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On the surface, the successful CIA plot to overthrow Iran's Mossadegh in 1953 comes across as inherited by the Eisenhower Administration from the British government, sore because of the nationalization of Anglo-Iranian Petroleum, in a manner eerily similar to the way the Kennedy Administration inherited the CIA's plans for Bay of Pigs from the Eisenhower Administration.
But at the end of the book we read that American oil companies gained the lion's share of the oil from the post-coup arrangement with the Shah; this does not tie in with the prior narrative of the book, which portrays American policy variously as being about not offending the British, or being an honest broker or opposing communism.
It is a riveting read. At times it is unclear whether the work is journalism, or the fruits of academic research, or a historical novel: all are bona fide undertakings, and it would be fair to say that this work would score highly on all three counts.
In this work the British policy makers come across as obtuse, particularly Anglo-Iranian Petroleum's board, and Foreign Secretaries Herbert Morrison and Sir Anthony Eden. Obtuse, and/or arrogant. And/or a lot of other things besides. So much for the British...
But in the light of the oil benefits reaped from Kermit Roosevelt's subterfuge in Tehran, I don't quite buy the idea that it was simply a bad idea foisted on benevolent America by the perfidious British, or else an idealistic exercise in building up a rampart against communism.
Mossadegh comes across in the books as a towering figure, not only in Iran but also among an emerging generation of world leaders who would increasingly challenge the dominance of European and US interests.
Readers of Robert Fisk on the Middle East need to add this book to their library.
This is a mostly intriguing account of a specific episode in history with some far-reaching lessons. In the early 1950's Iran was a developing democracy but was being oppressed by British oil interests. The newly-formed American CIA engineered a scheme to overthrow Iran's popularly elected Prime Minister Mossadegh and prop up the much less popular monarchy of the Shah. Here Kinzer describes the intrigue and international political shenanigans that led to the coup, which was fueled by anti-Communist paranoia based on Mossadegh's nationalist (but only tangentially socialist) ambitions. This was the CIA's first dirty tricks campaign to destabilize a foreign government, and Kinzer ably points out the irony in how the US overthrew a democracy and installed a totalitarian regime, in order to basically protect Western corporate profits. Kinzer also outlines the very real ramifications this all had decades down the road in the form of radical Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and fractured international relations to this day. However, some of Kinzer's conclusions are reaching way too far. The book's subtitle confirming "the Roots of Middle East Terror" appears like a ploy to sell books in the aftermath of 9/11, as his attempt to directly connect the 1953 coup in Iran to specific modern acts of terrorism and hatred toward America is not completely logical. For one, he has completely disregarded the continuous Israeli/Palestinian saga. Kinzer's hero worship of Mossadegh and neglect of all other Iranian interests of the period (the Shah barely registers as a character, for example) is also problematic in its one-sidedness. But if you disregard some of the specious conclusions, Kinzer's story is an interesting example of the far-reaching effects of political dirty tricks and unintended consequences on America's relations with the developing world. [~doomsdayer520~]
All the Shah's men is about how the overthrow of a democratically-elected Prime Minister got overthrown by the CIA and the British government and replaced with the dicatorship of Mohammed Riza Shah, which then led to the Islamic Revolution by Ayatollyah Rudollah Khomenti, which created a Theoracy and the biggest sponsor of terrorism. It was a cool night in Iran, where Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh who was widely popular for nationlizing the country's oil from the British was overthrown by the CIA and the British government in a operation called Operation Ajax. Once he was overthrown, he was then replaced with the dicatorship of the Shah to the Peakcock thrown in Iran which his dicatorship lasted 27 years until the Islamic revolution in 1979 which was led by Ayatollyah Rudollah Khomenti, which then led to the American hostage crisis which Iranian students took over the American Embassy, which then led to Jimmy Carter's loss of reelection and which brought in Ronald Reagen. So as people watched Americans being held prisoners in a foreign country, most Americans didnt know the history of how we got there. First it was in 1953 where Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Dwight Enisenhower when the Churchill brought up that the Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was going to turn Iran into a 'Communist State'. So with this threat, the CIA and the British government made a operation called Operation Ajax which would overthrow the Prime minister and replace him with Mohammad Reza Shah. So why would they want to overthrow a democratically elected person? The British then had occupied Iran during WW1 and WW2, and they were the first to discover oil in the country, so they wanted to have the oil for themselves and they created a oil company. Iran then was in a huge mess; most of the country was umemployed, poverty, and very deep in the past. So with this, Iran was trying to become a democracy, but the British wanted to create a monarchy, but the Iranians didnt want that since they didnt want another country trying to make them into their own image (sound familiar?), so with this, they created a Paraliament, and came Mossadegh who came in there, and changed everything. He made the oil company independent from the British, so with this, they got mad. How did the U.S. get involved? It got involved because the British government told the U.S. that they wanted to create a 'Communist State', so they took counter-reaction since they didnt want another country dedicated to Communism. So with overthrowing the Prime Minister, they thought they had it good. We were wrong. After 27 years of dicatorship, he was then overthrown, and the Shah was gone from Iran. So now what we have left with Iran? Nothing. We left Iran a mess, and we are trying to make a difference with Iraq and hopefully it can transform Iran and other countries into democracries, but yet we can only wait and see.
4.0 out of 5 starsThe death of nascent democracy in Iran in 1953
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 10, 2013
In "All the Shah's Men" Stephen Kinzer tells the story of an American-led coup in Iran in 1953 that unseated the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and allowed the Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to establish a repressive dictatorship that was `friendly' to Western powers.
This is a story that has been told by several other writers whom Kinzer acknowledges. In addition, he draws on information released in 2000 by the US Government which sheds further light on how the coup was orchestrated by the CIA.
In first quarter of the twentieth century a British geologist carrying out test drilling discovered massive oil reserves in southern Iran which led to the formation of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company and the construction of the world's largest oil refinery at Abadan. Notwithstanding its name, the company was entirely British owned and managed, with the British government possessing a 51 per cent share of the stock. The deal negotiated with the (then) Shah of Iran may well have been the bargain of the century from the British point of view - it was an extremely profitable venture. The British management of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company had an entrenched 19th Century outlook that reeked of imperialism at its most blatant. The company was determined throughout to keep the lion's share of the company's profits and to do the barest minimum to improve the lot of their Iranian employees.
This situation understandably bred considerable anti-British feeling among politically minded Iranians and following WW2 nationalist and democratic sentiment gained ground forcing Shah Mohammed Reza to make his government more representative of popular will. Mohammed Mossadegh emerged as the dominant personality in the Iranian parliament and in May 1951 the Shah was obliged to accept him as Prime Minister.
Mossadegh and his supporters wanted to renegotiate the deal with the Anglo Iranian Oil Company to give his country and company employees a fairer share of profits. Because of intransigence on both sides the long drawn-out negotiations came to nothing: the British decided Mossadegh would have to go and Mossadegh himself was determined that the assets of the Anglo Iranian Oil Company should be nationalised.
A British plot to depose Mossadegh was hatched but before it could be implemented the Iranian parliament voted to expel all British diplomats from Iran. Oil production at the Abadan refinery came to a standstill when Mossadegh went ahead with nationalisation measures: British employees were sent home and there were no Iranian technicians capable of operating the plant. The British government used all its considerable financial political and legal muscle to attempt to force the Iranian government into submission, but to no avail.
An opportunity to enlist American support arose when Eisenhower succeeded Truman as President in 1953. Truman had steadfastly refused to intervene in Iran in support of British imperialism; Eisenhower, however, agreed to help the British with `regime change' in Iran because he feared that otherwise the country could be susceptible to a Communist take-over.
