Book - Polity Press

A Life in the American Century

| January 2024


For the past eight decades, we have lived in "the American Century" — a period during which the US has enjoyed unrivalled power — be it political, economic or military — on the global stage. Born on the cusp of this new era, Joseph S. Nye Jr. has spent a lifetime illuminating our understanding of the changing contours of America power and world affairs. His many books on the nature of power and political leadership have rightly earned him his reputation as one of the most influential international relations scholars in the world today.

In this deeply personal book, Joseph Nye shares his own journey living through the American century. From his early years growing up on a farm in rural New Jersey to his time in the State Department, Pentagon and Intelligence Community during the Carter and Clinton administrations where he witnessed American power up close, shaping policy on key issues such as nuclear proliferation and East Asian security. After 9/11 drew the US into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Nye remained an astute observer and critic of the Bush, Obama and Trump presidencies. Today American primacy may be changing, but he concludes with a faint ray of guarded optimism about the future of his country in a richer but riskier world.

Cover of A Life in the American Century

Praise for A Life in the American Century

"Joe Nye is a special storyteller. As the Grandmaster of the study of power—soft, hard, and smart—Nye blends ideas, events, and leaders across the prime decades of the American Century in a tale that informs and entertains."

Robert Zoellick, former President of the World Bank, US Trade Representative, and Deputy Secretary of State, and author of America in the World: A History of U.S. Diplomacy and Foreign Policy 

"This is a fascinating book from a wonderful person. Through the insightful eyes of Joe Nye as he grows up in the American Century, we get to see the triumphs and challenges of our times unfold, from Vietnam to the present. The result is a reasonable, realistic, yet also idealistic view of our role in the world."

Walter Isaacson, Professor of History at Tulane University and former CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN and editor of Time

"Joe Nye's wonderful memoir chronicles an intellect, curiosity and career that dazzle. May he write another ten books full of insight and wisdom."

Jane Harman, Former Congresswoman, Chair of the National Commission on Defense Strategy and author of Insanity Defense 

"From his days growing up on a farm to his rise as a public intellectual, Joe Nye has emerged as one of the wisest thinkers of our times. In this meticulous inside account, he shows just how complex and intellectually challenging life has become for our public leaders. We are blessed that Nye and his many colleagues kept the twentieth an American century"

David Gergen, Professor Emeritus of Public Service at Hardvard University, and former presidential advisor

"Joe Nye is a giant of international relations theory, and is a rare mix of a practitioner and an academic. His contribution is forever etched in textbooks and briefing books."

 Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister

About This Book

Crop of A life in the American Century cover

A Life in the American Century
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Nye, Joseph S. Jr. A Life in the American Century. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, January 2024.