The Monroe Doctrine by Jay Sexton
History (2011 - 250 pp.)
The Monroe Doctrine is an easily readable (at least to the history major), well-written narrative about the history of the Monroe Doctrine from its drafting in 1823 until World War I. It concerns itself primarily with the men who drafted it (including then-future president John Quincy Adams), the intellectual conception of the Doctrine from approximately 1823-1920, and most of all the domestic and foreign policy ramifications. Jay Sexton aptly states that perhaps the Monroe Doctrine should be pluralized, as its many interpretations included such diametric opposites as expansionist/isolationist and anti-slavery/pro-slavery. The story of empire as it unfolded in nineteenth-century America is connected to the malleability of the Doctrine, as Sexton demonstrates.
As someone who has received at least some baseline historical training, but not in American history, I found the book very accessible. Sexton assumes the reader has an idea of who the presidents of the period were and what the major world events were. He does not, however, presume intimate knowledge of the background involved, for example the why of the Gadsden Purchase or of the 1895 kerfuffle in Venezuela. He also stays very strictly on topic, avoiding perhaps interesting side commentaries on events indirectly influencing invocations of the Monroe Doctrine such as the Kansas-Nebraska Act. One of the more curious aspects of the book is his willingness to cast usually derided presidents like James Buchanan in a rather neutral light. The whole book is refreshing in this way.
The one criticism I can make of this book is that nowhere does it actually include the text of the Monroe Doctrine. A full reprinting of Monroe's 1823 address, with the paragraphs identified as the Doctrine in bold, would be best. It must be in the public domain by now, after all. While I am certain I could find it easily, it would be very convenient to have the text handy for reference as I read. Getting through a 250-page on the impact of a document not made readily available to the reader feels a little awkward.
Ease of Reading: 4
Educational Content: 9