The CIA-led coup was successful; the Shah - who had fled the country, fearing that all was lost - was restored to his throne with the implicit promise of American support. Key plotters were rewarded with plum jobs and American companies were able to buy into the Anglo Iranian Oil Company as a reward for American support. Mossadegh served a 3-year term of imprisonment and was subsequently placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. The Shah consolidated his power base through control of the army and the police force including his much-feared secret police, SAVAK. Nascent democracy in Iraq expired in 1953 and the Shah's regime lasted until 1979 when it was overthrown by the Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Stephen Kinzer has written a very readable and well-researched book. I should have liked to see footnotes included in the text so that references could easily be followed-up, but there are detailed notes provided for each chapter of the book. A timeline listing key events would also have been useful. Four stars.
5.0 out of 5 starsA Superb Book on the CIA Engineered Iranian Coup of 1953
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 16, 2009
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I cannot praise this book too highly, it has pace, tension and a wonderful clarity and should be an object lesson for modern authors who are addicted to over weighty tomes. This excellent book by the New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer takes us on a step by step retelling of the British and American coup in Iran that served to topple the democratic and liberal prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. Mossadegh had nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in order to retrieve Iran's oil wealth for the benefit of his country and this was implacably opposed by Britain. The new American administration of President Eisenhower sympathised with the British view and acquiesced in the CIA determination to complete the overthrow and install a Western-centric leader. Kinzer, whilst keeping us at the side of the CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, takes time to lucidly sketch in the religious and political history of Iran and then returns to the pell-mell story of the plot. The author goes on to discuss the modern consequences of the British and CIA actions. This book should be required reading for those who have difficulty understanding the present anti-American and anti-British attitude of the government of Iran and their distrust of Western values. An exciting and fascinating read for those interested in our relationship to the Middle East.
5.0 out of 5 starsHow Iran started to see USA as "the great satan"
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 6, 2007
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The law of unexpected consequences is an exercise that retropsective history studies allows us to savour and see what lessons can be learnt for the future. This book is an exceptional example of that approach since while focussing on an event in the early 1950s, it allows an overview of the major outcomes some 50 years later.
Since the case involves Iran the more recent evolution into an Islamic Republic and its strong anti-US stance is well known. What this book covers in a very well written and structured overview benefitting from recent US government documents and increased academic research on the subject,is how the post WWII US (anti-communist) and UK (retention of control of oil production and supplies) national interests became embroiled in overthrowing another country's democratic government which had challenged the basis on which their national resources were being exploited and the re-installation of the more friendly Shah as supreme ruler. The ramifications of that policy 50 years later in terms of Iran's depiction of the USA as "the great satan" and the rise of Islamic fundementalism in the void of democratic regimes in the Middle East have many of their roots in this story.
The book succeeds on many levels and weaves together many strands including:
a good short analysis of Iran's history and why incompetent and corrupt rulers had created the exploitative situation of its national oil resources by a UK company that existed post WWII layered onto a society that in its legacy was very different from many other Middle East countries and in Mohammad Reza Shah had a young ruler whose indecisiveness and strong belief in his need to wholly control the armed forces to survive, set the seal on his whole future;
the role of how that UK company (Anglo-Persian Oil Company) by being totally intransigent in negotiating with the democratically elected Iranian government and following a stubborn old style imperial mindset stood to lose everything under the subsequent Iranian nationalisation;
how that error was compounded by incompetent UK government ministers and diplomats (such as the unworldly Herbert Morrison as Foreign Minister under Atlee) or devious tactics (Churchill and Eden exploiting on the election of Eisenhower the anti-communist card to propose a coup to largely serve UK financial interests);
the USA's move from the initial Truman government's strong support post WWII for strong new national governments being the best bulwark against communism and large effort being devoted to applying pressure on the UK, which then all dramatically shifted with the election of Eisenhower on an anti-communist ticket. His letting the Dulles brothers in their CIA and Secretary of State roles move to inserting a US operative (the resourceful Kermit Roosevelt) to assume control of and finance the long running UK founded Iranian network to overthrow the Iranian government by fostering street riots, led to a precedent which was to then be used by the CIA several times in many other less developed countries over the next two decades;and,
finally the star of the book Mohammad Mossadegh, a man from a high ranking Iranian family who by being well educated and an international legal background was able to not only garner the support of his people for his policies in a way that Iran had not experienced before but on the interntational stage proved more than a match for the UK, especially before the UN Assembly. However those same visionary qualities as is well shown also held the seeds of his destruction since his lack of pragmatism in negotiating a deal with the UK or exercising of realpolitik when fed information as to the tactics being applied by Iranian royalists and the UK and USA against his government and unwillingness to make some hard calls, let others quickly undermine his authority by creating a perception of anarchy and communist involvement (even though it took two attempts over a week!).
