America’s Cycles of Change

Gathering Storm: The Seventh Era of American History, & the Coming Crises That Will Lead to It

Gathering Storm: The Seventh Era of American History, & the Coming Crises That Will Lead to It Buy Now

Seven Eras! Four Futures! Ten Plagues! Veteran foreign correspondent and historian Martin Sieff’s Gathering Storm is packed solid with bold ideas and sweeping conceptualizations: In Cycles of Change, he took his readers on an epic tour across American history, challenging Conventional Wisdoms at every turn. Here he probes the Unknown Country, the wildly contrasting possibilities of Utopia and Destruction that the future holds.

The tone is very different. Cycles of Change was Olympian in style, detached and classical: It celebrated the different eras of American freedom as proud achievements. The Statue of Liberty glows serenely in the sun on its cover.

By contrast, on the cover of Gathering Storm, Lady Liberty still stands, but determined, angry and dark against menacing seas and dark storm clouds on every side. Here Sieff seems obsessed with the potential dangers that face the United States on every side: He even closes with 10 commandments – they are more like prophetic admonitions – to ensure a strategy for national survival.

Sieff starts with an exploration of the nature of the culture clash that has torn America in two over the past 50 years ago – the classic Red State-Blue State, conservative-liberal, Republican-Democrat split. This is familiar stuff, but Sieff gives it a fresh twist by viewing it through the contrasting franchises of Wal-Mart and Starbucks, working class, rural dollar and cent cost-cutting necessities versus the modest, minor pampering luxuries of office workers who like to imagine they are Nobel laureates. This is certainly the wittiest and most fun ride in the book.

Sieff turns playful again when he equates the festering deadlock in Congress between the professional politicians of both parties to the plague of frogs in the Biblical Book of Exodus. Here again, a well-established condition, so familiar we uncritically take it for granted, is given freshness and urgency when viewed from an unexpected satirical perspective.

The tone turns serious quickly enough. Sieff takes his readers through an energetic and succinct beginners guide to popular futurologists and would be prophets. He compares Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama and contrasts the multi-ethnic vision of Robert Kaplan’s American cities with the splintered vision of Colin Woodard’s American Nations. But he then goes far further than either in projecting nightmare scenarios of an America crippled, or even virtually annihilated in different kinds of nuclear wars.

Moving beyond the satire, wit and flashy brilliance of the early chapters, Sieff’s message here is deadly serious. The idea of total destruction is anathema to America’s historic, happy, “city-on-a-hill,” sunny optimism – but it is a real danger, and real dangers have to be recognized and confronted if they are to be avoided and defeated, Sieff argues: That’s what grown-ups do, he says.

Sieff is no simple prophet of doom: He offers scenarios of opportunity and hope as well as warnings of destruction. In the words of the classic Twilight Zone opening, he seems to view America’s future as still open – suspended between the summit of man’s dreams and the pit of his fears.

Our public discourse focuses on the summit and the dreams. It takes a certain daring and a special nerve to look down into the pit too. In this stunning kaleidoscope of a book, Sieff does both. And he makes the journeys well worth taking.