Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy (Hardcover)
A deeply researched investigation that reveals how the United States is like a spider at the heart of an international web of surveillance and control, which it weaves in the form of globe-spanning networks such as fiber optic cables and obscure payment systems
America’s security state first started to weaponize these channels after 9/11, when they seemed like necessities to combat terrorism—but now they’re a matter of course. Multinational companies like AT&T and Citicorp build hubs, which they use to make money, but which the government can also deploy as choke points. Today’s headlines about trade wars, sanctions, and technology disputes are merely tremors hinting at far greater seismic shifts beneath the surface.
Slowly but surely, Washington has turned the most vital pathways of the world economy into tools of domination over foreign businesses and countries, whether they are rivals or allies, allowing the U.S. to maintain global supremacy. In the process, we have sleepwalked into a new struggle for empire. Using true stories, field-defining findings, and original reporting, Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman show how the most ordinary aspects of the post–Cold War economy have become realms of subterfuge and coercion, and what we must do to ensure that this new arms race doesn’t spiral out of control.
Abraham L. Newman is a professor at the School of Foreign Service and Government Department at Georgetown University. Known for his research on the politics generated by globalization, he serves as a frequent commentator on international affairs, appearing on news programs ranging from Al Jazeera to Deutsche Welle and NPR. His work has been published in leading outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Nature, Science, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Harvard Business Review, and Politico.
"A revelatory book."
—Paul Krugman, The New York Times
"The U.S. has made use of a novel, often mysterious set of tools for rewarding those who help it and punishing those who cross it. That set of tools is now a bit less mysterious, thanks to Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman. Their book Underground Empire reveals how the U.S. benefits from a set of institutions built up late last century as neutral means of streamlining global markets."
—Christopher Caldwell, The New York Times
“Farrell and Newman’s book is like an MRI or CT scan of recent world history, giving us a new and startling image of the global body politic, as clear as an X-ray. Cognitive mapping takes on a new aspect with their analysis, as they shift from the technological to the historical, showing both how this new nervous system of world power came to be, and how it could be put to better use than it is now. Given the intertwined complexities of our very dangerous polycrisis, we need their insights.”
—Kim Stanley Robinson, author of The Ministry for the Future
“Underground Empire is an astonishing explanation of how power really works. From fiber optic cables to the financial system, Farrell and Newman show how the networks that knit us together are also powerful coercive tools, providing a subtle and revelatory account of how the United States learned to weaponize its dominance of the world order’s plumbing. A riveting read, essential for understanding how economic and technological power is wielded today.”
—Chris Miller, author of Chip War
“An eye-opening journey into the hidden networks that power the high-tech world, where all roads lead not to Silicon Valley but to suburban Washington DC, bankers and spies matter as much as tech entrepreneurs, and an industry built by the Cold War has become a geopolitical battleground once again. A truly important book to explain—and move beyond—our tumultuous times.”
—Margaret O’Mara, author of The Code
“The sharpest and most striking analysis I’ve seen in years of the state the world’s in, cunningly disguised as a user-friendly business book.”
—Francis Spufford, author of Golden Hill
“Underground Empire tells a riveting story about the deep forces that have shaped our present moment. The book is a portrait not of a single protagonist or event, but rather a system that shapes much of the world today: a web of dollars and data that has, half accidentally, given the United States a new kind of geopolitical control over both its enemies and allies. It is history written in its most powerful form: a view of the recent past that gives us a new lens to better discern our future.”
—Steven Johnson, author of How We Got to Now
If you want to understand where the world economy has been and where it may be headed, you need to read this book.
—Dani Rodrik, author of The Globalization Paradox
"Like an iceberg, most of the power and almost all the mechanisms of economic coercion are below the surface, in the very infrastructure that undergirds international commerce. . . . Underground Empire should rightly stimulate much discussion."
—Wesley K. Clark, The Washington Monthly
"The publication of Underground Empire could not be more timely. Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman offer an important corrective to a dominant narrative in US foreign policy circles that positions the US and other Western governments as innocent by-standers, caught off-guard by their main rivals."
—Times Literary Supplement
"Farrell and Newman set out a compelling thesis, defend it well, and tell a fascinating tale. And when they finish, they leave you with a way to make sense of things that seem senseless and terrible. This may not make those things less terrible, but at least they're comprehensible."
—Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother
"Farrell and Newman write fluidly and grippingly. . . . As the book jumps from nondescript Northern Virginia office parks housing America’s intelligence establishment, to the boardrooms of mid-20th-century New York banks, to sanctions-dodging tankers traversing the Indian Ocean, it’s not hard to detect the influence of techno-thriller writers such as Neal Stephenson."
—The Washington Post
"Farrell and Newman describe the rise over the past 50 years of what they call America’s 'network imperialism.' In an era where markets were supposedly becoming ever-more disembedded from states, the authors show that the opposite was the case.... The vision one leaves their book with is one of great-power conflict where, as usual, those at the bottom of the world’s hierarchy of wealth continue to suffer the most, with no refuge in sight."
—Quinn Slobodian, The New Statesman
"Captivating. . . . A gripping account."