In The Short American Century, Andrew Bacevich and a group of distinguished contributors take apart the idea of the American Century. Although Henry Luce was not the first “American Exceptionalist,” his 1941 essay on the role that the United States ought to play in the world provides the contributors with a useful touchstone for modern conceptions of America’s messianic role in the world. Appearing in the February 1941 edition of Life magazine, sandwiched between an advertisement for Havoline motor oil and a profile of Betty Carstair’s private island, Luce’s editorial argued that the path to US hegemony was now open.

Bacevich and the other contributors to the volume probe the historical, social, intellectual, economic, and political foundations of modern American exceptionalism, investigating how beliefs about a unique American place in the world developed, and how those beliefs affected American foreign policy.