, Journal of American Studies