William Appleman Williams was one of America's greatest critics of US imperialism. The Contours of American History, first published in 1961, reached back to seventeenth-century British history to argue that the relationship between liberalism and empire was in effect a grand compromise, with expansion abroad containing class and race tensions at home. Coming as it did before the political explosions of the 1960s, Williams's message was a deeply heretical one, and yet the Modern Library ultimately chose Contours as one of the best 100 nonfiction books of the 20th Century.
The obvious result of years of scholarly research, this vast tome by a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, author of The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, etc., presents a lengthy interpretation of American historical development as based on European "mercantilism" and laissez-faire. Stating in his opening essay, "History as a Way of Learning", that "the tool used in this present study is the concept of Weltanschauung, or definition of the world combined with an explanation of how it works", the author has produced a volume so packed with erudite and obscure references and sesquipedalian words that it defeated one reader completely. If taken in small doses it should, however, prove of value as a reference book for students and teachers of the philosophical aspects of American history. (Kirkus Reviews)