Book Review: Is the American Century Over?

Joseph Nye is a political scientist who currently teaches at Harvard University. A prolific writer, Nye is one of world's most influential international relations scholars in recent decades and has impressively combined a stellar academic career with various positions in government. In that context, there is perhaps no one better positioned to talk about the future of American power and whether the United States (U.S.) is really in decline or not.

If the U.S. were to fall from its pedestal of global power, who might step in to fill the void and is it realistic to expect that might happen in the near-term?

Nye skillfully deconstructs the notion that the U.S. is in decline. He explores the cases of the prospective challengers to American preeminence: Europe, Japan, Russia, India, Brazil and (of course) China. Essentially, Nye persuasively argues that the days of American primacy are far from over. In the chapter on China's rise he concludes by noting that "the rise of China globally is a long process that is still far from signifying the end of the American century."

He does mention that relative decline for the U.S. may occur due to domestic considerations. From cultural power to immigration, economic resilience, innovation and higher education, the U.S. has plenty going for it. Nevertheless, inequality and the caliber of primary and secondary schools in less wealthy areas are cause for concern, as is persistent "political gridlock."

Nye notes that we are living in an increasingly complex, interconnected world that coincides with two notable shifts of power: "power transition" from Western countries to Eastern ones and "power diffusion," meaning that non-state actors have an even more important role to play in arena of global politics.

Academics and political junkies will probably breeze through Is the American Century Over? But the book is so well-written and accessible, general readers are likely to find it engaging and insightful as well. At its core, policy-oriented research and writing should strive to inform not just specialists or experts, but the public at large, making Nye's contribution to debates about America's purported decline that much more important.