While it is easy with the gift of retrospect to see everything panning out as it did subsequently happen, what this book demonstrates is that the Truman government policy which was pursued with great effort at the time has been vindicated and the claimed communist threat was risible even at the time based on then known facts to the US (sadly one missing area as the author admits is any release of Soviet documents from that period).
While I think the book is finally light on its criticism of Eisenhower (whose ongoing lack of interest in CIA activities was fatal to later international developments) and Eden (who when he was UK Prime Minister after Churchill attempted a similar approach over the 1956 Suez Canal crisis but failed to get US support and had to resign), these are small points.
What this great book sadly teaches us is the key lesson of the folly of major powers trying to build nations that are friendly and subservient to their sponsoring government will always have limited lives due to national interests re-asserting themselves eventually - the publishing of this book as the USA (& to a lesser extent the UK) try and build a "friendly" Iraq from the current turmoil in 2006 indicate that lesson has not yet been wholly learnt.
Very well written and attractive book that is clearly based on the kind of research missing in most work by journalists, and shows the world there are still intelligent Americans who can think for themselves. At first I was sceptical of the author's claim that the CIA-organised coup against Iran's elected premier in 1953 was the "root" of today's political Islam. But the more I thought about it, the more convincing his thesis is. The US and the British did set out in the 1950s to crush movements for self-determination in the "developing world", and the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh did set a precedent for coups elsewhere, especially in Latin America. It's also sobering that the 1953 coup came before the undermining of Nasser, before Castro, before Fanon. Taken together, such efforts played an important part in undermining nationalist leaders who wanted good if "equal" relations with the West, and so helped produce the hardliners who came later, including political Islam (which of course the west for so long encouraged). All the Shah's Men has a very telling quote from Ali Khamenei, now Iran's supreme leader - "We are not liberals like Mossadegh and Allende who can easily be overthrown". Highly recommended .
2.0 out of 5 starsI found it quite imbalanced and unnecessarily personal when it comes to the author's assesment of ...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 1, 2017
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The book itself is very readable, however, I found it quite imbalanced and unnecessarily personal when it comes to the author's assesment of the Shah's family, their aides and CIA. I understand that the author has his own (well researched) view, but not sure that it helps his case to be constantly pointing out the personal flaws of the Shah's family and the US senior security officials whilst the other side of the conflict is unconditionally praised for their wisdom. Not sure whether this is a credible assesment. The history up to the raise of Shah is well described. Despite that the books is a nice read, it is constantly missing to put Iran's history into the context of the regional and global history.
5.0 out of 5 starsA great book and has a wider relevance than just Iran.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 8, 2018
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Fascinating read. This is a bit of history which is still very relevant today for Brits and Americans alike, although probably well known to Iranians. Worth reading by anyone interested in Middle East 20th c history and also those trying to understand the drivers for the Islamic revolutions in the last 50 years.
Pacy, reflecting journalist background of author. Easy to follow the twists and turns of the plot. Highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 starsA true insight into Middle Eastern Politics
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 2, 2016
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This is an excellent book. A must read for anyone who wants to get a better understanding of how the middle east is manipulated by the west and why there is so much mistrust from the people of the region.
5.0 out of 5 starsHistory of 20th century Iran in light reading
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 8, 2008
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This book is an easy read for anybody (like myself) with little history knowledge of the 20th century Iran, with focus on the events in 1953. It highlights from critical western perspective how following events like the 1979 revolution were the consequences of past colonial mistakes of the UK and the US, and (at least to some extent) explains the odd Iranian policies as the result of the western interferences of the past. Very recommendable.
