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New Left Review 30, November-December 2004

Peter Gowan on Neil Smith, American Empire: Roosevelt’s Geographer and the Prelude to Globalization. The neglected career of a key thinker of American expansionism, and his scenarios for a world order after the age of European imperial dominance.



War is famously good for geography and during two world wars Isaiah Bowman, protagonist of Neil Smith’s American Empire, was the professional geographer closest to the heart of Washington’s postwar reconstruction. In 1917, on the eve of the us entry into World War One, the ambitious young director of the American Geographic Society was recruited by Edward House as a central member of Woodrow Wilson’s Inquiry, the group charged with preparing us positions for the peace settlement. Bowman was Wilson’s chief territorial adviser at the Paris Conference and, in 1921, a founding director of the Council on Foreign Relations with Elihu Root. His geopolitical survey, The New World, published the same year, became ‘a handbook for the budding American Century’. Bowman was attached to the State Department under Roosevelt’s administration, before and during World War Two, and sat on the Advisory Committee on Postwar Foreign Policy from 1942. A visceral anti-communist—and President of Johns Hopkins—he died of a massive heart attack in 1950.

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Peter Gowan, ‘American Lebensraum’, NLR 30: £3

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