I get the distinct feeling that I’m missing a lot of the novel, simply because I have no background on most of the topics that Ferguson covers. I followed his description of the history of America fairly well, but as soon as he began to describe and analyze modern (World War II and onwards) history, he lost me. I have vague ideas about the Korean War (as in, “this was a very bad thing”, and little else) and American policy. And since Ferguson assumed his reader would know these things (after all, this book is marketed towards the people with knowledge in this area), I often had to go back and find out who so-and-so was.
A second problem attached to my ignorance was also being unable to judge how accurate the information was. Ferguson uses a lot of statistics, and though they were compellingly laid out, they made me wary. The book was positively dense with information, research, statistics; pages of references followed the main text.
This was not a book that you could skim or read in a noisy place: I attempted to read sections this way, retained exactly nothing of the contents, and re-read it. It took me a very, very long time to read this book; a novel of this size would usually take me three hours, but this one took me three weeks. However, I really enjoyed the way Ferguson characterized various political characters and countries, humanizing them. America was occasionally anxious, then obtuse; Iraq given a personality through their actions.
Though I enjoyed the writing, I was often very confused by what Ferguson was talking about—notably the economics part. When he began discussing the merits of deflation and what had happened to—and was happening to—the American economy at the time of writing, he lost me completely.
All in all, I would recommend this to anyone with a background and interest in American politics, economics, and imperialism. 8/10