What this book may lack in depth it more than makes up for in being so readable and accessible. America and the UK conspired in 1953 to overthrow a democratic government in Iran - the Americans, under Eisenhower, becuase they were fixated with a supposed threat from Soviet Russia, and the British because they didn't want to lose the massive profits they and the Anglo-Iranian oil company were making from an industry that Iran's prime minister Mohammed Moassadeq had convinced the Iranian parliament to nationalise. Kinzer argues that it could have been different - Truman after all was having none of it - and he recalls Morgan Shuster, the American who helped the administration of Iran's fledgling constitutional revolution earlier in the century. But the 1953 coup set a precedent - as Kinzer draws out well - for US-sponsored coups elsewhere, set up the Shah as Iran's dictator and, well, the rest is history. As Ali Khamenei, now Iran's supreme leader, said: "We are not liberals like Mossadeq and Allende whom they can easily push aside". Good tale, well told, but with a deeply serious subject matter.
5.0 out of 5 starsAn accurate history verified by my family who lived through these events
Reviewed in the United States on October 17, 2017
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I was born in 1963 in Iran. I grew up hearing these amazing stories from my parents. Neither Iranian nor American history books have chronicled this important history. Reading Stephen Kinzer’s beautifully written book brought me to tears, at once confirming the stories of my childhood and offering the most complete picture of this important period in the histories of Iran, Britain and the United States. The details of the three week period so carefully reported by Kinzer are very accurate and echo what my parents recalled down to the names of Iranian thugs hired by American agents and events they witnessed first hand on the streets of Tehran. I hope many more Americans read this excellent book to gain a better understanding of why in fact the United States government can not be trusted by Iranians.
4.0 out of 5 starsExcelent account of the coup, but not a study to the "Roots of Middle East Terror" as the title claims
Reviewed in the United States on October 29, 2013
The author sketches the political situation of Iran in the early 50's in great detail. His account of the coup reads like a thriller. But unfortunately, the introduction and conclusion don't do justice to the main body of the book.
In his introduction, the author tried to summarize Iran's history. However, his summary is too compact to still be accurate, and at times reads like a political pamphlet. In the conclusion, the author claims that "It is not far-fetched to draw a line from Operation Ajax trough the Shah's repressive regime and the Islamic Revolution to the fireballs that engulfed the World Trade Center in New York." But his does little to support this claim. Sunni extremists like al-Qaeda consider Shia Muslims heretics. There might be a case to make to link the Islamic Republic to al-Qaeda attacks in the west, but it is not something that is self-evident, and a book that mentions "the roots of Middle East Terror" in its subtitle, should back-up such conclusions with evidence.
But that said, the main body of the book gives a detailed and balanced account of the coup. It quotes extensively from original sources (mainly British and US intelligence documents) and often offers different viewpoints on the same events and personalities. If you are interested in the coup, in Iranian politics and in the dirty realities of intelligence services, this book is highly recommended. If however you want to know about the "the roots of Middle East Terror", there are better books out there to read (like for example "The Siege of Mecca: The Forgotten Uprising in Islam's Holiest Shrine and the Birth of Al Qaeda", by Yaroslav Trofimov).
This is a book that tells us how Iran developed from Persia to what it is today. It starts early on so that we get an excellent history of the modern development of Iran.The country is rich in oil and because of that came to the attention of Great Britain that profited from running their oil refineries at a huge profit that was not fairly shared with Iran. The Iranian workers were treated poorly, not paid well, and lived in deplorable conditions. The shocker is that the United States joined with Britain in cheating Iran of its profitable resource. This story is not well known and the members of my reading group who are well informed individuals were shocked and dismayed that the United States participated in this treatment of Iran. It explains many of the problems we have today. I think it is a must read.
