How to Hide an Empire by Daniel Immerwahr


Rate: 4.5/5


Medium: Kindle


Overview (Spoilers Abound): NPR  deserves kudos for directing me to yet another fantastic nonfiction read that has left me mulling over the wide array of seemingly unconnected topics that are somehow pulled together under the same unified theme. How to Hide an Empire was chock full of information and details that not only significantly added to my understanding and knowledge of the history of the US territories but also challenged me to view this topic from a novel perspective. Additionally, not only were the facts relayed in a way that almost seamlessly fit into a connected story, but Immerwahr spent considerable time and effort explaining the reasoning behind the Government’s motivation or attitudes regarding these territories at various time points. The topics covered by Immerwahr were so expansive that one can hardly grasp the quantity research that had to be conducted in order for How to Hide an Empire to be written, let alone organized. A sampling of the various subjects covered that are all framed through the lens of the United States territories range from Peruvian guano, to Osama bin Laden, Sony, the Beatles, James Bond, and the birth control pill. An important gauge for my nonfiction reviews, albeit bias toward my own preferences, lies in how much information an authors is able to convey throughout their book, thereby broadening my knowledge on a specific topic, while maintaining an engaging story. In this regard, Immerwahr knocked the level of detail and the sheer quantity of material covered, well out of the park. That being said, several instances during this read I would end up finding myself glossing over or falling asleep during a particularly technical section but the upside garnered by the wide array of knowledge gleaned during this read more than made up for any resulting naps. As a female scientist, I was moved by the heartbreaking story of Clara Immerwahr who was the author’s Great, Grandmother’s cousin. Despite this being a spoiler filled section, I won’t delve further into her backstory, instead I’ll encourage you fall down that information wormhole to learn not only about her but also husband, who not only won a Nobel Prize but played a key role in developing chemical warfare in WWI. Back to the book in general, How to Hide an Empire also challenges the public’s understanding (including myself) of how far our borders are/were extended throughout the Greater United State’s history. For example, despite knowing that Hawaii and Alaska were not states until post WWII I’d never really through through what this had meant from the standpoint of Pearl Harbor being attacked. We focus on the attack of Pearl Harbor, but on the same day, Japan had also attacked the Philippines and Guam who were both also territories, the same as Hawaii. Immerwahr illuminates the decisions behind framing the attack from the perspective on one territory, Hawaii vs. the others. Also, did you know that Japan had also attacked several Alaskan Islands during WWII? As an American, I’m well aware of the horrors exacted upon the Native Americans, however each territory had its own history with the mainland that proved most difficult to read, even Hawaii and Alaska. These painful accounts ranged from medical experiments in Puerto Rico to military actions in the Philippines or forced relocation in Alaska. Immerwahr easily could have fallen into a tone of condemnation, however instead somehow maintained a neutral voice that worked to explain or give rise to understanding of how larger policies or attitudes gave rise to those specific situations. In additional to managing overall tone tone Immerwahr writing as a whole avoided interjecting opinions and bias, instead relying upon facts or direct quotes found in documents, correspondence, articles, etc. Over over again while reading this book, I found myself constantly peppering my husband with a multitude of “Did you know..” questions. For example, Did you know that Alaskan Aleuts were also moved into internment camps  where they faced horrifying conditions during WWII all for their own safety? Or did you know Hawaii was under martial law after Pearl Harbor for almost three years? Did you know the US presently has around 800 bases all over world? Did you know the US President Millard Fillmore actually talked about the need to promise fairer prices for guano? Did you know…? Did you know..? Did you know…? How to Hide an Empire effectively turned me into a broken record! Overview, Immerwahr has forever changed how readers will look at a logo map of the United States of America, along with a significantly broadening of our understanding regarding how our rather fuzzy boarders that have ebbed and flowed throughout a relatively short history.

10 comments

  1. I started this but got distracted halfway through. But you remind me that I definitely want to finish. I was the same way with my husband – driving him crazy with all the “did you know…!” comments. LOL Also, I have noticed since then all the times that definitions of the U.S. leaves out territories and bases, just as Immerwahr said. A great book, nicely reviewed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another book for me to read! Have you read History Lessons? I know from Loewen there is so much untold, or wrongly told, and then there is the perspective of American history from that of other countries…

    Like

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