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The Icarus Syndrome

A History of American Hubris
Narrated by: John Morgan
Length: 18 hrs and 23 mins
Categories: History, 20th Century

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Publisher's Summary

In The Icarus Syndrome, Peter Beinart tells a tale as old as the Greeks—a story about the seductions of success. Beinart describes Washington on the eve of three wars—World War I, Vietnam, and Iraq—three moments when American leaders decided they could remake the world in their image. Each time, leading intellectuals declared that history was over, and the spread of democracy was inevitable. Each time, a president held the nation in the palm of his hand. And each time, a war conceived in arrogance brought untold tragedy.

In dazzling color, Beinart portrays three extraordinary generations: the progressives who took America into World War I, led by Woodrow Wilson, the lonely preacher's son who became the closest thing to a political messiah the world had ever seen; the Camelot intellectuals who took America into Vietnam, led by Lyndon Johnson, who lay awake at night after night shaking with fear that his countrymen considered him weak; and George W. Bush and the post-cold war neoconservatives, the romantic bullies who believed they could bludgeon the Middle East and liberate it at the same time.

Like Icarus, each of these generations crafted "wings"—a theory about America's relationship to the world. They flapped carefully at first, but gradually lost their inhibitions until, giddy with success, they flew into the sun.

But every era also brought new leaders and thinkers who found wisdom in pain. They reconciled American optimism—our belief that anything is possible—with the realities of a world that will never fully bend to our will. In their struggles lie the seeds of American renewal today.

Based on years of research, The Icarus Syndrome is a provocative and strikingly original account of hubris in the American century—and how we learn from the tragedies that result.

©2010 Peter Beinart (P)2010 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Paul
  • 28-01-2012

Review of America's Foreign Interventions

What made the experience of listening to The Icarus Syndrome the most enjoyable?

I appreciated the depth of the author's research and his interpretation of the motives of the various actors. Beinart reviews America's foreign policy, concentrating on events after World War I.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

Beinart is not one of the flag-waving historians who view America's history through the veil of feigned patriotism. Rather he is a pragmatist who believes America acts in its own best interest. However, many times America makes the wrong decision. The author uncovers some interesting connections and ironies along the way as he tries to get into the head of the protagonists and describe their thought processes in formulating the actions of America in the War on Terrorism.

Have you listened to any of John Morgan’s other performances before? How does this one compare?


Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, the amount of material is too much to absorb in one sitting. This book is best listened to over a period of time to give the reader a chance to ponder these great issues.

Any additional comments?

This is an excellent thesis on the hubris of America in its dealings with its enemies. The Bush administration, particularly Cheney comes in for criticism. The machinations of the Bush clique is described in great detail.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Edo
  • 21-05-2012


This was a great history lesson and interesting perspective on the lead-up to America going to war and how the leaders of the time made decisions. I thought the piece was well-researched and presented in a very interesting format. I'd say it's one of the better non-fiction books I've read recently and very engaging.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • joseph
  • 12-09-2010

Great read!

This was a great read! It is very revealing and insightful on the key characters that formed American foreign relations. It was also very interesting to get a view on the mindset and circumstances that affected key thinkers and policy makers in the US. I would highly recommend this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Rick
  • 11-06-2010

Great read

Really good narration & interesting details that support a very timely thesis. It's like David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest but covering more history.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for SAMANTHA
  • 03-02-2013

Very interesting

I know this book is just one perspective on US foreign policy, but it certainly does explain some of our more significant foreign policy boondoggles.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful