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In this dexterously-written and clearly argued work, Aaron Friedberg attempts to confront a central challenge facing the leadership of any great power, past or present: how does a government become aware of unfavorable shifts in the relative strength of one’s country, how does it measure and assess such changes, and how does it subsequently attempt to adapt traditional strategies and postures. Applying the basic fundamentals of international relations theory, Friedberg identifies two existing models for strategic assessment: the calculative model (continuous, quantifiable, mechanical with clear recognizable shifts and timely adaptations), and the perceptual model (sticky, image-bound, belief-centered, with lagging recognition and delayed, clustered adaptation). Using the historical example of turn-of-the century Great Britain, The Weary Titan explores the core dynamics of crisis and policy debate coloring an era that, in retrospect, we know to have been a period of relative decline. Built along thematic lines, Friedberg divides the narrative into the core elements of traditional measures of “hard-power”: economic, financial, sea-power and land power. Each chapter gives full attention and detail to establishing the historic background to the crises that emerged at this time: in British free trade policy, in her financial power and tax base, in confronting the rising navies of the continent and the larger globe, and in drawing out the military implications of the Boer War, producing a written account that is no less nuanced and interesting for its focused purpose. Key figures of strategic pessimism and optimism emerge in each area of debate, Robert Giffen, Arthur Balfour, Lord Salisbury, Lord Selborne, Edward Hamilton, Lord Kitchener, reinforcing the book’s larger argument through the dramatic clarity of individual experience. Amongst these, Joseph Chamberlain’s shadow lies darkly across this whole work. Indeed, it is small coincidence the title is drawn from a quote found at both the intellectual and written heart of this work, Chamberlain’s introductory address to the 1902 Colonial Conference: “The weary Titan staggers under the too vast orb of its fate...We have borne the burden long enough. We think it is time our children should assist us to support it.” Friedberg also successfully distances himself from the more sentimental forms of imperial recollection, following up with the dry observation that, “Stirring rhetoric and statistical finger pointing could do little to overcome the divergence of interests separating center and periphery.” Ultimately rejecting both the calculative and the perceptual models for strategic assessment, Friedberg notes that despite the work of talented analysis and leadership, “the warnings of this handful of worriers did not lead, independently, to rapid, widespread change.” External crises proved necessary to open individuals minds even temporarily to the possibility of relative decline and the necessity for change. Even so, The Weary Titan proves an interesting and laudable effort to apply historical methods in answering important policy questions.

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