American Avatar


American Avatar

The United States in the Global Imagination

Barry A. Sanders

240 pages


October 2011


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2011


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About the Book

Since September 11, 2001, the extensive literature on the United States’s image abroad, by popular pundits and academics alike, leaves the reader with a false impression that foreigners’ views of America are normally negative and impervious to change. In fact they are complex, emotional, frequently internally contradictory, and often change quickly.

Barry A. Sanders corrects this misimpression with a rigorous and insightful textual analysis of the roots of people’s views of the United States and what can be done to alter them. According to Sanders, the attitudes a person expresses about the United States consist of two separate components: the person’s memory bank of images (informed by American geography, people, philosophy, history, and foreign policy) and a predisposition or bias that influences which images are called forth from memory.Opinion surveys, such as the Pew Global Attitude Survey, only record the spoken result of this twostep process in their tabulation of “favorable” or “unfavorable” comments. They necessarily fail to see the underlying complexity.

Examining the biases or predispositions that guide people in selecting among the myriad stored images to express an opinion on a given day, Sanders analyzes both anti-American and pro-American biases but focuses on the former, explaining which criticisms should be heeded when crafting foreign policy and communicating national objectives to friends and foes alike.

Author Bio

Barry A. Sanders is an adjunct professor of communications studies at UCLA. He is a member of the New York–based Council on Foreign Relations and the West Coast–based Committee on Foreign Relations and Pacific Council on International Policy. He lives in Beverly Hills, California.


“As Americans try to redefine their place in the world, it is crucial to understand how people around the globe form their opinions about the United States. Image does matter, and Barry Sanders, experienced in international law and diplomacy, does a fine job of explaining how America's image takes shape and how it might be improved.”—Philip Seib, professor of journalism, public diplomacy, and international relations at the University of Southern California and author of The Al Jazeera Effect

“Sanders’s book is fascinating. It challenges assumptions and offers a way forward in this area of great importance to our nation.”—Howard L. Berman, former chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs

"The avatar of America portrayed by Barry Sanders is a storehouse of complexity, contradictions, paradoxes, inconsistencies, dynamism, and kaleidoscopic variety. If, as Emerson suggested, ‘foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds,’ American Avatar will appeal to those whose minds are relatively large. Exploring the abundance of both positive and negative ‘images’ of America and the inclinations of those receiving the images to select and re-cast them according to their own favored ‘predispositions,’ Sanders concludes with lessons to guide U.S. foreign policy and public as well as formal diplomacy."—Charles Wolf, Jr., Distinguished Corporate Chair in International Economics, The RAND Corporation; professor, The Pardee Rand Graduate School; and senior research fellow, Hoover Institution

“In this fascinating volume Barry Sanders cuts through the swirling fog of misperceptions that cloud the image of the United States, both at home and abroad. Magisterial in scope, but sharply focused and judicious in analysis, American Avatar is an essential read in these difficult times for all those seeking a path to rational understanding of America’s place in the world.”—Peter C. Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and author of American Mania: When More Is Not Enough