God and Gold by Walter Russell Mead, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 10/2007, 449 pages


A Book Review by Rich Marino

While in the midst of one of my physical therapy sessions at the Stanford Hospital, a young PhD, who’s coincidentally from London, told me about a book that she was reading entitled: God and Gold written by Walter Russell Mead a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. When I asked her why she liked the book, she said: “it helped me put things in perspective”. So, when my session ended, I walked down to the library. Having never heard of Mead, I took a few moments to learn something about him before I bought his book. In so doing, I emailed his publishers in New York and their office sent me the following almost immediately:

Walter Russell Mead, one of our most distinguished foreign policy experts, makes clear that the key to the predominance of the two countries has been the individualistic ideology of the prevailing Anglo-American religion. Mead explains how this helped create a culture uniquely adapted to capitalism, a system under which both countries thrived. We see how, as a result, the two nations were able to create the liberal, democratic system whose economic and social influence continues to grow around the world.

It turns out that God and Gold offers a general, but ridiculous overview of the global economic system which he claims was first created by Britain and later followed by America. Mead goes to great pains to define this particular economic system and how it underscored and gave rise to the modern world. He explains the rise of the modern western economy by using an integration of trade, religion, and politics. Beginning on page five, he makes it very clear that the “analysis of American economic power [has] two observations: first, the American international system and American power are in many ways continuations of a tradition of English-speaking power that goes back to the late seventeenth century. Since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that established parliamentary and Protestant rule in Britain, the Anglo-Americans have been on the winning side in every major international conflict”.

I couldn’t help but think that he must have forgotten about Vietnam, and apparently, he must have been out of town on September 11, 2001 or he obviously feels that the loss of almost fifty thousand Americans in Vietnam, and another three thousand Americans who were killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 are not major conflicts. At any rate if the reader can put aside the author’s conservative fixation for the accomplishments of Britain and America, the book does have some redemption. He brings to the surface some very interesting economic events in the histories of both countries which should prove to be a reliable resource for students of American and British economic histories.

By the way, I ran into the same PhD at my next physical therapy session, and she informed me that she’s accepted a faculty position at King’s College in London. Unfortunately as we were talking, I kept thinking about what she told me about Mead’s book. More specifically, if God and Gold helped her put things in perspective, I feel really sorry for her students at King’s!


One Response to God and Gold by Walter Russell Mead, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 10/2007, 449 pages

  1. DJ says:

    Hi, noticed your review, as I’ve just read this book it struck me. I too have a Phd, in history, and as an extremely liberal person, struggle to accept Mead’s rather simple glory-story. However, here’s the crutch; your review does nothing to prove he is not right about events from 1688-Vietnam. Can’t Anglo-American culture take credit for so much of modernity and yet still be at fault for much of it (slavery/genocides/industrial misery/imperialism)? Where is the evidence to disprove Mead’s assertion that modern life owes much to this culture? This is why conservatives trump us so much. Its wishful thinking to argue other countries contributed so much to the modern world, for better or worse. Regards,

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