Andrew Bacevich may be the prophet Jeremiah of our time, said The Economist. A former Army colonel and a “genuine conservative,” the Boston University professor this summer uncorked a slim jeremiad against American hubris that outsold all other books at for the month of August. In The Limits of Power, Bacevich argues that a generation-plus of profligacy at home is feeding reckless U.S. militarism abroad, and that neither trend is sustainable. “Tacitly, at least, the American people are complicit” in the wreckage created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, he says, because preserving the “American way of life” has been the consensus goal. “But nothing is going to change” in the thrust of our foreign policy, Bacevich says, “unless we are willing to make substantive changes in the way that we live.”

Bacevich has a personal stake in arguing that his countrymen need to quit their addictions to fossil fuels and easy credit, said Alex Kingsbury in His only son, an Army first lieutenant, was killed in Iraq last year. But Bacevich claims that this painful loss hasn’t darkened his views. “I don’t think his death had any impact besides redoubling my desire to tell things as I see them.” As he sees things at this moment, not even a new president is likely to usher in real change. “We have presidential elections,” he says, “as a substitute for serious democratic politics.”