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Summer 2004
The Providential Scholar
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Sociologist Michael MannSociology Professor Michael Mann studies the power structure of old empires and the behavior of nation-states. So why is his influential new book about U.S. policy today?

By Matt Welch
Photography by Joel Lipton

"Life," John Lennon wrote, "is what happens while you're busy making other plans."

For Lennon's Northern England contemporary Michael Mann, this quip's no joke; it's a way of life. Mann wouldn't be teaching at UCLA at all (and probably wouldn't be an American citizen) if he hadn't been busy making other plans in 1986 to promote his groundbreaking study of empires, The Sources of Social Power; and he was in the middle of not one but two book-series projects when life happened in a very big way on September 11, 2001, unleashing events that have dragged this globally recognized practitioner of "comparative sociology" from the relative gentility of historical analysis to the crossfire of Fox News.

In his early 60s, an age when other professors might be busy making plans to retire or at least slow down, Mann is working at a frenetic rate. This spring alone, the sociologist was busy talking up his October 2003 critique of current U.S. foreign policy, Incoherent Empire (which won him Germany's prestigious Friedrich Ebert Foundation award in May), overseeing the July publication of the six-country study Fascists, and preparing yet a third book for release in September, called The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. It is no wonder that the slim, bright-eyed and mustachioed Brit is currently — and finally — on sabbatical from teaching.

"I've never worked as hard in my life," he says with a weary smile. "This came up all of a sudden; I certainly didn't plan it this way."

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