CORVALLIS, Ore. — A new book from Oregon State University professor Christopher McKnight Nichols aims to expand readers’ understanding of what constitutes U.S. grand strategy — and who has played a role in shaping it over the last century.

“Rethinking American Grand Strategy,” published by Oxford University Press, argues that when politicians, policymakers or academics talk about “grand strategy,” they need to include more types of strategies and more types of strategists in those conversations, Nichols said.

“This is the first look from the Revolutionary Era to the present at U.S. grand strategy at every kind of level — from presidents, to peace activists, to Black nationalists and more,” said Nichols, an associate professor of history in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts and the director of OSU’s Center for the Humanities.

“Grand strategy” refers to the broad political ideologies and ambitions, along with cultural biases and priorities, that form the basis of a country’s or group's long-term foreign relations.

The book came out of a conference Nichols hosted at OSU in 2016. He co-wrote and co-edited the book with Elizabeth Borgwardt of Washington University in St. Louis and Andrew Preston of the University of Cambridge.

A prescient section focuses on public health and how important it is to U.S. success to have public health-related grand strategy — which became very clear in the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nichols said.

Other sections examine war and peace, crises, and the historical ways in which environment, religion and reproductive rights have been part of U.S. foreign relations. A special focus of the book is how movements like Black Lives Matter are executing grand strategy on a global scale, when that kind of social movement might not be the first thing people think of when they hear “grand strategy.”

“We include women; we include people of color; we include the types of grand strategists and strategies that are just as sweeping as the concept of ‘containment’ promoted by U.S. diplomats and policymakers during the Cold War,” Nichols said.

The book is intended for a wide audience, from amateur history buffs to academic classrooms, and is already being assigned in college courses. One audience is students in service academies: The authors will be holding a book club with the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in May.

“If you’re interested in U.S. history, especially politics and U.S. foreign policy, it’s a good book for you,” Nichols said, adding that the book is structured so people can sample a chapter at a time, depending on where their interest lies.

“Rethinking American Grand Strategy” is now available from all major booksellers.

College of Liberal Arts

About the OSU College of Liberal Arts: The College of Liberal Arts includes the fine and performing arts, humanities and social sciences, making it one of the largest and most diverse colleges at OSU. The college's research and instructional faculty members contribute to the education of all university students and provide national and international leadership, creativity and scholarship in their academic disciplines.

Story By: 

Molly Rosbach, [email protected]


Christopher Nichols, [email protected]

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