All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
I chose to read this book after reading The Brothers by the same author in hopes that it might fill in some detail as to my governments poor relationship with Iran. It turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be. This book is a quick read although there were times I had to reread some areas to make sure I was following the timeline correctly. I tend to think in chronological order and Mr. Kinzer did from time to time skip back in his story line but this wasn't that much of a distraction. Again, as when I read The Brothers, I found myself trying to put myself in our leaders thought processes at that time in history. However, all I really did was found myself thinking how intuitive President Truman was as our leader and how leaderless our country was under President Eisenhower. How did President Eisenhower ever plan D-Day was the question in my mind? Was he lead around by and encouraged by stronger willed people who just happened to have superior military skills or was it that he was just out of his league as a non combatant leader in his role as President? I am not sure Mr. Kinzer ever really expressed his views, but I have begin to believe President Eisenhower was totally inept as our leader.
This author has done a fabulous job of explaining how we once again went out of our way as a country to arrogantly impose our values and our will against those that do not believe the way we think. President Truman was chastised by the British as being out of touch and naive in regards to Iran and global understanding of what should be done. However, the author writes with conviction that Mr. Truman believed colonization was on its way out and that just because Iran wanted to control their own destiny didn't make them an enemy of our country or an enemy of democracy.
I am so pleased I stumbled upon The Brothers and once one reads that book, then this book is definitely a must read. Mr. Kinzer held my attention from front cover to back cover and left me again thinking; what if?
Please read this book and if you have a young adult in your home, ask them to read it as well. That young adult could be our next President.
5.0 out of 5 starsVery education, had everything I desired
Reviewed in the United States on April 10, 2013
(Audio CD review) I loved All The Shah's Men by Stephen Kinzer. Having a) a strong interest in learning more about the U.S.' involvement in Iran and b) virtually no knowledge on the subject, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon this book. It was a wonder to listen to and met all of my expectations in desiring to learn about the subject. I am better off knowing about Mohammad Mossadegh and Kermit Roosevelt, and the CIA in Operation Ajax. I can't wait to read more on the subject. The narrator, Michael Prichard, did an excellent job, though the tenor in his voice did "boom" quit a bit in my car stereo, he still did an excellent job. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about the history of Iran.
Reviewed in the United States on February 18, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
In August 1953 the CIA engineered a coup in Iran which overthrew Mohammad Mossadegh, the popular, democratically-elected prime minister who made the mistake of nationalizing Iran's oil industry.
The British-owned & operated Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later known as British Petroleum, or BP) fought for years to maintain their monopoly in Iran, and when Dwight Eisenhower took office in January '53 they found a sympathetic ear for their covert regime change plans. Instrumental to American participation were the Dulles brothers, John Foster (Secretary of State) and Allen (Director of the CIA). Both viewed the world as their personal playground, theirs to rearrange as they saw fit for maximum personal gain. When the British came knocking with a proposal to illegally oust Mossadegh, they jumped at the opportunity.
This book is the story of that coup, the subsequent installation of the brutal dictator Shah Pahlavi (who nevertheless served British interests), and the eventual backlash in 1979: the fundamentalist Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini, the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran and the 52 diplomats held hostage for 444 days, and the release of those hostages on the very day that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, under circumstances which have never been adequately explained.
It is a story of greed, hubris, meddling, unintended consequences and titanic missteps, all of which led directly to the current tensions in the world -- which are not so much Christian versus Muslim as Third World versus First World. When major corporations dictate foreign policy through the politicians on their payroll, the interests served are not those of the American people, the world community or our childrens' future. The only winners are a handful of big investors.
Stephen Kinzer writes compellingly and fluidly, making the dramatic events come alive with 3-dimensional grit and personality. He probably overstates the coup as "the roots of Middle East terror" -- afterall the Allies imposed illogical and self-serving borders on the Middle East a decade earlier after oil was discovered -- but there's no denying that this incident is one piece of "the puzzle of why the world hates us."
Incidentally a good companion to this book, which continues the story of economic imperialism into the 1990s, is "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by John Perkins (2004).